Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Alberta and the Copenhagen Climate Summit

The UN Copenhagen climate summit appears to have inflamed deeply held emotions about the Canadian federation. Being born and raised in Alberta, I am well-schooled in the rhetoric of western Canadian isolationism and arguments for separation. Oddly, a few years back, I awoke one morning wondering how the Trudeau era National Energy Policy had caused simultaneous economic collapse in Denver, Colorado and Houston, Texas as well as in Calgary. That seems to have broken the illusion for me. On the other hand, our long-held regional biases are proving to be alive and thriving if comments on the CBC website are any indication.

It seems that the potential for a climate change treaty terrifies some Albertans - including Ed Stelmach, Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice. They paint it as some sort of power-grab where Ontario is going to steal everything from Alberta - again. Much of this is based on popular misconceptions, and I would like to clear up one of these. It is often asserted that Alberta provides oil for all of Canada - like Ralph Klein's famous quote "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark". While it’s true that Canada is the world's 15th largest oil exporter - and most of this oil comes from Alberta - most of Canada actually relies on imported crude.

According to Stats Canada, for 2006 : Total crude oil supply was 103,974.1 thousand cubic meters with 49,284.9 or over 47% of that being imported. Large imports of crude were purchased from Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela, the UK and Norway. Alberta's oil pipelines run dominantly North to South and the overwhelming majority of Alberta's oil goes directly to the United States. For many conservative Albertans, their loyalty seems to do the same thing.

It seems some Albertans believe they deserve credit and respect for the oil that lies deep underground within provincial borders. It's worth considering that the oil was generated millions of years ago. Alberta’s power and wealth are largely an accident of nature combined with arbitrary political boundaries drawn on a century-old map. When I compare what successive Tory governments have done with Alberta’s oil resources to what Norway has done with theirs, it makes me want to cry. Being third generation Albertan, it sometimes seems like the conservatives have been around forever, but compared to that - it's hardly a drop in the barrel.

On the other hand, if the global warming predictions are correct and Albertans like Harper and Prentice can block an effective GHG reduction treaty, then the Alberta Tory legacy will truly last forever.

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