Thursday, December 28, 2006

LaPresse Column "l'Alberta Verte"

The following is the English version of the monthly column my business partner and I do for LaPresse. This piece was published on Christmas Eve and has already generated some positive email reaction from Quebec.

The environment is now the #1 policy issue in Canada and even in Alberta according to recent polls and our own research. We have seen this shift as a blip in the opinion polls before but we expect the environment to stay #1 for quite a while. Polar Bears approaching designation on the endangered species list and Ellesmere Island calving a huge piece of polar cap are canaries in the climate change coal mine. (Aren’t mixed metaphors fun!)

Green Alberta - published in LaPresse December 24, 2006
Satya Das et Ken Chapman

Les auteurs dirigent Cambridge Strategies Inc., groupe-conseil albertain en politique publique.

Simon Durivage was incredulous when Stephane Dion was described as a friend of Alberta who understands us well.

How can that be, asked the RDI host, when Dion is the poster-boy for the Kyoto Accord and Alberta is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country?

It may take some stretching of the imagination, but in fact there is no contradiction between those two realities. Once one moves beyond the natural impulse to look for conflict, one sees an enormous coincidence of interest and approach between the emerging leadership in Alberta, and the prescriptions of M. Dion.

The most detailed and impressive environmental policy in the contest to succeed Ralph Klein came from leadership candidate David Hancock, who was widely identified with the “progressive” wing of the Progressive Conservative party in the Klein era. Like Dion, Hancock, and other Alberta opinion leaders are keenly aware of the opportunity – and the necessity – of enhanced environmental stewardship as the essential component of a growing economy

There is opposition to the Kyoto Accord in Alberta but it has been overstated. At the height of the controversy, the CEO of the oil sands giant, Suncor Energy, noted that by their calculations the cost of implementing Kyoto was estimated at 15 cents a barrel . Shortly thereafter, the Alberta large greenhouse gas emitters and the Government of Canada came to an agreement on emission levels. This co-operative accord between a Liberal government and Alberta’s energy sector runs against the grain of the Alberta-Ottawa stereotype, yet it stands as compelling evidence of what can be achieved through negotiation.

This is the context in which the Dion plan of developing the best technologies to protect the environment, and selling them for profit worldwide, finds such resonance in Alberta.

Consider this statement: “We do not want to look into our grandchildren’s eyes when they ask what happened to their land, water and air only to say we used it all up. Saying we are sorry will not be good enough.”

These words are from Hancock, the former Klein cabinet minister and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate. These words represent a strong consensus among thoughtful Albertans. In his view, “We have to tighten regulations, monitoring and enforcement and we must set and meet absolute targets. We need new science, better technologies and stringent emissions standards. We must drive demand for new approaches to emission reductions. . . . We must be world leaders on the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas reductions by both continuing to reduce emission intensity at home and continuing to create the knowledge and technology to reduce global emissions.”

Given the similarity of these approaches to effective and enforced environmental stewardship, there may be more common ground between the new Alberta government and the environmental policy of Dion than with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to climate change and the economy.

This should not be a surprise, given the strong Green streak emerging in Alberta. In the last several years, Preston Manning has been a leading advocate of putting the “conserve” back into conservatism, advocating future economic growth should be built on sustainable stewardship of the environment. In the last federal election, Calgary recorded the highest proportion of votes for the Green Party.

Despite what non-Albertans may conclude, the present federal government should not be taken as a monolithic expression of Albertans’ will. The new Stelmach government in Alberta will set its own course, not just on the environment but on other issues like trade and immigration.

The creative tension inherent in federalism is very much alive in Alberta. The coming months may provide a series of beneficial and positive answers to M. Durivage’s question.

Qu’en pensez-vous?