Canada to argue ‘ethical’ oilsands at climate change talks – by Trish Audette (Calgary Herald – November 27, 2011)

EDMONTON — As world leaders gather in South Africa to discuss climate change this week and next, Canada’s environment minister says he plans to defend Alberta’s oilsands and is willing to argue they are an “ethical” and reliable energy source.

Heading into the 17th Conference of the Parties meeting, Environment Minister Peter Kent says he will not sign on to any deals that mandate some countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions while others don’t — as his government argues was the case under the Kyoto Protocol. He is also unequivocal in his defence of northern Alberta’s bitumen production, a position he expects will be supported by Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen when she joins him at the end of the week.

“We still need to — and the industry needs to and our provincial partners need to — be aggressive in ensuring international friends and neighbours and customers recognize Alberta’s heavy oil is no different from heavy oil produced in any number of other countries which don’t receive nearly the negative attention or criticism,” he says. “It is a legitimate resource.”

Kent has made headlines in the last year by arguing that Alberta’s oil is “ethical.”

“We talk about this on quite a regular basis,” Kent says. “I think it’s important we correct where we find . . . misunderstanding, misinformation or deliberate ignorance to demonize, to criticize and to attempt . . . to create a boycott.”

In January, on his second day as environment minister, Kent referred to Alberta’s oilsands product as “ethical oil” during an interview with a newspaper reporter.

Reports immediately linked Kent’s comments to the title of conservative activist Ezra Levant’s recent book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands.

The book essentially compares Canada’s human rights record to those of other oil-producing countries, and argues Canada’s “ethical oil” is preferable to “conflict oil” produced in countries with poor human rights records, such as Sudan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia or Iran. The argument removes environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, from the equation, though Levant notes Alberta’s data on environmental issues is more transparent than information shared by other countries.

Kent says he hadn’t actually read the book at the time. “That came from somewhere in my unconsciousness. . . . After that event in January, Ezra sent me an autographed copy of the book, and it’s on my bedside table.

Nonetheless, in the months since Kent’s appointment and the book’s September 2010 publication, critics and others have drawn further links between Levant’s advocacy website,, and the federal government. For example, the first spokesman for was Alykhan Velshi, who worked for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and former environment minister John Baird. Levant himself, a television and newspaper commentator, was part of the original Reform party movement and in the 1990s organized nomination campaigns for federal Conservative Party members.

“It’s an argument that of course has been picked up by the Stephen Harper government,” Mike Hudema, an Edmonton-based Greenpeace campaigner, says of ethical oil. “This is a very attractive argument if you want to keep us locked into a very destructive economy, and not just keep us locked in, but bring us further down the rabbit hole.”

A spokesman for Harper says there are no links between and the federal government.

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