Canada's new government

Climate change: Are we really all in this together?

New Liberal environment minister touts meeting with Big Oil

When it comes to climate change, are oil companies, Indigenous land defenders, and environmental activists “all in this together”? That’s what Canada’s new environment minister recently implied. With less than a week until the UN climate summit starts in Paris, it’s worth considering who’s really on our side in the fight to avert climate catastrophe.

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Last week, Canada’s new minister of the environment and climate change, Catherine McKenna, shared on social media that her first publicized meeting with non-governmental actors in Canada was with Big Oil. Tweeting about her meeting with Enbridge, Suncor and Cenovus representatives, she commented that we’re “#allinthistogether.”

On the one hand, it was just a tweet, but on the other, it’s a tweet that says a lot about who this new government is aligning itself with when it comes to tackling climate change.

It’s a touching sentiment to think that we’re all in this together, as if the government, Big Oil and the people were some sort of three Musketeers coming together as all for one and one for all.

But it’s bullshit.

Tar sands expansion is incompatible with climate action

The simple truth is that Enbridge, Suncor and Cenovus all have business models that are based on a plan to extract, ship and burn more tar sands than the climate can handle. Specifically, their long-term profitability depends on not doing what the science says we have to in order to meet our obligation to stay below a 2C global temperature rise, which is to leave 85 per cent of tar sands in the ground.

There may be, and probably are, great people in those corporations who are genuinely concerned about climate change, and these companies may be making investments in technology and renewables, but without a recognition that real climate action means leaving fossil fuels in the ground, it won’t be enough. More than this, we have to remember that time and time again, the fossil fuel industry has done everything in its power to undermine climate action in Canada and around the world.

There is no shortage of examples to draw from, but perhaps the most telling is the recent revelation that Exxon Mobil knew about climate change in the 1970s and chose to actively deceive the public for over three decades. They lied about the risks and about their role in causing the crisis, and now they are facing an investigation in the state of New York because of it. There are countless other examples tracking how fossil fuel industry funding and action has undermined domestic and international climate legislation and clean energy initiatives. Oh, and there’s that whole climate denial movement, which was bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.

The Canadian connection

Here in Canada, it’s not much better. Enbridge was behind massive lobbying efforts to strip protections from Canada’s waterways in an effort to expedite the approval of their tar sands pipelines. Both Cenovus and Suncor are active members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an infamous fossil fuel industry lobby group that has helped secure Canada’s reputation as a global pariah on climate change. CAPP was behind lobbying to stop climate legislation in Alberta in 2013, they formed a secret committee to promote tar sands development with the governments of Alberta and Canada in 2010 and they played a significant role in the drafting of now infamous omnibus bills gutting Canada’s environmental regulations.

In addition to their dubious records on climate and environmental protections, these are also corporations whose operations in northern Alberta have been at the core of countless violations of Indigenous and treaty rights. It raises the question of how the environment and climate minister plans to address years of unchecked development, spills and major health impacts while aligning herself with the same players that are facing Indigenous legal challenges from the west coast to the the tar sands.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a minister of the environment and climate change, I was hopeful that Catherine McKenna’s mandate would be stop climate change. But now I’m starting to get worried. If the first actor that Canada’s new government is listening to when it comes to climate action is the fossil fuel industry, we have a serious problem.

We already know what happens to the climate when Canada has a government that is in it together with Big Oil — that’s what we had with Stephen Harper.

We need a government that’s going to be in this together with the people and not the polluters. That means standing up to big oil companies, not getting into bed with them.

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