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Harper has made it impossible to have a national conversation on the economy without talking about pipelines, but just as impossible to debate those without addressing his climate change record.
Had Canadians embraced an ambitious climate change plan along the lines of Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift five years ago, would the Keystone XL pipeline blueprint still be gathering dust in President Barack Obama’s in-tray? Would Alberta’s energy industry be scrambling to get a single domestic pipeline off the drawing board?
By the time the 2008 federal vote took place, the global financial crisis was in full swing. If the ruling Conservatives had presented a credible climate change plan of their own rather than be content to demonize that of their rivals back then they might have had to tone it down in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances.
But the green credentials of such a government would have continued to be a defining feature at home and abroad. Its first order of business would not have been the dismantling of the country’s environmental oversight infrastructure along the lines of that undertaken by the Conservatives since they have won a majority, or the waging of a counterintuitive war on the environmental movement.
Would Obama have found it easier to sign off on a pipeline bid that was backed by a Canadian government whose body language was climate-change friendly ? The answer is a no-brainer. Over the past few months the president has made that clear.
As months of Canadian lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL turn into years, it has become glaringly obvious that Canada’s environmental record is acting as a damper on its energy ambitions and not only in Washington. It is also a hindrance in the provinces that are on the projected routes of the domestic pipelines.
There was little talk of pipelines in the 2008 election but by all indications there will be plenty of it in the next federal campaign.
The issue played a pivotal role in the outcome of last spring’s British Columbia election. In that province an ill-fated mid-campaign decision by the NDP to turn its opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline into a more blanket opposition to pipelines is widely credited for having turned the tide in favour of the Liberals.
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