Tar sands: Alberta’s charm offensive
When a delegation of Alberta cabinet ministers comes to town calling for a “constructive conversation” about the oil sands, they deserve a hearing. Anti-Alberta boycotts are gathering steam, and the province is responding with public relations campaign of its own.
But a charm offensive is not going to change the channel. It’s not enough to say the world should stop tarring Alberta’s oil sands merely because the province claims it has gone green, as Environment Minister Rob Renner told his Toronto audiences this week.
“There is no doubt we must transition to a cleaner energy future that will see our reliance on carbon-based fuels diminish,” Renner said soothingly. The trouble with Renner’s story is that it sounds like a tall tale. He boasts of the “incredible environmental improvements that the oil sands industry has made,” but sloughs off the burden of surging greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.
Alberta’s pitch is that billions of dollars will flow down the pipeline to Ontario manufacturers that supply the oil sands sector. Now Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants Ontario workers to shout down environmentalists who want to shut down the oil sands with this snappy retort: “You’re attacking my livelihood.”
If that’s the adult conversation Alberta claims to want, it sounds more like a hard sell, with a hint of economic blackmail (back the oil sands, or it will cost you jobs). The trouble with Alberta’s pitch to Ontario’s economic self-interest is that it ignores the heavy burden imposed on manufacturers by a higher Canadian petro-dollar, which is already pricing our exports out of foreign markets.
The oil sands are being developed at a breakneck pace, without a workable strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta is relying too heavily on a $25-million public relations war chest, and the panacea of unproven carbon capture technology, to greenwash its tar sands troubles.