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Mr. Harper Goes Green

This Magazine Staff

Back on Friday, Harper announced that if we elected him back into power, he would have Canada stop exporting bitumen to countries that have lower greenhouse-gas emission standards than we do.
At first listen, this sounds like a great policy from an environmental perspective-we’ll stop selling our oil to nasty countries that pollute a lot and thus help to save our world from global warming and cannibalistic polar bears and all of that unhappiness. And while I doubt anyone’s going to read about this promise and decide that Harper’s the new David Suzuki, it does give Conservative supporters something to point to when they claim that their party does care about the environment.
But if Harper and company really cared about the planet, they’d come up with something a lot better than this promise that might be a little too easy to keep.

Bitumen is the tar-like form of petroleum that is pulled from the Alberta oilsands. Currently, Alberta produces around 1.3 million barrels of bitumen on average each day and according to the Conservatives, around 500,000 of those barrels are shipped across the border. But for the most part, this sticky substance isn’t being shipped over to China or India or some other heavily-polluting third world country; no, almost all of our bitumen is sent to the United States.
But isn’t the US one of the biggest polluters in the world? And wouldn’t this promise mean that we’d no longer be able to export our bitumen to them? Well, yeah, the US is the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases but they are but they are planning on cleaning up their act (at least a bit). Both Obama and McCain have promised to cut America’s greenhouse gas output, something that should bring the US in line with(or even exceed) Canada’s own un-ambitious greenhouse gas emission standards that include the goal of reducing emissions to three percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
But even if the next president decides to do nothing about greenhouse gas output, the Conservatives could still follow through on this promise and not cause massive economic turmoil because this new rule wouldn’t apply to existing contracts. And as for how this concept could affect future bitumen exports to Asia, Enbridge’s proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline to coastal BC is still years off from being operational and who knows who will be in power then.
You can call Harper a lot of names but you can’t call him dumb. He knows that Canadian voters care about the environment, a topic that’s clearly one of the Conservative party’s weak spots. He’s also seen how poorly the Liberal’s complicated (though intelligent) Green Shift plan has gone down with the general public. So he’s gone out and come up with a promise that, at first glance, is green, easy to grasp and very keepable.
True, keeping it will likely piss off some Albertans, but what are they going to do about it? Go and form their own federal party or something?

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