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Petrostate Politics

Oil corrodes not only pipelines, but democracy itself. Canada has long been considered one of the fairest, most compassionate countries in the world. But the Canadian government's recent intense focus on tar sands expansion has aligned it closely with the global oil industry, seeing it sabotage international efforts to prevent climate change and undermine its own democracy.

The Canadian government has muzzled its scientists, eliminated environmnental laws at the behest of the oil industry, restricted public participation in tar sands approvals, and attacked charities who advocate for alternatives. These are classic signs of a petro-state.

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Canada's tar sands industry has unprecedented influence over government
Key Issues:
- Environmental laws, climate science, and research have been gutted
- Canada actively blocks global efforts on climate change
Current Status:
Canada is increasingly disrespected by and out of step with its global allies

Canada has seen a consistent erosion of democracy since tar sands development escalated 10 years ago. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament. It’s political base is anchored in Alberta, whose provincial legislature is also dominated by like-minded Conservatives, and the influence of the tar sands industry reaches deep into the federal cabinet.

Meanwhile, anyone who questions the logic of a tar sands-based economy has been branded an unpatriotic extremist, while tar sands corporations and interest groups operate with little or no actual oversight. At the behest of the oil industry, the federal government has gutted Canada's most important environmental legislation to fast-track tar sands development, and crippled effective public oversight of an industry that poses tremendous social, economic and environmental risks for Canadians and the rest of the world.

The government has slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change and other important environmental issues, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work, and made it more difficult – and in some cases, impossible – for Canadians to participate in public reviews to determine whether new tar sands mines and pipelines are in the national interest.

As bestselling Canadian academic and author Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The New York Times, “this coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to an industry that is interested only in generating billions more in profits."

Conservative politicians from Alberta and Ottawa also use taxpayers’ dollars to undermine progressive efforts globally and in Europe to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change, all while misrepresenting the risks and benefits of tar sands development.

The promise of easy riches from Alberta’s bitumen boom is turning Canada into a petro-state that is deconstructing the democratic traditions upon which it was founded.

Petrostate Politics Updates & Resources

Canada’s climate commitment “inadequate”


May 20th 2015

Blog Post: Canada’s new climate commitment ranks as “inadequate” under Climate Action Tracker’s methodology. Canada proposes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels in 2030. Without including forestry, Canada’s emissions are projected to increase on 2005 levels by 1% and 8% in 2020 and 2030, respectively. “It’s clear Canada is not serious about climate action. Without any new policies in place, its emissions are expected to balloon through to 2030, with the tar sands taking up a significant proportion. It is difficult to fathom how Canada will achieve both its 2020 pledge and its 2030 INDC,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

Shredding documents can’t paper over environmental problems in the tar sands


Keith Stewart | Greenpeace Canada - May 18th 2015

Blog Post: Bureaucrats don’t get a lot of thanks, but I’d like to extend mine to those true public servants who blew the whistle on document shredding at Alberta’s environment ministry. As a result, Alberta’s independent government watchdogs announced a joint investigation into the whistleblowers’ allegations that government documents were improperly destroyed within Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resources Development. The PC government forgot that those documents belong to the people of Alberta, not their party. That kind of arrogance is why they lost.

Canada reneges on emissions targets as tar sands production takes its toll

Suzanne Goldenberg | The Guardian - May 15th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada has retreated on past promises to fight climate change, setting out lower targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions than any other industralised country so far ahead of a critical conference in Paris. Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That is a far weaker target than the European Union or the US, and is less ambitious than the one Canada set in 2009 – and which it is unlikely to meet because of the vast expansion of Alberta tar sands production. “The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction."

Alberta’s new government could mean a new focus on climate and clean energy


Danielle Droitsch | NRDC - May 8th 2015

Blog Post: Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) gained a majority government in the Alberta election sweeping out the Progressive Conservative party that has been in power for over 40 years. While it is too early to tell what the election means for the future of Canada's oil sector, it opens a real possibility that Alberta will join other provinces like British Columbia and Ontario to help Canada meet international climate commitments.

Alberta’s oil patch now in uncharted waters with NDP premier


Jeffrey Jones | Globe and Mail - May 6th 2015

Press Clipping: The Alberta oil patch is in uncharted political territory after the NDP’s unprecedented rise to power. The energy sector, the province’s dominant industry and one that’s been friendly with the Progressive Conservatives, will find itself dealing with a left-of-centre premier and ruling party that have been among its harshest critics on issues of royalties, taxes and environmental policy. Premier-elect Rachel Notley will be bolstering the province’s reputation on climate change, as previous governments have resisted establishing tougher targets for carbon reduction from the oil sands.

What Alberta’s shocking election results could mean for the oil sands


Brad Plumer | Vox - May 6th 2015

Press Clipping: Tuesday's stunning election in Alberta has garnered the interest of the entire world. A Conservative government has ruled Alberta or 43 years, with a relatively light hand in regulating the oil industry. Suddenly there's a new, left-leaning NDP government promising to negotiate new climate policies, to increase oil and gas royalties, and to quit lobbying President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. So what will this election mean for those famous oil sands?

Leftist party’s win in Alberta may affect future of oil sands


Ian Austen | New York Times - May 6th 2015

Press Clipping: Albertans tossed the Progressive Conservative Party out of office after 43 years and elected a government from the far left of Canada’s mainstream political spectrum. Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Calgary, said he hoped the New Democrats would end the perception of Alberta as “a laggard on climate policies.” Other commentators have suggested that she could both resolve the province’s budget problem and deal with emissions from the oil sands by raising the province’s meager carbon tax.

U.S. action on climate change exposes Ottawa’s hypocrisy


Tim Gray | Environmental Defence - May 5th 2015

Press Clipping: Last week, when asked about the commitment Canada will be making at the United Nations climate change summit in December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States’.” Canadians could be excused for being surprised, given that the government has been telling Canadians for years that its approach on climate change is to harmonize with the United States. Now that Obama is trying to reduce GHG emissions, it doesn’t fit into the Canadian government’s plan to do as little as possible to reduce carbon emissions.