The unethical opportunism of Jason Kenney

Max Fawcett
When it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, Jason Kenney has more in common with Vladimir Putin than Volodymyr Zelensky, writes columnist Max Fawcett. Photo via Alberta Newsroom / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mar. 5, 2022

It’s been clear for some time now that Canadian oil and gas advocates will do almost anything to get new pipelines built, from spinning stories about the “ethics” of our oil to weaponizing the economic insecurity of Indigenous communities. But they plumbed new depths of depravity with their willingness to treat the crisis in Ukraine as an opportunity to push, yet again, for projects like Keystone XL and Energy East.

Not surprisingly, it’s been Jason Kenney’s UCP government in Alberta at the forefront of those efforts. Last week, Energy Minister Sonya Savage retweeted an op-ed from her government’s war room that argued “the humanitarian approach to global peace and security is to produce more oil and gas, not persecute it.”

Commodities can’t be “persecuted,” of course, but the Kenney government is all-in on the idea that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a perfect opportunity for them to press their own campaign against environmentalists. As he tweeted, “ending global dependence on conflict oil is essential for international peace and security.”

This argument has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese. First, it seems to imply that pipelines can be built in days rather than years, and that Canadian oil companies would be able and willing to increase their production to fill them. Neither is even remotely close to true, especially as investors continue to push for a return of their capital in the form of dividends and stock buybacks rather than growth. That’s not just a Canada thing, either. As Pioneer Resources CEO Scott Sheffield told Bloomberg Television last month, “whether it’s $150 oil, $200 oil, or $100 oil, we’re not going to change our growth plans.”

Even if people like Kenney and Pierre Poilievre could somehow convince Quebecers to let new pipelines run through their province, there’s no evidence they would actually increase global peace and security. After all, those pipelines still wouldn’t carry nearly enough oil to push Russia’s five million barrels per day of exports out of the market, never mind Saudi Arabia’s contribution. And even if they could, it would take the better part of a decade before it happened. Can we really afford to wait that long?

Europe doesn’t intend to find out. They’re expected to release an updated strategy that includes a 40 per cent reduction in fossil fuel usage by 2030, with most of that coming from an increase in renewable energy development and imports. In the process, they’ll help wean the continent off its dangerous dependence on Russian natural gas. “We are doubling down on renewables,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Even in the United States military, hardly a bastion of woke environmentalism, there’s a growing faction that understands the best way to increase energy security is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. “Passing a bold and far-reaching domestic clean energy policy may be the greatest step we can take right now to ensure both our national and energy security in this time of uncertainty,” Admiral Dennis McGinn wrote in a piece for The Hill. “Rapidly expanding our American and allied renewable energy portfolios protects us from dictators, price swings and a continuing fossil fuel driven threat of geopolitical chaos. That is the 21st-century definition of true energy and national security.”

That surely isn’t Kenney’s definition, but then he’s not really that interested in increasing anyone’s national security. He’s interested, first and foremost, in expanding Alberta’s oil and gas industry by almost any means necessary. Using the deaths of thousands of Ukranians to advance an economic agenda wouldn’t meet any normal person’s definition of “ethical,” of course, but his desperate political times clearly call for desperate measures.

If Canada really wants to help Europe defend itself from Russian aggression in the future, we should find ways to ship them as much green hydrogen and other low-carbon energy imports as possible. Our extremely ethical oil companies could invest their billions in new renewable projects in western Europe. And Alberta’s political leaders ought to focus more on building the energy system of the future than reinforcing the extractive industries of the past.

But the hard truth here is that when it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, Kenney has more in common with Vladimir Putin than Volodymyr Zelensky. Both see their oil and gas industries as tools of their own interests, and both believe the best way forward is by expanding the old rather than transitioning to the new. It’s up to the rest of the world now to show them they’re wrong.

[Top photo: When it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, Jason Kenney has more in common with Vladimir Putin than Volodymyr Zelensky, writes columnist Max Fawcett. Photo via Alberta Newsroom / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]