Canada will be governed for the next four years by a Liberal government lead by Justin Trudeau, a 43-year-old ex-drama teacher and son of Canadian long-serving Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. What surprised virtually all the pollsters and pundits was that Trudeau was able to achieve a substantial majority government. At the beginning of the election campaign, the Liberals were in third place, behind both the ruling Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, and the Canadian socialist party. But in the last weeks of the campaign the Liberals became the preferred alternative to repudiate Harper personally—notwithstanding the fact that Canada enjoyed better economic performance over the past ten years than other G7 countries. Ultimately, Harper could not really expand his base of roughly 30% of the electorate.
The issue of hydrocarbon development, and related questions of infrastructure and carbon policy, were certainly part of the campaign, but never rose to great prominence. Nevertheless, Trudeau was able to distinguish himself substantively from Harper on these issues, especially with respect to his stance on carbon pricing.
Harper maintained over his entire tenure as Prime Minister an almost pathological resistance to carbon pricing, particularly when it takes the form of a carbon tax. Harper continually committed Canada to emission-reduction targets that were fundamentally at odds with his ambitions for Canada fully exploiting its hydrocarbon potential. That potential could only have been realized through some national standard on carbon pricing. Carbon pricing would have allowed Canada to at least claim that it had internalized economically the risk of climate change while continuing to increase its carbon emissions over the short- and medium-term. Such logic was beyond Harper. The Keystone XL pipeline project might have been salvaged if Harper had been more willing to see carbon pricing as a means to address environmental concerns. The failure to pursue approval of the pipeline through carbon pricing is one of the great missed opportunities of Harper’s last term as Prime Minister.
Trudeau at least brings an open-mindedness to how Canada will approach carbon policy. In respect to carbon pricing, he talked during the campaign about setting a national standard that the Canadian provinces could implement with mechanisms that best suited their circumstances.
As for pipeline infrastructure, Trudeau chose to approach each project on a case-by-case basis. He has been steadfastly against Gateway, the major oil project to the northern coast of British Columbia. He held firm in deference to local resistance to the project, but at odds with the affirmative findings of the national regulator. Nevertheless, he continues to support Keystone XL, albeit while claiming that the project is likely a lost cause due to Harper’s obtuseness in his dealings with the Obama administration. As for the other major Canadian oil pipelines projects, Trudeau remains open-minded, preferring to wait for the existing regulatory process to run its course. In other words, he’s keeping his options open to approve or reject any of these projects.
One can hope, however, that Trudeau will see carbon pricing as the foundation to a credible carbon policy that will allow Canada to justify the realization of its hydrocarbon potential. There is really no other option for Canada.
The Canadian environmental movement, and other leftist elements, will demand that Trudeau embrace more stringent emissions-reduction targets, and impose specific constraints on incremental oil sands production. But there’s a better way to achieve Canada’s environmental goals. Trudeau should seize the chance to champion carbon pricing, not only within Canada, but within North America as a whole.
One can hope that is a real point of discussion in his first meeting with Obama.
(Image courtesy of Alex Guibord. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)