Par Éric Duhaime,
The Quebec Premier’s environmental posturing masks his dependence on Albertan oil money
In a clear attempt to switch media focus away from the collusion and corruption scandal in Quebec’s construction industry, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has gone green.
He flew to Copenhagen last December to bash the federal and Albertan governments for not doing enough for the environment and accused them of following the national American lead on climate change too closely. He literally used an international stage to wash Canadian dirty laundry in public and even played the nationalist card by bragging about his province’s environmental bona fides.
A few days later, on Dec. 29, his Environment Minister, Line Beauchamp, announced that Quebec was adopting Californian standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for new cars sold in the province. This announcement irritated the federal Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, who on Feb. 2 described the initiative as « folly » given that it could result in a $5,000 price increase for Quebec car buyers. (Ottawa is currently preparing to publish regulations by this summer to harmonize with federal U.S. standards.)
On Jan. 12, Charest used a press conference with the Prime Minister to lecture Stephen Harper on the environment, reiterating what he’d said in Copenhagen, which made Harper grind his teeth. In Washington, D.C. last month, he met the EPA’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, for a few minutes and came out claiming the Obama administration was on its way to adopting Quebec standards for America. (In fact, it is California that is changing its GHG emission standards to match the new U.S. federal rules.)
But while the Quebec Premier is spewing hot air and smoke about his concern for the environment, his bureaucracy back home is working hard to benefit from the energy sector.
Next week, for instance, the Quebec Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export will organize an economic mission to Edmonton « to seize all the business opportunities » in the « recovery of oil sand development projects in Alberta ».
Bureaucrats are also busy in the Quebec Ministry of Finance, preparing their 2010-2011 budget, which includes income of $8.5-billion in transfer payments, much of it from Alberta’s oil fields. Similarly, the Caisse de depot et de placement du Quebec, which manages Quebec’s pension plans, is also trying to recover from last year’s historical loss by investing massively in the petroleum industry. Actually, according to its latest annual report, one quarter of the Caisse’s most important stocks are in petroleum companies, including Canadian Natural Ressources Ltd, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ENI (Agip), Shell, PetroChina and Petroleo Brasileiro. It is, in fact, the most important sector of investment of the Caisse’s portfolio.
If Jean Charest took his argument to its logical and outrageous conclusion, here are a few things he would have already started to do: 1) Cancel his upcoming economic mission to Alberta to make sure he prevents Quebec companies from making money out of polluters; 2) Send back the aforementioned $8.5-billion dollar cheque; 3) Prevent the Caisse from investing in any petroleum company no matter what losses this would incur for pensioners, and use that money to subsidize environmental groups instead.
But the only green thing around Charest these days is a smokescreen. He knows that the energy sector contributes a lot, not only to Albertans, but also to the economic well-being of Quebecers: A report from the Canadian Energy Research Institute reminds us that Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s oil sands will account for 292,000 person-years of work in Quebec over the next 25 years.
And let’s not forget that for all Chartest’s talk, Quebec remains a big polluter. For each million dollars in GDP, Quebec produces 129 kg of toxic products, compared to only 102 kg for Alberta.
Alberta and Quebec have historically been allies with their agenda of respect for provincial jurisdiction and in their fights against centralist Ottawa governments. As rightly pointed out by the president of the Montreal Economic Institute, Michel Kelley-Gagnon, the time has come for Premier Charest to forget about his green rhetoric and instead defend the economic interests of those who elected him by rebuilding bridges with our Albertan allies.
Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=2686647&p=2#ixzz0iM30KDP7
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