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Monday, February 15, 2010

How Dare Jean Charest Suck and Blow on Alberta's Oilsands

Prime Minister of Quebec Jean Charest is high quality politician and an staunch Federalist. He is someone I admire and have met a few times.  He is a leader that I value very much in his Quebec role in Canadian politics. What I can't fathom is his duplicitous political posturing over the oilsands.

He has a responsibility in Quebec and every right to "go it alone" on emissions control standards for Quebec. Environment is a shared Fed-Prov constitutional responsibility. Minister Prentice has to learn to adapt and realize he can't dictate provincial policy from Ottawa. 

But Mr. Charest must learn to adapt and not dictate to others as well.  He has no right to dictate to Alberta as to what we should be doing in the relationship of our energy based economy.  His uninformed interference on how we meet our ecological responsibilities or what impacts we will allow on our societal well-being from rapid and poorly planned growth in the past is our business, not his.  Albertans are well aware of the blessinsg and the burdens of the oilsands.  We Albertans are very engaged in dealing with the consequences as well as the opportunitity and stewardship responsibility of our oil sands.

There is lots of history that shows Quebec is hardly an environmental poster boy. It has a history of allowing destructive forestry practices to go on for far too long.  It has shown a breathtaking lack of concern for sewage treatment and condoned dumping raw sewage into the St Lawrence for decades. But I digress and risk engaging in the same rhetoric I bemoan from Mr. Charest.

What burns me about Mr. Charest is the anti-Alberta rhetoric coupled with the recent advertising campaign and political push by the Quebec government to subsidize local business to come on a trade mission to exploit the business opportunities of our oil sands. This Quebec government program encourages Quebec business to take come to Alberta in late March and learn how to advantage of the opportunities that the oil sands offers.  Isn't that running the risk that Quebec will be seen as adding to the "problem" and not become part of the solution as they too move in to exploit the so-called dirty oil in Alberta?

As a Canadian and as an Albertan, I welcome Quebec businesses to our province to find oil sands business opportunity. I enthusiastically encourage Quebec businesses to come to Alberta and seek out oil sands based opportunities.  I applaud that these are opportunities enabled by Alberta that they can take home and use to benefit my fellow Canadians living in Quebec.

I also ask those same Quebec business people to push their own provincial politicians to eliminate the isolationist and protectionist policies  in Quebec.  That province adheres to that protectionist stance to the point that it often makes interprovincial trade with Quebec harder than international trade with other nations. I live in a province that encourages and creates interprovincial trade opporunities. The best recent example is the TILMA trade agreement with B.C. Look it up and learn from this example of regional co-operation.  With these trade linkages between Alberta and B.C. we have created an market with the population of Quebec and a GDP about 50% larger than Quebec. 

What burns me is the concurrent finger pointing, myopic political rhetoric and self-serving sanctimony inherent in the posturing of the Quebec Prime Minister over the Alberta oilsands.  These are not core character elements in the Jean Charest personality that I know. Still he has consistently spouted inaccurate public statements decrying an alleged disproportionate amount global damage he deems to be caused by Alberta's oilsands. And he does this at the same time he is subsidizing Quebec business to jump on the economic gravytrain of the oilsands.  That is hard to reconcile logically and morally - never mind politically. It is not the sutff of nation building that I have come to depend on over the years from Mr. Charest.

Oilsands are a dirty business but it is not nearly as bad as its opponents pretend it to be.  Its environmenal future is destined to be significantly better as we move forward from open pit to about 80% SAGD extraction.  With new cleaner technologies, reduced GHG emissions and lower water use we are making significant progress as the demand for oil sands sourced energy grows.  SAGD, like conventional oil and gas extraction, will still destroy and fragment significant amounts of wildlife habitat.  That habitat destruction can be alleviated and mitigaged with an accelerated reclamation approach coupled with a conservation and biodiversity offsets policy to ensure equivalent habitat protection in other parts of the province. (Full disclosure - I am working on establishing a policy on conservation and biodiversity offsets in Alberta).

On a well-to-wheels, full-cost accounting of equivalent conventional oil sources, including lives lost, defense spending and the funding of global instability caused by the US sourcing of Middle East oil, the Alberta oilsands come out as an economic, ecolgical, social and political bargain...all things considered.  That full-cost accounting approach does not reduce the ecological stewardship responsibility of Albertans one iota.  It does show why the oil sands are a preferred, reliable, safe and stable energy source and put the oil sands issues in a more comprehensive and proper perspective.

As an Albertan I welcome the Quebec businesses to Alberta and encourage them to learn how they can gain economically from the oilsands development. I also hope that they spend some time learning what Alberta industry and government is doing to reduce the ecological impacts and mitigate the other damages inherent in this development. 

I encourage them to ensure whatever oil sands business opportunites they undertake that they do so with a serious commitment to sustainable ecological and responsible economic principles.  I hope the Quebec business people will come and bring some new and practical ideas to help Albertans serve the ecological stewardship efforts around reducing the impact of oilsands deveopment. That is a responsibility they might also bear. It presents another way for them to benefit as they come to cash in on the oilsands business opportunities.

We Albertans are far from perfect stewards of our oil sands development.   We are aware of our stewardship duty and we are on the right track towards meeting it.  We have to pick up our game and the pace of our environmental play for sure.  That said, we are far from the irresponsible philistines that many would like label us when it comes to our oilsands development.

I hope the Quebec business people spend some time while in Alberta to learn more about the reality and not just the rhetoric around oilsands development. I hope they take the business opportunities and their new found and informed reality of the oilsands back to Quebec.  I hope they have the opportunity to debrief their politicians.  I hope they can help to temper and teach Mr. Charest a thing or two about the reality of the oilsands.  Constructive criticism is always welcomed by Albertans. Destructive self-serving rhetoric is not.

Might I also suggest a business opportunity of my own around oil sands development?  To those from Quebec and elsewhere, who are planning to find some new business in Alberta. I encourage them, to read the book "Green Oil" before they come.  It was written by my business partner Satya Das. It serves well as an owners manual for Albertans on how to better develop the oilsands but also as an instruction manual for others to help them undersantd what this oil sands resource is all about.

BTW, you can go online at Green Oil and download it.  That way you can save some trees and reduce your own carbon footprint in the process.   There is an interesting online conversation happening on the Green Oil book site too.  I encourage you to join in and share your thoughts and ideas on the oil sands too.