No Dissension on Oil Exploration in the Leaders Debate in Canada
Writer Nora Loreto and Green Party member Dimitri Lascaris argue all leading parties overemphasize the link of jobs and oil expansion while organized labor takes them at their word.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Thursday the second official Canadian leadership debate took place. The topic: the economy. With a 7 percent unemployment rate, jobs and the economy are key election issues this cycle, and with that comes talk about Canada’s energy and environment. According to government statistics, natural resources directly and indirectly account for almost 20 percent of Canada’s GDP and roughly 1.8 million jobs. So we wanted to frame this discussion around Canada’s future energy policy, and how it will ultimately impact everyday people.
Let’s now welcome our panel. Nora Loreto is the author of the book From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement. And also joining us is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a partner with the Canadian law firm of Siskinds. He’s also a board member of the Real News Network, and he’s running to become a member of parliament for London West riding as a member of the Green party. Thank you both for joining us.
NORA LORETO: Thank you.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So we should mention before we get into this discussion that we reached out to candidates and representatives from all three leading parties, but they politely declined to participate in today’s discussion. But we have this amazing panel, so let’s start off and just kick things off, Nora. And get us up to speed. Let’s talk about what each candidate represents in terms of interests, and what is their specific platform when it comes to the energy sector?
TOM MULCAIR, NDP LEADER: We’ve always believed that the best way to ensure a reduction in greenhouse gases is with what’s called a cap and trade system. Actually, Canada and the United States had a very successful model of that to reduce SO2 when it was causing acid rain on our forests. It’s worked before and it can work again.
LORETO: Great. Well just to recap, we are halfway through the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history. Some viewers might be surprised to find out that in Canada election campaigns tend to only be six weeks long. This one is 11 weeks long, so we’re definitely getting into a fatigued state of Canadian politics right now. And last night was the second election debate that was televised among the three leaders. The fourth main party leader, Elizabeth May, was not there. She’s with the Green party. And so it was really a debate between the three men who are at the head of the three parties that are vying to be government. And each of them actually have a reasonable shot at forming government, which is also quite historic.
Last night’s debate was focused on the economy. And in Canada when we talk about the economy it’s almost always code word for talking about resource extraction. That kind of speaks to the fact that we’ve had ten years of Conservative rule that has seen resource extraction be the most important engine of the Canadian economy. And so not surprisingly resource extraction played a pretty significant role and energy policy played a pretty significant role in last night’s debate. And after ten years of a very, I think, extreme incarnation of a conservative politic, what we’ve found is that the Conservatives are very comfortably occupying the right. They see oil in the ground as being there for our purposes, that we should be exploiting that to every extent possible, and we should be building the infrastructure necessary to exploit that resource.
Because of that the Conservatives have put all of their eggs into the energy basket. And I think that last night one of the, one of the other candidates, I think it was Tom Mulcair of the New Democratic Party, said you put all your eggs in the basket then you drop the basket. And that is kind of what’s happened. With oil prices globally dropping, and then of course putting downward pressure on the Canadian dollar, a lot of Canadians are finally saying, well, maybe it’s not so wise to have put all of the energy, I guess, of the government into exploiting natural resources for energy exports.
DESVARIEUX: But Nora, what’s the alternative policies being put forth? Let’s talk about the NDP and the Liberal party, just really quickly.
LORETO: Sure. They’re basically saying that they will diversify the economy. That they want to use the low dollar to try and regenerate Canada’s manufacturing industry. The Liberals have talked a lot about infrastructure spending on green infrastructure projects that would be financed through public partnerships. So the jury’s still out on how good those would be.
But what we have are three parties that are very much close to each other, that are trying to just say two different things of the same coin. The energy sector is important, for the Conservatives it means going full tilt into exploiting natural resources and reducing regulations and other barriers to that exploitation. And then you have the Liberals and the NDP saying, well hold on, we need to diversify, we need to make sure that there are regulations in place to protect the environment. And that, we need to stop looking at industry as being somehow oppositional to the environment.
DESVARIEUX: Dimitri, you’re representing the Green party. You guys have put up your own alternative platform. As Nora mentioned, you were not invited to participate in Thursday night’s debate. The Green party I should say, Elizabeth May. Talk about the Green party’s platform, and how does it differ from the NDP, for example.
LASCARIS: The scientific reality we’re confronting is that the vast majority of the oil must be left in the ground. The evidence is in and that’s simply the fact. And we have to deal with that fact if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change. And the tar sands are a particularly intensive, emissions-intensive way of extracting oil from the ground. So if we’re going to shut down sources of oil that are causing or potentially causing catastrophic climate change, this is one of the first places we’re going to have to look.
The Green party platform explicitly acknowledges this reality and we oppose expansion of the tar sands industry. All three of the major parties favor expansion of the tar sands industry. And what I found most remarkable about the campaign, the early stages of the campaign, is that a star candidate for the NDP in Toronto whose name is Linda McQuaig, and I have a lot of respect for Linda McQuaig, on national television actually had the courage to acknowledge the scientific reality and said that there are experts who have come to the conclusion that we have to leave the majority of the oil in the ground.
And what did Tom Mulcair, the supposed progressive, do, he threw her under the bus. And the leadership of the party, the NDP, historically the Social Democratic party of Canada, issued a statement that her comments did not reflect the NDP party platform, which is tantamount to saying that the NDP party platform does not incorporate science. The NDP party platform does not incorporate ideas that are necessary to preserve the future of our children.
So in any event, all three of the parties are of the same mind when it comes to expansion of the tar sands industry. And this is reflected in their attitude towards pipelines, which are intended ultimately to facilitate the expansion of the industry. There are four major projects on the table. There are two that would lead from Alberta to the West Coast of Canada, and create great risk for the coastline, the pristine coastline of British Columbia. One is the Trans-Mountain pipeline and another one is the Northern Gateway. Then there is the Keystone XL pipeline, the one that’s best known and the one that’s created a tremendous amount of controversy in the United States, and rightly so. And then there’s another one which is in relatively early stages called Energy East, which would traverse almost the entire country from Alberta to the East Coast, and cross my province, Ontario, and in addition to potentially destabilizing the climate, threaten our precious waterways here.
Where do the parties stand on these pipelines? Well, the Conservatives have never seen a pipeline they didn’t love. The Trudeau-led Liberals have expressly endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline and refused to rule out Energy East. They claim to be opposed to the BC pipelines but I think that’s just an attempt to buy votes in BC where they have a good prospect of picking up seats. And the NDP refuses to rule out either Keystone XL or Energy East. The Green party is unequivocally opposed to all four of those pipelines.
DESVARIEUX: But then Dimitri, if you’re unequivocally opposed to the pipelines and unequivocally opposed to expanding the energy sector when it comes to the tar sands, the question always becomes then what about jobs? If 10 percent of the Canadian jobs directly or indirectly are linked to natural resources that’s a powerful economic engine. So some would argue that you’re actually slowing down that engine. What would be your response?
LASCARIS: Let’s first of all draw an important distinction. Resource extraction, it includes a lot of things. It doesn’t just include oil. It includes other commodities. It includes iron. It includes gold. It includes copper. So let’s not mix up the job numbers for resource extraction with the oil sector, the oil and gas sector.
The oil and gas sector, the tar sands sector, actually contributes 2 percent of GDP. And a study came out this summer which showed that it actually employs fewer people directly than the renewable energy sector, which includes hydro in Canada. Of course there’s a lot of hydro energy in this country. There were 24,700 jobs encompassed within the renewable energy sector directly, including hydro. And there were somewhat less than 23,000 jobs directly created by the tar sands industry. So we are not talking about that many jobs, relatively speaking, when we’re focused on oil and gas. In addition, people believe here, most Canadians believe that 25 to 40 percent of our GDP is being generated by the tar sands industry. It’s actually 2 percent of GDP. So let’s just put this in context.
Now, what people don’t know is that for every million dollars invested in renewable energy 15 jobs are created, whereas for every million dollars invested in oil and gas or fossil fuels, two jobs are created. So there’s far more job creation potential in the renewable energy sector than there is in the fossil fuels sector. And Germany, which has a population that’s a little more than twice the size of Canada’s, 370,000 people are directly employed in the renewable energy sector. As I mentioned, here the number is less than 23,000 are employed in the tar sands sector directly.
So the job creation potential in the renewable energy sector is enormous and we’ve only begun to scrape the surface here. We derive less than 2 percent of our energy from solar and wind in this country. And people will say, well, we’re not exactly bathed in sunlight. But neither is Germany. And Germany manages to derive 30 percent of its electricity from solar.
So as I say, we’re scraping the surface here. We need to get beyond the fiction that renewable energy is a, that investment in renewable energy would be job-destroying. It would actually be massively job-creating. And these jobs would remain. The tar sands industry depends entirely upon a finite resource. One day that oil will disappear. And when it’s gone what will be left is a toxic wasteland the size of the United Kingdom and zero jobs. And if we end up destabilizing the climate there will be no jobs for anybody that are worth having. As Greenpeace has said, there are no good jobs on a dead planet. So let’s get real, let’s focus on the facts and the reality and the science, and accept that the true engine of growth in the future in this country for jobs is renewable energy. That’s the industry of the future.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s talk about the labor force. Because I’m curious to understand what is actually going on with organized labor when it comes to the energy sector. I’m going to turn to you, Nora, because I know you follow this closely. Who are they throwing their support behind in this election cycle?
LORETO: Well, this is the first election that’s been run under a new set of policies that very frighteningly restrict how third parties can engage in the election. So on the good side it bans donations, or limited donations, from third parties. But it also severely restricts how third parties are allowed to engage, and unions fall under that third party legislation.
The effect that this has had has been to put a chill within the labor movement on being as out as possible to challenge the leaders and to call for Canadians to vote for a particular party. So we’ve seen not that much coming from the Canadian Labor Congress, for example. There are formal and informal alliances within labor to support the New Democratic Party. But by and large unions tend to be on the anybody but Conservative kind of side of the campaign. And so depending where you live in Canada that would mean you might vote for the Liberals or the NDP, or in some of the ridings the Green party.
When looking, though, at the relationship between labor and the energy sector, the energy sector is not highly unionized. It definitely is a unionized, a lot of unionized workers within the energy sector. And the big union that represents them, Unifor, has done some good work to try and look at the alternatives to simply saying no, we need to have resource extractive jobs because those are good jobs, because they can be unionized jobs.
But this is not something that the leaders are saying. Part of the problem with this election is it is so void of the actual issues that Canadians are facing, and it is being waged in a very narrow way. And I think Dimitri spoke to a little bit of this when pleading to talk about the facts on the environment. We have three party leaders who are–two of them who are trying to take the path of least resistance to getting elected. And the third, Stephen Harper, who is speaking as much as possible to his base. The kind of people who will be turned on by xenophobic, anti-immigrant or anti-refugee narratives that he’s conjuring up with his new strategist Lynton Crosby from Australia.
And so the real challenge for unions is to figure out how to intervene in this election, and they really haven’t figured that out in a fundamental way. And that’s a huge problem, because for the entire discussion last night during the debate workers were almost not mentioned at all. They were either mentioned in an individual way when talking about expanding the Canada Pension Plan, which is a payment that all workers make at the source of their income, and then talking about things that will help workers, like a national childcare strategy.
But when we’re talking about workers themselves–there were nine workers who were killed in November, in Alberta, in the tar patch. And that received so little attention that it’s clear that the Conservative party and to some extent as well Canada’s national media that deaths as a result of working accidents within the oil sands are just par for the course, and it’s just another thing that we have to accept if we’re going to have a strong economy. Which of course I totally reject, and it’s a statement as to just where, how far to the right Canadian political discourse has slid.
DESVARIEUX: Dimitri, how does your party then plan on actually attracting these workers to the Green party, and getting them to be part of the conversation when it comes to the economy?
LASCARIS: First of all, we have to explode the myth that job creation, the potential of job creation lies in the fossil fuels sector as opposed to the renewable energy sector. But there’s another, I think, extraordinarily important issue that we as Greens have a responsibility–all politicians in this country have a responsibility to talk about, particularly when it comes to organized labor. And that is these disastrous, democracy-destroying trade agreements. And I want to focus in particular on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This agreement, and others that are currently under negotiation, contain investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms that will eviscerate the sovereignty of this country. Effectively what they do is they give multinational corporations the ability to sue the Canadian government whenever it adopts socially, economically, environmentally beneficial legislation which diminishes the profitability of the corporation. And what is truly alarming about these agreements is that those disputes will not be resolved in a court of law in accordance with the rule of law. Rather, they’re going to be resolved in tribunals that are staffed by, get this, corporate lawyers. The very lawyers who earn oodles of money serving the interests of multinational corporations will sit in judgment on the Canadian government when it comes to deciding whether it should pay potentially multi-billion dollar awards to multinational corporations for doing what it deems to be in the interests of its own citizens.
And appallingly, appallingly, the NDP stated not only that it supports this agreement. Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, stated that he enthusiastically supports this agreement. And I believe that organized labor, the leaders of organized labor, are doing a profound disservice to their rank and file members by not bringing to the attention of the public this disastrous agreement and how it is going to have a truly negative impact on organized labor in this country. And it’s time for them to realize, those who are leaders of the organized labor movement in this country, that their loyalties do not lie to the NDP or any party. Their loyalties lie to the members of the organizations of the organized labor, and they have a duty to them first and foremost. And it trumps their duty to the NDP. That’s a message that we as Greens have to get out.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Dimitri Lascaris as well as Nora Loreto, thank you both for joining us.
LORETO: Thank you.
LASCARIS: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And we’ll have more coverage of this election, which is [inaud.] taking place on October 19, so stay tuned. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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