Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is Harper looking for his Sister Souljah moment?

As we eagerly await the big shadow cabinet announcement this morning my mind is on the environment; more specifically, the oil sands, and Steve Harper's election strategy. Two interesting stories this morning seem to be setting up an interesting potential political opportunity for Steve: His Sister Souljah moment.

The first story (Steve, Scott and Jason have more) represents an intriguing challenge for the Harper Conservatives and their traditional Alberta power base:


The U.S. wants Canada to dramatically expand its oil exports from the Alberta oilsands, a move that could have major implications on the environment. U.S.and Canadian oil executives and government officials met for a two-day oil summit in Houston in January 2006 and made plans for a “fivefold expansion” in oilsands production… A fivefold increase would mean the exportation of five million barrels a day, which would supply a quarter of current American consumption and add up to almost half of all U.S. imports.
But the current extraction of oil from the tarsands results in the spewing of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere: it’s already the biggest source of new greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.


So, Bush and the U.S. want more oil (insert mandatory Harper/Bush wisecrack here) and you know Alberta dearly wants to give it to them. We're talking big bucks here. And Harper's base, of course, is Alberta. But how to square the desires of his Alberta base with the resulting environmental impact of such a massive increase in production, particularly with Harper's need to at least look green if he wants to grow elsewhere in Canada?


Coincidentally or not, I also read this story today. Environment Minister John Baird is musing about killing tax incentives the Liberal government brought in back in 1997 to encourage development in the oil sands. What's this, the Cons musing about killing tax breaks that largely benefit Alberta industry?


Environment Minister John Baird questioned the wisdom of tax incentives introduced in the 1990s to boost production in Alberta's oilsands, and hinted yesterday the Conservative government might have more to say on the issue when it tables its spring budget…"I cannot explain why the Liberal government of [new leader Stephane] Dion made these changes," Mr. Baird said, speaking in French.


Hmm, I wonder if my BT friends will be calling Baird a socialist now, like they called Dion when he mused about reducing royalty incentives last week? Yeah, I doubt it. Anyway, Baird's silly partisan shots aside, while I'd point out the situation was a lot different in 1997 the incentives are no longer necessary today and I'd agree with scrapping or reducing them. Interesting comments by Baird though, given the likely negative reaction that can be expected from Alberta industry.


What's coming?


Using this desired five times production increase as an impetus (and Natural Resources Canada participated, so he knew it was coming) Harper has the opportunity to say this forces me to bring in tough measures to minimize the resulting environmental impact. If Baird's musings are any indication, he is prepared to give the oil industry some tough medicine. And
with Harper's rumoured equalization plans he's already shown he's willing to trade Western votes for support elsewhere.

And by showing the rest of the country he's willing to stand up to his Alberta base, and on the environment no less, he will have established his centrist credentials in the minds of voters, not to mention taking the Green issue away from the opposition.


And Steve will have his Sister Souljah moment.


The budget, and Clean Air Act Part Deux, will tell the tale.

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7 comments:

bigcitylib said...

John Baird musing aloud is a long way from taking action. And Lunn's annoucements yesterday were, in terms of concrete initiatives, disappointing.

Anonymous said...

"U.S.and Canadian oil executives and government officials met for a two-day oil summit in Houston in January 2006 and made plans for a “fivefold expansion” in oilsands production"

Is that a typo?Did you mean 2007?Because if it's 2006 what date?Harper never got elected PM till Jannary 26th.2006.

Scotian said...

""I cannot explain why the Liberal government of [new leader Stephane] Dion made these changes," Mr. Baird said, speaking in French."

Wait a moment. As I read the excerpt you provided BCer it appears to be referring to the changes made in the late 90s regarding these oil company tax breaks, so how can those changes be attributed to the leadership of Dion?!? Wasn't he in charge of the Unity file when these changes were made? Seems like yet another fictitious smear against the new Liberal leader by Baird, a man noted by many more for his love of hyperbole and rhetoric than in his love of being factually accurate/honest. This appears to be yet another example of such. Or did I miss something?

john said...

"I cannot explain why the Liberal government of [new leader Stephane] Dion made these changes," Mr. Baird said, speaking in French."

Well, uh, I can. In 1996 oil began sliding on world markets. By 1997 Albertan oil produces were freaking out. By 1998, oil prices briefly hit a postwar low of $8/barrel. In that mess, the Liberals threw some money to Alberta.

Baird's a moron.

A BCer in Toronto said...

John Baird musing aloud is a long way from taking action...Lunn's annoucements...disappointing.

I'm not saying they'll go this way, but it's a possibility and an interesting strategic option for Steve, I think.

Is that a typo?Did you mean 2007?Because if it's 2006 what date?Harper never got elected PM till Jannary 26th.2006.

You know, I hadn't noticed that. If it's a typo it's one on the original wire story, I just cut and pasted. If it is really 06 I wonder why we're just hearing about it a year later. Either way though, Harper still has a decision to make here.

This appears to be yet another example of such. Or did I miss something?

Nope, you've missed nothing. Dion was actually intergovernmental affairs minister at the time, he was never national revenue, finance or natural resources. Same ol, same ol from the Cons.

Rhetoric said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the interesting and insightful post. It's good to see that at least one Liberal blogger chose to think about this story in context instead of just jumping to the conclusion that Harper would give Alberta, big oil, and Bush whatever it wants.

To clarify: Am I correct that you see the possibility that Harper will allow (as much as he can do so with the fed gov powers) all or part of this five-fold increase in exchange for concessions/penalties such as reduced tax breaks and stricter environmental regulations on tar sands extraction? Or is it just that you see Harper turning down the increase on environmental grounds?

Also, just a quick heads-up: Baird is Minister of Environment not Finance.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Baird is Minister of Environment not Finance.

You're right, my bad. I always get those two Harris boys, Flaherty and Baird, mixed up.

Or is it just that you see Harper turning down the increase on environmental grounds?

He's going to have to allow some kind of increase. The question is the concessions and requirements he puts in on the environmental front, how far willing to piss off the industry with demands for concessions, penalties and regulations.

The easy answer is to say he'll screw the environment and give them what they want. But he needs to gain ground elsewhere and convince he's not an ultra-con in Alberta's pocket, and he's got votes to spare in Alberta. So, it seems possible anyway, that he might want to stick it to the oil sector a bit, with some tough regulations etc., to ramp up his street cred a bit. And he could use this 5X production increase thing as cover...I was forced to act...