Prominent Canadian environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, international program director of Stand.Earth (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Tzeporah Berman, the high-profile Vancouver environmentalist, on Friday lauded the oil-sector provisions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s COVID-19 bailout package as a sensible way to begin winding down the Canadian fossil fuel industry.

This bailout announcement is a major turning point for oil and gas politics in Canada,” Ms. Berman said in a news release published by Stand.Earth, the former ForestEthics environmental organization for which she is international program director.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

“Supporting workers, addressing climate change, and cleaning up orphan wells are all measures that align with global targets to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050,” she said. “The end of business as usual and winding down the oil and gas industry are a hard, but necessary part of achieving these targets.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party Government seem to be praising it too — talk about strange bedfellows!

One wonders how long it will be before Mr. Kenney and the UCP, who constantly caricatured Ms. Berman as the enemy of all things Albertan in their successful campaign to drive the NDP from office last year, will also be saying the same thing about the PM’s objectives, only without the tone of approval?

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President Tim McMillan (Photo: Francois Joly/Radio-Canada).

Not long, probably. After years of ginning up conspiracy theories about how anything Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Government do is designed to destroy Alberta’s energy industry, it just wouldn’t be like the UCP not to use the stick Ms. Berman just handed them to beat the PM.

I bet they’ll even quote Ms. Berman in a social media meme!

For the moment, though, the UCP is trying to take a more nuanced line on the Trudeau bailout — to wit, that here in Alberta we’re oh-so-grateful for the cash, but doesn’t the prime minister understand that we need more, right now?

Yesterday’s federal announcement of funds to help clean up orphaned and abandoned wells is appreciated and will put thousands of people back to work,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage tweeted Friday. “But more will be needed for liquidity to bridge our energy sector to the other side of this unprecedented financial meltdown.” (After which, she presumably meant, it should return to business as usual.)

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which nowadays functions more or less as the oilfield propaganda arm of the UCP and Conservative Party of Canada, appeared to have adopted this double-barrelled strategy.

At the end of March, CAPP President Tim McMillan sent a long letter to federal Environment Minister Seamus O’Regan using COVID-19 as an excuse to demand Ottawa dump the carbon tax, stop monitoring pollution, and quit enforcing environmental laws and regulations. On Friday, though, he too had qualified praise, mildly saying he recognizes the Government of Canada’s support for the oil and natural gas industry, and appreciates the initiatives.”

The Calgary Herald, fearless champion of whatever then oilpatch wants, described the bailout as “one course in a long-awaited meal. It whets the appetite, but it isn’t enough.” This was widely distributed on social media and elsewhere by the usual UCP touts.

Environmental Defence Climate and Energy Program Manager Julia Levin (Photo: Environmental Defence).

Well, nuance isn’t something that comes naturally to the UCP or the oilpatch, so if this all seems half-hearted and unpersuasive, presumably they’ll all be more comfortable when they switch back to a full-throated attack.

In the mean time, UCP supporters must be feeling a certain amount of discomfort at finding themselves praising the same federal policy as Ms. Berman, whom they attacked relentlessly when she served on an NDP advisory committee. After all, this is the woman the UCP even set up an inquiry to go after, and then chickened out of calling her as a witness.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Personally, I think Ms. Berman’s theory that the prime minister is planning for the end of the oil industry is about as likely as the UCP’s theory he’s plotting to destroy it — which is to say, not very likely in either case.

In the present parlous situation, many observers of Mr. Trudeau’s bailout are left with the queasy feeling that while it may have been the best he could do politically, Alberta’s oil industry has just wriggled off the hook of being held responsible for the cost of decades of environmental damage.

Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project (Photo: Twitter).

Certainly, the bailout’s socialization of orphan well cleanup suggests the oft repeated claim the industry is responsible for cleaning up its own messes was just a convenient fairy tale to pacify the rubes.

Providing support to cleaning up orphaned wells is far preferable to giving handouts to the oil industry, and consistent with what science and sound economic planning would suggest,” Environmental Defence Climate and Energy Program Manager Julia Levin said Friday.

Jean Chrétien, later Canada’s prime minister, in 1968 (Photo: CBC).

However, she added, “it is crucial that these funds be tied to conditions that ensure the problems of wells becoming orphaned are fixed permanently, and that Alberta puts in place a polluter-pays program so the public is not left with these liabilities in the future.”

“If these funds are not repaid by industry once the cleanup work is done, today’s announcement will become another public subsidy to oil and gas, and undermine the crucial principle that polluters are responsible for cleaning up their mess,” agreed Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project in a release the same day.

Speaking of prime ministers, readers will remember how longtime Red Tory strategist Dalton Camp, that friend and foe of John Diefenbaker, quipped that Jean Chrétien looked like the driver of a getaway car. Premier Kenney doesn’t look much like a getaway car driver, but it seems his role is much the same — ensuring the oil industry gets safely out of town with its loot intact.

If Prime Minister Trudeau is bold enough to actually attach some strings to the bailout money, you can count on it the UCP will go right back to screaming at him.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am guessing that this is the point where Peter Downing declares that Kenney is a globalist stooge because he’s in bed with Julia Levin and Tzeporah Berman. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

    Ken-DOH! is willing to take anything he can from PMJT right now, then boast about he impressively twisted many arms in Ottawa to score his victory for Alberta. Yeah, right.

    All this communicates to the O&G industry is that they will never be on the hook for the environmental damage they have done and will do for as long as they like.

  2. “the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which nowadays functions more or less as the oilfield propaganda arm of the UCP and Conservative Party of Canada”

    Vice versa, surely?
    The UCP is the political arm and front office of the oil industry.
    Industry captures political parties and politicians, not the other way round.
    The UCP created its own propaganda arm: the $30-million-a-year worse-than-useless War Room (Canada Energy Centre).

    1. Worth noting that the War Room is essentially doing the O&G industry’s job for it, a job that the government is funding. It’s as if the government of South Carolina instituted, at taxpayer expense, a government office that officially counteracted all of these nasty complaints that smoking tobacco is linked to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
      Yep, the UCP is the CAPP’s political wing, alright.

  3. Berman: “This bailout announcement is a major turning point for oil and gas politics in Canada”

    A trifle optimistic. Does anybody expect the most powerful industry on the planet to go gently into that good night?
    UCP supporters rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    How does this neoliberal handout for well cleanup differ from previous subsidies?
    How does this — the third and surely not the last in a series of handouts for well cleanup — signify the “end of business as usual” and “winding down the oil and gas industry”?

    The industry has been digging into taxpayers’ pockets for reclamation and cleanup costs for over a decade.
    In 2009 Stephen Harper gave the oil industry a $30 million handout to clean up orphan wells.
    In 2016, the oilfield service lobby asked for half a billion federal dollars to clean up old wells. Ottawa declined. In the end, the AB Govt issued a $235-million loan to the Orphan Well Association, with interest covered by Ottawa. So far taxpayers are on the hook for at least $30 million.

    Trudeau has just added $1.7 billion to that total.

  4. No matter how you slice it, dice it, chop it or puree it — this recipe for oil company bailouts amounts to just another sickening oil industry subsidy.

    The Orphan Well Association funding is supposed to come from a levy paid by the Alberta energy industry and collected by the Alberta Energy Regulator. It’s severely underfunded, but the question is why?

    So now taxpayers are being asked to fall for the ruse once again — even though provincial royalty rates were obscenely low for the past decade; the big oil companies are sitting on billions of dollars of cash and their CEOs have been rewarded handsomely with salary and bonuses during the last decade. P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and in Alberta they’re not hard to find — especially with a myopic conservative government in charge.

  5. Dear Canadian taxpayer,

    Once again we would like to thank you for the bailout without your continued efforts we may not be able to buy back shares this year and increase executive compensation. It is also appreciated that you continue to believe that there are different parties, it’s cute when you get all tribal and think it matters who is in charge. Also take solace in that fact that we are spending very little of the bailout on our continuing politician buying program. There are just so many willing to sell you out they have become really cheap, at least this market appears to be functioning correctly with true price discovery.
    We feel it is important to highlight some of our most successful soldiers Jack Mintz first. For his continued efforts on behalf of the boards of Imperial Oil and Morneau Shepell to shape public policy in our favour while passing himself off as a University professor. Tzeporah Berman for providing controlled opposition when needed, as well as generous tax write offs.

    Once again thank you,

    Your corporate overlords

  6. “One course in a long-awaited meal”. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Canadians and Albertans in particular, will continue to be the victims of corporate looters as long as the rivers flow and the wind blows. Li’l Magus is another place-holder installed to make sure that the system drives capital flows into the coffers of the right speculators, and sometimes that includes the maverick, boot-strap welfare queens of the Alberta oil and gas industry.
    This site has previously addressed this Ponzi scheme, but as always, it seems that few will face the fact that democracy in a global speculator economy is an absolute fantasy. The NDP did not get elected in 2015 for any factor other than the schism between the Kons who were were more superstitous than greedy from the Kons who were more greedy than superstitious. While Kons have proven consistently for the last fifty years that their electoral success can be dependent on the degree to which their scheming and back-stabbing undermines the stability of whatever party has temporarily brought them together, Alberta is a Kon province. Which meant the NDP bending the citizens over for oil and gas, just like most fervent owner of Ayn Rand books-on-tape.
    Li’l Magus has done nothing more than provide a bail-out to a band of looters. How exactly is the $1.7 billion going to be allocated, and to whom? The $750 million loan to resource companies is the fiscal equivalent of a polio joke. But what could be the real cornucopia of government cheese to pay for vacation properties via stock sell-offs, is the “expanded credit support” for medium-sized energy companies. Why not have a multi-billion dollar back-stop for Amway and Herbalife uplines who are struggling?
    Will the 30% of non-yokel, non-schemer Albertans ever figure out that the seat of government is not in Edmonton, it is in the Petroleum and Ranchmen’s clubs in Calgary, and they don’t have a vote?

    1. Dear Murphy: In a way your very accurate observation this is not at all a democracy is comforting. If the craven, vindictive, superstitious, and largely pathetic specimens that inhabit the Legislature and Parliament were a true reflection of my neighbors, I doubt I could sleep at night.

  7. So Justin Trudeau created 5200 jobs in Alberta to clean up the orphaned wells.
    Jason Kenney’s job creation efforts? Big fat 0.

    More jobs were lost during UCP’s first year in power and not just in oil and gas industry.

  8. “…to bridge our energy sector to the other side…”

    Maybe its just me, but I have always thought it is a good idea to know where the other side is before I start building a bridge to get there. Are we so certain there is another side?

  9. It is pathetic, in a boringly familiar way; although, the congratulatory mewling by people who should know better is laughable (cf., bathos). How would the owners of capital ever be suitably rewarded if the limited liability company did not exist and the government did not foot the bill for clean up costs? That is sarcasm.

    Because, “economists long have noted that spillover effects or externalities occur when private markets do not
    function efficiently.” In this case, “do not function efficiently”, simply means that a certain class of economic free rider(s) have found way(s) to invest capital and profit by enthusiastically offloading costs, in the form of post abandonment remediation efforts, onto the taxpayer.

    Sadly, for the entity and the individuals paying the costs, it is the steady state for the corporate-state and its managers. See for example,

  10. I suppose it is a good sign for Mr. Trudeau that he has the support of Ms. Berman and Mr. Kenney on this. I agree the support of Conservatives is somewhat qualified, they are grateful, but want more.

    I suspect the sad state of Alberta’s economy and finances will continue to temper Mr. Kenney’s criticism of the Federal Liberals for some time. I think he is smart enough to realize that each time he criticizes the Feds it potentially delays or jeopardizes potential financial support.

    I suspect one of the reasons it took so long for this program to arrive is Mr. Kenney couldn’t keep his mouth shut and play nice with the Feds long enough. It probably goes against all his natural inclinations and political instincts to be nice to the Federal Liberals, but the harsh truth is he needs them much more than they need him right now.

    So if you are ever wondering about a reoccuring strange pained or constrained look on Mr. Kenney’s face in the near future, it is probably him trying hard not to say what he really thinks about Mr. Trudeau and his government.

  11. I wish subsidies to the petroleum industry had conditions attached. Here are a few suggestions: TMX may only pipe refined product for shipping, not dilbit (the bitumen fraction can’t be cleaned up if spilled in seawater because it sinks); a special federal surtax or royalty will be charged to the Albertan petroleum industry and placed in a fund—the Canadian Subsidization Heritage Recovery Fund—which the feds may transfer to Alberta as a form of equalization.

    And so forth.

    PS several BC residents who work in the Alberta petroleum industry have been tested positive for COVID19 and will have to be isolated for two weeks before being allowed to enjoy their time-off gambolling about with friends and family at home in BC. If these workers survive the disease, they’ll be better just in time to go back to work in Alberta. Can somebody tell me why, when the dilbit product’s price has literally tanked, are workers still toiling in the money-losing industry?

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