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Are Canada’s climate laws a negotiating chip in TransCanada’s poker game

September 5, 2013

CBC is reporting that Prime Minister Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Obama offering to commit to greenhouse gas regulations in return for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing "joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector," if that is what's needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America's heartland, CBC News has learned.

Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.

It’s rather remarkable that Canada’s government would offer greenhouse gas regulations that are over two decades over-due in return for the approval of a private industrial project.  I mean: aren’t strong climate change laws something that we should expect for their own sake?

2 decades of climate inaction vs. the Keystone XL Pipeline

Let’s recap:

And now, because President Obama has signaled that GHG emissions may be a reason for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, suddenly the government is offering, yet again, to develop a new approach to addressing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Prime Minister Harper’s offer has Michael Den Tandt of PostMedia News musing about whether earlier action on climate change might have helped the Keystone XL’s case with President Obama.  Referring to Government MP attacks on carbon pricing as a “job-killing carbon tax”, Den Tandt tweeted:

My guess would be that Harper's letter to Obama did not contain the words "job-killing carbon tax" … The ‘job-killing carbon tax’ trope has now been revealed in all its brain-crushing stupidity.

Den Tandt may have a point.  At a minimum, a bit more action on climate change might have prevented the anti-Keystone movement from comparing the Prime Minister’s offer to one made by Darth Vader


The government’s credibility on this issue is not high, and President Obama would do well to treat any Canadian promises of GHG reductions with a healthy dose of salt.  Just as somewhat disillusioned Canadians have learned to do. 

But we also wonder what it says about Canada that concern for our children and grandchildren is not enough to convince our government to deliver real climate change laws.  Instead, our government is using the offer of climate change laws as a negotiating chip in a high stakes poker game, played on behalf of TransCanada. 

By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer

Demonstration graphic courtesy of Josh Lopez, from Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  Darth Vader graphic from Facebook Page