Rob Benzie of the Toronto Star reported on an interesting discussion with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty the other day. The premier told Benzie that
I think Albertans have a genuine interest in getting their product out of the ground and exporting it… . The people of British Columbia want to make sure if that is to take place it doesn’t compromise their quality of life and natural environment. There’s a healthy conversation that is taking place.
That is a bit different from the situation last January, where McGuinty and the Alberta premier sniped through the media over whether the booming Alberta oil sands are good or bad for Ontario manufacturing.
What has changed? In January, McGuinty may still have been in recent-post-campaign mode. He had won a squeaker election only a few months before, in October, and won it by appealing strongly to his core urban voters’ environmental sensibilities. His oilsands remarks might have had something to do with that.
The time since then might have shown him the limitations of operating from such a narrow base. The oilsands benefit not just Alberta but all of Canada, as I mentioned back in 2006, through the huge tax revenues they generate. Ontario is now a have-not province; we are now a net recipient of fiscal transfers from rich provinces like Alberta. So, while it may seem good to continue to appeal to the urban environmentalist lobbies who support him—McGuinty is, let’s not forget, head of a very iffy minority government—the day to day governing of the province demands knowing which side of the bread the butter is on.
Does it mean the Ontario premier is willing to buck the greens when it really counts? Let’s hope so. By supporting Alberta on Northern Gateway, he will win the favour of the federal government, which recently offered Newfoundland-Labrador financial support for a major hydroelectric project.
McGuinty’s take on the Newfoundland-Labrador issue has, up to now, been that Ontario would appreciate the same financial support for its green projects, but has always listed only wind and solar in that regard. Surely he knows that nuclear power is by far Ontario’s most important energy source, and that wind and solar are nice to talk about but don’t and can’t produce much real electricity when it counts.
So might he, in courting Alberta on the oil sands by way of Northern Gateway, be seeking financial support for a really meaningful energy project, such as Darlington B?
The biggest legal obstacle to the pipeline isn’t the BC provincial government but the dozens of untreatied BC First Nations. Remember all of the rest of Canada other than BC for the most part is completely “treatied” as the say. However, the BC provincial government got involved in a stupid political stunt against the rest of country that leaves everyone including McGuinty from position of principle with no choice but to fight for a project that the local First Nations would have probably stopped anyways.
Tim, that’s the kicker. The battleground where Northern Gateway is lost or won is First Nations territory. Ironically, they–not BC–are the ones who will extract the monetary concessions from Alberta and Big Oil.
McGuinty’s position is principled at the level of what’s good for Canada. But greater demand for bitumen just means greater demand, and higher prices, for the natural gas which is an essential part of oil sands processing. Gas is the fuel that McGuinty’s “green” backers want to hitch Ontario’s future to. i.e., Ontario gas-fired power will cost more.