Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.THE CANADIAN PRESS


Climate leadership is tearing Canada apart.

Geographical regions are divided, First Nations’ groups are divided, governments are divided, political parties are divided, families are divided.

In the past, almost all Canadians supported the great national projects that created today’s prosperity — the cross-Canada railroads, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the great hydro-electricity projects of B.C., Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland/Labrador.

Today, Canada’s biggest potential prosperity-builder is construction of new or expanded pipelines and new ocean ports to export Western Canadian oil and natural gas to Eastern Canada, Asia, Europe and the USA.

But these pipelines have become the central battleground, the symbolic line in the sand, between those convinced too much CO2 (from the burning of fossil fuels) is causing world-destroying global warming, and the more moderate view that CO2 levels can be stabilized, then lowered, through a mix of renewable energy and the “greening” of carbon-based fuels through applied science.

I was back-packing with friends in the Rockies last weekend. Smoke from some 550 forest fires in B.C. enveloped the mountains in a ghostly dry mist.

Some in the group were convinced the forest fires were caused by global warming – that the B.C. forests are so dry (and thus burnable) due to climate change. Huge forest fires would be in the summer norm in British Columbia for the foreseeable future.

Others, more moderate, suggested the main culprit was not climate change, but better forest-fire suppression and the pine beetle.  Suppressing forest fires through early detection had led to a build-up of dry kindling on the forest floor. Meanwhile, the vast tree-killing pine-beetle infestation has led to millions of dry-as-a-bone dead trees. When the forest did catch fire – which is part of the forest cycle – it really caught on fire.

There seems to be no middle ground. These two views oppose each other, and they show up everywhere.

You can feel the uneasiness between the two camps within Alberta’s New Democrat government. All the government’s MLAs were solidly behind its Climate Leadership Plan that is spending almost $2 billion a year, raised in new taxes, to fighting global warming on a provincial level. That plan contained next-to-no support for lowering CO2 emissions from oil and gas – the foundational cornerstones of the Alberta economy.

But Premier Rachel Notley’s whole-hearted effort to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built — for the sake of jobs, new tax revenues and re-election in 2019 — sits uneasily with ND supporters who are more comfortable with a “no fossil fuels” environmental scenario.

The federal Liberal government is equally in knots about energy. On the one hand, government-approved environmental roadblocks have caused the pipeline industry to all but give up on new pipelines. On the other, it buys the Trans Mountain pipeline, insisting the Trans Mountain expansion must be built … but may be deferred until after next year’s federal election, in the hopes of keeping its 17 seats within the pervading  anti-pipeline sentiment of B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

On it goes.

First Nations are divided – those seeking jobs and economic development, versus those opposed to pipelines for environmental, territorial and political reasons.

Generations are divided – younger Canadians generally in favour of dramatic CO2 reduction without digesting the consequences to their employment future, their parents recognizing the importance of the Canadian carbon-based energy sector to our standard of living.

There is one great consequence of this national deadlock.

With so much opposition and risk, energy industry decision-makers are not investing in new or expanded Canadian energy projects; especially with the uncertainty of new pipelines to get the stuff to market.

The anti-pipeline crowd blithely suggest renewable energy manufacturing and construction can replace the economic activity generated by the oil patch.

How absurd: Three million barrels of oil are extracted, processed, refined and/or exported every day from Western Canada. Not one manufacturer of solar panels or wind farms has set up shop in this province.

Too much risk and over-regulation means needed pipelines are not being built. Industrial investment in Alberta is a shadow of what it once was.

All this, when Alberta’s contribution to global warming is but a pimple on the elephant’s back.