Alberta Politics
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, whose 2008 bitumen export plan sounded suspiciously like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s now-reviled version (Photo: Kashmera, Wikimedia Commons).

Stephen Harper’s proposed restrictions on bitumen exports caused no uproar – so why the fury at Justin Trudeau?

Posted on July 07, 2019, 1:32 am
8 mins

Late last week, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer was once again accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Government of wanting to phase out the oilsands, as he put it, and passing laws to put that putative plan into action.

Notwithstanding a lack of persuasive evidence, the popularity of this refrain here in Alberta never seems to wane.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Perhaps there’s a subtle distinction that escapes the uneducated layperson’s eye, but can someone in Mr. Scheer’s Conservative Parliamentary Caucus or Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party explain the difference between Mr. Trudeau’s restrictions on bitumen exports and Stephen Harper’s plan for the same thing?

Oh, I know, any real Albertan believes Prime Minister Trudeau’s bitumen export plan calls for our province’s vast resources to be land-locked and the Canadian economy destroyed in the name of airy-fairy environmentalism while former Conservative prime minister Harper’s plan was a wise blueprint for their prudent and environmentally friendly development to the benefit of all mankind.

Seriously, though, on closer examination – which is not easy amid the current nearly hysterical state of political discourse in Alberta fostered by our recent provincial election and Mr. Kenney’s harsh anti-Trudeau rhetoric since then – it would appear there’s not actually a lot of light between Mr. Trudeau’s plan now and that of Mr. Harper back in the day.

Leastways, 11 odd years ago on Sept. 26, 2008, the Reuters News Agency was mildly complaining that Mr. Harper’s plan “would ban exports of tar-like bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to countries that do not match Canada’s efforts to cut carbon emissions.”

Say what!?

According to Reuters, both the fossil fuel industry and environmentalists were “perplexed” by this Conservative Party of Canada policy. The environmentalists because they didn’t feel it went far enough, especially with regards to Canada’s own emissions, and the industry because it claimed it needed more time to study the details.

Still, reading between the lines, it was clear that the spokesperson for Enbridge Inc., whose Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal was then still a thing, didn’t much like the idea of any restrictions whatsoever.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, left, and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andre Forget, Wikimedia Commons).

As for the unrestricted access to Asian markets that we Albertans have all now been persuaded we simply must have, Mr. Harper was blunt, telling journalists in Ottawa that, in the words of the Reuters reporter, his policy “could affect Asian countries that are the target of a proposed Enbridge Inc. pipeline that would move oil sands-derived crude to Canada’s West Coast to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean by tanker.”

Of course, at the time Mr. Harper was campaigning for re-election and hoping to turn his Conservative minority in Parliament into a majority. Perhaps he hoped to woo some Canadians who wanted both economic expansion and caps on carbon emissions into his camp – you know, very much like what Mr. Trudeau is trying to do right now, and certainly what former Alberta NDP premier Rachel Notley’s government was also trying to achieve.

Jack Layton, by the way, who was then the leader of the NDP, called this balancing act “absurd.” He wondered how Mr. Harper could propose emissions caps for countries that might want to import Canadian bitumen when he wasn’t willing to set any here in Canada.

The late Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, campaigning in Edmonton in 2011 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, whatever. The point is, there’s not really much difference between what Mr. Harper was proposing then and what Mr. Trudeau is doing now. This is true regardless of unfounded claims to the contrary now appearing regularly in once respectable newspapers like the Calgary Herald, which ought to know better.

Then, the idea that Ottawa might dare to control where Alberta could export its bitumen, for environmental reasons no less, caused barely a murmur of protest on the right. Now we have a Conservative politicians talking seriously about how the same thing is a grave threat to national unity.

How can Mr. Trudeau’s modest environmental measures in the context of aggressive development of the oilsands and pipeline infrastructure be tantamount to treason, according to people like Premier Kenney, while Mr. Harper’s were a guarantee of environmental common sense and long-term Canadian prosperity?

What’s changed, in other words?

Well, for the better part of the last decade we’ve been on the receiving end of an unremitting, well-funded campaign by the fossil fuel industry that without pipelines to all points of the compass, our economy is doomed. A good part of the funds for this campaign, I daresay, came from foreign sources.

Our provincial governments, Conservative and NDP alike, enthusiastically joined this clamour. They have claimed repeatedly Alberta must, simply must, have unlimited and unrestricted pipeline access to Canada’s coastlines east and west so that we can find new markets for our underpriced oilsands crude, never mind the law of supply and demand.

But the only truly significant thing that is different at this moment, I would suggest, is simply this: there’s a Liberal government in Ottawa.

That, in turn, suggests that all this hysteria amounts to a cynical and dishonest political campaign on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada. And if this campaign ends up actually threatening Canadian unity, those Conservatives don’t care a fig!

On this topic, I suspect too many of my fellow Albertans are too far gone for redemption. But other Canadians ought not to be fooled.

16 Comments to: Stephen Harper’s proposed restrictions on bitumen exports caused no uproar – so why the fury at Justin Trudeau?

  1. Farmer Brian

    July 7th, 2019

    Quite an amusing article David, I am always fascinated by the influence ideology has on our interpretation of present and past events. You attempt to compare a statement made during an election campaign by Stephen Harper to laws C-48 and C-69 enacted by Justin Trudeau, giving both the same level of relevancy. Hardly a fair comparison, what is said to get elected is quite often forgotten once elected, many examples of this with Justin Trudeau.

    Going by memory if I go back to 2008 the pipeline of greatest interest would have been Keystone XL. After doing a little googling it appears Enbridge began actively pursuing approval of Northern Gateway in February of 2008. Also worth noting that on April 14, 2005 Enbridge announced a $2.5 billion deal with PetroChina Co. to transport oil along the proposed line, Enbridge originally announced preliminary plans to build a pipeline to the British Columbia coast back in 2002. Interestingly 2008 was the same year that Corpethics(originally called Corporate Ethics International, based in San Francisco)helped conceive the anti Tar Sands campaign, a campaign that has helped stall both Keystone XL(they take credit for this on their site) and the TransMountain expansion. In the last 10 years the U.S.A. has went from producing 5 million barrels a day to 12 million a day, this has changed the world oil market and attracted a lot of investment. In the last 4 years the lack of movement on pipeline construction and changes in government policy have caused many foreign companies to divest themselves of their oil sand assets. Again ideology comes into play on whether you believe the pro oil or anti oil forces have spent more money or won the day. Myself I would say that those fighting against pipeline construction in Canada have been more successful.

    One last question, you give me the impression that you think Justin Trudeau is doing a good job for Alberta and by extension Canada, if this is the case why do opinion polls only give him about 18% support in Alberta?

    • KEN

      July 7th, 2019

      Great job you are 100% right thanks Farmer Brian

    • Scotty on Denman

      July 7th, 2019

      If I may, perhaps your question might be answered best by considering the worth of Albertans’ opinions.

    • Kang

      July 7th, 2019

      Brian: as you observe, Trudeau buying a heavy oil pipeline has not swayed Alberta voters. Perhaps this is because many people in Alberta have accepted your argument that if only there was a pipeline the world price for heavy oil would justify more work in the patch. How more heavy oil sales from the tar sands translates to more service work in the conventional oil and gas basin where all the high paying jobs once existed is never explained. As to tankers to Asia, that market was never there (see China’s Belt and Road initiative) except in the minds of certain stock promoters and speculators who took China for granted (not unlike certain canola farmers).

      Perhaps you could also explain how adding more heavy oil to to a world market already awash in heavy AND light oil will raise prices here in Alberta. Or is this a mystery only revealed to a religious mystic like Mr. Kenney? I see why Mr. Kenney would push such an illogical narrative to vulnerable and frightened people who understand deep in their hearts that they peed away the last oil boom of this century, but where is your class interest as a farmer in all this?

      Finally, isn’t the essence of this blog post that what Mr. Harper proposed, Mr. Trudeau intends to impose?

    • Farmer Dave

      July 8th, 2019

      Farmer Brian, I see you still have not got out from under the dome. Do you recall Jason Kenney campaigning that he as Premier would take an immediate 10% reduction in pay and the rest of his MLA’s would take a 5% cut in pay (has not happened or is your interpretation of immediate mean something different like whenever). Why aren’t you making an issue about Kenney’s pay to be reduced by 10% or is this just your ideology. Again Farmer Brian you have failed to get out from under the dome.

      • Doug

        July 9th, 2019

        To counter the blow back from the impending cross the board 5% wage roll back for all provincial, municipal, university, law enforcement, school board and health care employees, the government will reduce MLA salaries at the same time. That won’t happen until after the federal election to avoid Kenney providing austerity fodor during the federal campaign. Kenney can easily make the MLA cut retroactive.

    • Peter

      July 8th, 2019

      As for your last comment Farmer, do you think opinion polls are always the result of critical thinking, intelligence, or truth? In my opinion polls are easily manipulated and often does not reflect critical thinking, science/research, or the common good but rather a very narrow, biased opinion, of the way they want things to be. Alberta polls around Justin are highly biased…

  2. John A

    July 7th, 2019

    Your last question is a good one in that it exposes the hyper-partisanship of politics in general these days and Conservative thinking in Alberta specifically.

    Trudeau and Notley did more for the O&G industry than I had seen up until then. Buying a dead in the water pipeline, promoting it by Notely 24/7 the last couple years of her mandate. Picking fights with Ottawa and B.C. during that promotion etc.

    I’ve lived in Alberta 30 years and arrived via Saskatchewan. I can tell you one thing I’ve learned about politics here. 45 years of conservative rule demonstrated how demonizing the federal government and petro dollars can brainwash a populace works.

  3. ken

    July 7th, 2019

    FARMER BRIAN: You hit the nail on the head great reply. THANKS

  4. Political Ranger

    July 7th, 2019

    ” … all this hysteria …”

    Your analysis, David, points to only one of many cogent reasons for the hysteria. A couple more are panic and just hysteria.

  5. Tei Ling Pawnd

    July 7th, 2019

    Federal interference in the oil patch is like the deficit, which is an absolute obsession of the National Post and the Globe and Mail during Liberal governments, but vanishes from the headlines when the PC or Cons take control of the tiller. Because as we know, Conservative governments are the sensible stewards of the economy, even though they tend to leave power with a vastly increased deficit, unlike Liberal governments.

  6. Death and Gravity

    July 7th, 2019

    Farmer Brian asks “One last question, you give me the impression that you think Justin Trudeau is doing a good job for Alberta and by extension Canada, if this is the case why do opinion polls only give him about 18% support in Alberta?”

    SASQ: because most Albertans are simply deranged in this respect, among others. There are no objective counts on which this Prime Minister’s policies have harmed Alberta’s interests, so the 18% figure you quote—with out supporting links, I notice—it at best simply evidence of the ubiquity of this derangement.

    • tom in ontario

      July 8th, 2019

      “…why do opinion polls only give him about 18% support in Alberta?”
      Well, um, except in rare instances Albertans don’t vote Liberal no matter who the leader is or what he does.

    • Farmer Brian

      July 8th, 2019

      EKOS research poll done June 27-29, 2019 puts LPC 15.5%, CPC 65.1%, NDP 5%, Green’s 7%. Abacus Data I believe had the LPC at 25.5% poll taken June 28-July 2. Eric Grenier had an average of the polls with the LPC at 16.9% in Alberta. Personally, if a person believes Justin Trudeau has done a good job I would say they are deranged. As a farmer I would say Justin Trudeau’s original stance when they were trying to start free trade talks with China was not beneficial. They were interested in trade he was interested in gender equity. As a farmer I can’t think of one beneficial thing he has done. From playing Mr. Dress-up in India, the SNC Lavelin affair, and the inability to get anywhere with the Chinese on trade he has done nothing that makes me optimistic about our government! Enjoy your day.

  7. Dave

    July 8th, 2019

    The Conservatives seem to have lately made quite an effort into looking for Liberal scapegoats. Of course, blaming Trudeau for all the country’s ills serves two purposes in Alberta. First, if people buy it, it may help them out politically. Second, now that Alberta has a UCP government, they can no longer so easily blame the previous NDP government for all the provinces problems, so it gives them someone else to shift the blame to as the Alberta economy does not seem to have yet magically boomed, as the UCP at times promised it would during the provincial election.

    The Harper Conservatives tended to be hyper partisan and well just kind of nasty to the their political opponents and often made exaggerated statements about them that did not stand up to scrutiny. I think a lot of Canadians were actually put off by this excessive political nastiness and after their first attempt to demonize Trudeau in the last Federal election failed spectacularly. It seemed for a while the Conservatives had learned a lesson from that and were going to try to be a bit kinder and gentler. Well that didn’t seem to last that long.

    I suppose the Conservatives can blame Trudeau for the state of the Alberta economy, whether true or not if they want. It might even win them a seat or two more in the west in the next Federal election, but really there is not much for them to gain here as they already have most of the seats. However, I wonder if this strategy might be counter productive elsewhere in the country. For instance, if Trudeau is responsible for the allegedly sad state of the Alberta economy, then shouldn’t the Conservatives not be giving him credit where the economy is doing much better, say in Ontario, Quebec, BC and many other parts of Canada? I doubt they will give any credit, thus they will be delivering two mixed messages – where the economy is bad, its Trudeau’s fault, not the say the price of oil and where it is good, forget about giving him credit. So to some extent the Conservatives obsessive desire to blame Trudeau for Alberta’s economic situation undermines the message they want to deliver in other parts of Canada where there are seats available to potentially win.


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