Environmentalists turn to premiers instead of Ottawa in search of common cause
Protesters cross a security fence as they join the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace Canada in holding a rally featuring a civil disobedience sit-in against the tar sands on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, July 23, 2012 6:19AM EDT
OTTAWA -- Environmentalists are giving up hope in the federal government and are now focusing on the provinces to forge a strategy that would embrace renewable energy and tackle climate change.
Several groups are heading to Halifax this week in a show of force just as the premiers meet to add heft to a pan-Canadian energy strategy at their annual get-together.
Some of the environmental groups have allied themselves with organized labour to take out advertising and lobby premiers to make sure their energy talks include discussions about climate change, emissions reductions and investment in renewable energy.
They say the conversation with Ottawa has become so polarized that it's time to turn to the premiers instead for a productive conversation.
At the same time, Greenpeace is releasing a report Monday morning that probes Ottawa's relationship with Shell Canada over the years, and concludes they are in cahoots.
But big business is setting its sights on the premiers too, with the Council of Chief Executives urging the provinces to work together to better market Canada's energy resources, but also to make sure they do so in a way that is sustainable for the environment.
"The risk moving forward is that if we continue with our national conversation, placing all our efforts in the oil basket, we risk not only serious environmental impact but also waking up 10 years from now and realizing the world has moved on," said Gillian McEachern, deputy campaign director for Environmental Defence Canada.
She says the environmental-labour alliance is generally supportive of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's plan to hammer out a national energy strategy.
"It's not a bad place to start," she said.
But the activists want to make sure Redford's plan doesn't focus solely on getting Alberta's oil out of the ground and into the marketplace, and also examines the pace of expansion in the oilpatch, as well as investment in renewable energy, conservation and emissions reduction.
She believes the alliance has friends in the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Greenpeace is also placing its hopes in the premiers, saying Ottawa is working hand in hand with oil companies to aggressively expand oilsands activity and build pipelines that would only make sense in a world that takes no action on climate change.
"If the premiers go along with Harper's plan, then Canada will miss out on the green energy revolution that is our best hope for a prosperous future," said Keith Stewart, the climate campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada and the author of the report.
Using documents obtained through access-to-information, Stewart argues that Shell Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have worked together to campaign against rules in California and Europe that could hamper the marketing of the oilsands.
The federal government has not ruled out participating in a national energy strategy of some kind. Indeed, a Conservative-led Senate committee laid out detailed recommendations for such a strategy last week.
Plus, Harper and his ministers argue that they are indeed taking a "responsible" approach to resource development by streamlining environmental assessment procedures, on the one hand, and imposing standards and national regulations on emissions on the other.
But numerous reports from the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy as well as the federal auditor for environmental policy have warned that Ottawa's piecemeal approach is leading to overlap with the provinces in some areas, and leaving large caps in other areas.
The federal government, however, is not engaged in figuring out how make sure all the provincial and federal policies should work together, say the chief executives.
"We believe that provincial and territorial governments should take the lead in bringing more coherence to climate policy across the country," they said in a report released last week for the premiers.
Redford has solid support from the Western provinces, but Ontario balked at Alberta's plan last year. Now, after meeting with Redford last week, Premier Dalton McGuinty is sounding far more positive about her plan.
Redford has been meeting the premiers on a one-on-one basis to sound them out on her ideas for a national strategy.