When things go wrong, a simple friend may be empathic towards you. He or she may emphasize that you are out of luck and that life is hard. But your closest friend won’t beat it around the bush and will give you the hard facts: “You made a mistake, my friend. Now get up, stop complaining and correct your mistake! Show us what you can do.” A real friend will take the risk of hurting you because he or she knows that the truth sometimes has to be told. And heard.
In my opinion, friendship is also about telling the truth, even if it can be hard to hear.
Recently, the friendship between the two Canadian solitudes was put severely to the test when Denis Coderre and 83 Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal mayors rejected TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project. “That is high treason!” ranted several Canadian politicians and commentators. Montréal and (why not) the whole Province of Quebec were being ungrateful. “They want the benefits of the Federation without the inconveniences," they added. How could they even think of pleading for the protection of the environment, while the economy in Western Canada is doing so badly and thousands of petroleum industry workers are currently unemployed? Don’t they have any empathy for Alberta and Saskatchewan?!”
It is quite ironic to be criticized for not being “Canadian enough”, with our current Premier and mayor of Montréal; undoubtedly the most federalist politicians of them all in the last 75 years! If Couillard and Coderre are not the best friends of the ROC (Rest of Canada) in Quebec, it may as well be said that they don’t have any! Even with environmental issues entirely aside, Coderre’s “advice” to not build that pipeline is actually a truth hard to hear. To some extent, he is telling Western Canada to diversify their economy!
A far too large portion of the Alberta economy depends on the oil industry. Currently, the spectacular drop in barrel prices suddenly halted the operation and even the construction of some oil sands mines. If prices rose again, those operations would undoubtedly resume in full swing (unfortunately for the environment!). However, history has taught us one thing on raw materials: their prices will constantly fluctuate and, sooner or later, they will drop again.
Building an economy dependent on the exportation of a single raw material is a strategy doomed to fail.
In light of this context, the Brad Walls of this world would like us to help oil-producing provinces to build pipelines, so they can increase their oil production and depend upon it even more!
Forget about greenhouse gases: From a strictly economic perspective, this approach does not even hold. The last thing we should do is encourage Alberta to continue to depend on a single resource that it can control neither the demand nor the price.
In a few weeks, the Government of Justin Trudeau will table its first budget. It will clearly include at least two items: new expenses to reduce greenhouse gases and boost the economy. The risk that the first item may be cancelled by the second is very high. For the first time, the Government will actually be tested for the coherence of its budget.
Here are five measures that I hope to find in this budget to help create jobs while reducing greenhouse gases:
- Investments in transportation infrastructure for public transit and biking;
- Investments in green infrastructure, like East-West transmission lines to export clean electric power from British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec to Alberta, Ontario and the Maritimes;
- New expenses in home energy efficiency, as one of the most efficient means to create jobs quickly everywhere across the country. The cheapest source of energy is the one we do not use;
- Support to emerging green economy businesses offering solutions to several environmental issues;
- New programs to support research and public awareness about climate change issues and energy solutions.
These measures are not meant to replace all the jobs lost in Alberta, but they could lay the groundwork for a highly needed diversification.
Justin Trudeau will not gain seats in Alberta with such measures, but he would send a clear message to Albertans and Canadians: The party’s over for oil production. It is time to get real, to roll up our sleeves and move on to something else. It’s a hard “reality check”.
Hard to say… And even harder to hear.