How The West Was Lost

3 minute read

Last week, the Liberal government unveiled its long-awaited 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan – a sprawling, ambitious strategy that aims to cut carbon emissions nearly in half within the decade and puts aside $9.1 billion toward building a greener economy.

While climate change continues to wreak havoc on our planet much more aggressively than we seem to be willing to embrace necessary changes, Canada has consistently fallen short of meeting its targets. 

But amidst all the praise and applause, there is one question that hasn’t been given enough attention in Ottawa: Does the plan go far enough to address Western Canada’s concerns around the future of its lifeblood – the energy industry? 

Well, let’s hear from some Albertans themselves.  

“The federal government wants to punish Albertans for filling up our cars and heating our homes.” – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney

“Bringing forward a climate plan of this nature is insane – that’s the only word for it.” – Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon 

Branding a plan to help save the planet as “insane” and accusing the sitting Prime Minister of yearning to punish citizens may be a tad… extreme. But does Western Canada have legitimate reason to be frustrated? Is all the criticism, and the borderline hatred, over the carbon emissions warranted, or is it all just typical political posturing? 

In the aftermath of the 2019 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – whose Liberals were reduced to a minority government and failed to win any seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan’s combined 48 ridings – vowed to start fresh and make a more concerted effort to mend tensions with the west.

Shortly after that election, Trudeau named Alberta-born Chrystia Freeland Deputy Prime Minister, tasking her with extending an olive branch to the west, and pegged Manitoba’s Jim Carr as the government’s special representative for the prairies. “The election sent a message from the west,” Freeland said at the time. “Now is a moment when we need to respond, to begin with, by listening really really hard.”

Cut to two and a half years later, and the Liberals have made little progress on that front. Despite squeaking out two seats in the Conservative stronghold of Alberta this past fall, Trudeau – and his climate-related policies – remain deeply unpopular in the west.

There are, of course, historical reasons. In Alberta, the Trudeau brand elicits more outrage and distrust than a tourist in Italy asking for pineapple on their pizza. And in a province where the oil and gas industry makes up nearly a quarter of the economy, employs more than one hundred thousand workers, and is so ubiquitous that it’s the namesake of the better of two NHL teams, the promise to ramp up carbon pricing and phase out the financing of fossil fuels is sure to cause some fear and uncertainty. 

To their credit, the Liberals’ plan commits roughly $2 billion to a new “futures fund” that would “help workers across sectors upgrade or gain new skills to be on the leading edge of the zero carbon industry.” Yet, as commendable as that effort is, $2 billion will do little to help transition a sector that not only drives the economy, but plays a key role in the regional identity.

The oil and gas industry may be the leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and the source of irreversible damage to the environment, but the federal government needs to do more than give lip service and throw some cash on the table – it needs to lead by example. 

But don’t take it from Jason Kenney and co. Rachel Notley, who leads Alberta’s NDP and isn’t likely to count the big emitters as her close friends, called on “Ottawa to work with Alberta, not around us.” In her view, “a real plan must protect Alberta workers and their families”  and “engage with Alberta’s energy industry.” 

The Liberal government would be wise to take that advice to heart. The party, the country, and the planet will all be better for it.

Missed this week’s Look Ahead?

We’ve got you covered.

Articles we think you’ll like

Subscribe to our mailing list.