After Brad Wall’s First Ministers’ meeting tantrum, a couple of things have become clear. On the issue of pipelines, BC Premier Christy Clark will not co-operate with Alberta unless her terms for “social licence” are met. (B.C. premier hopeful about cooperation with Alberta after historic NDP win, By Ian Bailey and Justine Hunter, Published by the Globe and Mail, May 06, 2015 6:40PM EDT). Ontario and Quebec want to have a similar policy response in dealing with the Energy East Pipeline. (Ontario and Quebec’s pipeline demands ‘very reasonable,’ N.B. Premier says, by Adrian Morrow, Published by The Globe and Mail, Last updated Nov. 24, 2014 6:26PM, Is Notley handing Quebec a veto over Energy East pipeline? by Don Braid, Calgary Herald, July 14, 2015 9:34 PM MDT) Consequently, for those doing the math, a path to Canada’s East and/or West Coast is blocked. Accordingly, I would argue that Alberta’s best choice is to go back to square one: getting Keystone XL approved.
However, there are just a couple of issues with that perspective. Firstly, the Harper Government has been the main obstacle to building a pipeline. Or put other words, Prime Minister Harper has seemed to have burned the bridge to compromise with President Obama. Consequently, even if Parliament Hill were in session, the Harper Government won’t do what is necessary to get discussion on a very real track to success.
But it doesn’t stop there because, while Parliament Hill is quiet, the American Capital has its own problems. The President of the United States is not keen to push forth any documentation which would lead to the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. On the other hand, the Republicans don’t want to provide President Obama with a win even though they want to have the Keystone XL pipeline put through. So since the Federal Legislative Solutions – in Canada and the US – are not possible and the Premiers of BC, Ontario and Quebec are not co-operative and Premier Notley has said she will not push for it, the question is what policy approach should the Alberta Liberals push?
My suggestion is simple: a sub-federal solution one. The Governors and the Premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska are the ones who get the most benefit and harm from the success of Keystone XL, so let them suggest the answer.
If the Governors and Premiers were to take that suggestion, the answer is obvious. For, it has been discussed in the shadows and corridors of power: charge 5 cents per barrel at the border to get the President’s approval. My reasoning is quite simple. The President of the United States wants a solution. It is obvious that President Obama wants to leave a legacy. Obama doesn’t want to be seen as one of those interim presidents. He is no William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce or Chester Arthur. President Obama wants to be seen in the same light as Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan. Just look at his moves. He moved for talks with Iran breaking a 30 year policy of the American Government. He is in the process of mending the relationship with Cuba. That changes more than 50 years of policy. Or put differently, after Eisenhower severed relations with Cuba, the American elected Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. So while the United States was able to bring an end to segregation, Civil Rights Legislation and go to the Moon, they were not able to change cross on their Cuban Policy.
But it doesn’t end there because Obama was able to do something FDR couldn’t do in the 1930’s : bring a public insurance programme to most Americans. Known as Obamacare, it changed American domestic policy in a way that has not been seen in decades. Coupled with his changes to America’s Climate Change Policies, it is clear that Obama wants to be remembered as a substantial President.
However, that is not all that is at play. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are adding pressure because they don’t want to go into the 2016 elections talking about Keystone. So a deal can be had. Consequently, as Alberta Liberals, I think we need to lay out a solution. One that will recognize the President and G7s wish to “decarbonize” our economy by 2100 but one that will allow us to move forward with Keystone. My suggestion is a multilateral provincial-state institution run collectively by Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska whose purpose is to develop corporations and intellectual property which will move these states from being dependent on the generation of oil to being diversified from economic point of view. This would mean instead of largely being energy producers, this multilateral institution would provide resources for start-ups, the building of alternative energy ventures as well as research into energy conservation projects.
Now this might seem like a crazy idea but it isn’t. For, we have done something similar before. Just look at the International Joint Commission. Guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty, signed by Canada and the United States in 1909, the Commission uses the general principles described in the treaty to prevent and resolve disputes “over waters shared between the two countries and for settling other transboundary issues”. The body works by recognizing that “each country is affected by the other’s actions in lake and river systems along the border” and that by protecting them Canadians and Americans can benefit “today’s citizens and future generations”.
In that same way, the success or failure of Keystone XL will benefit or harm the five sub-national jurisdictions. Or put differently, how many accidents have happened in North America because of the haphazard way we are moving oil produced by them? While, pipeline spills have caused havoc in a number of places including Northern Alberta, Kalamazoo and California, they have not caused the devastation that rail explosions have in North Dakota, West Virginia and Lac-Mégantic, Que. Our senseless policies on the transportation and exploitation of oil have to come to an end. If the five sub-national jurisdictions in question simply solved the problem that Washington and Ottawa were unable to solve, all of North American would be further ahead.
If, for twenty years and for every barrel delivered, the operator – TransCanada Corporation – were willing to “donate” 5 cents to a Commission whose purpose was to distribute money to qualifying projects – including but not limited to start-ups, the building of alternative energy ventures as well as research into energy conservation projects – in the five jurisdictions, this could go a long way to solving the problems at hand; for, the Obama Presidency could claim a win and approve the project. At 5cents a barrel, assuming maximum capacity, just over $15 million dollars a year would go to this project. That donation would ensure that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska would have a future in a new decarbonized world. But it would also give President Obama a way of “saving face”. He would get to show that he was imposing a cost on the project for continuing and some of the revenues from that same project would go to developing technology to get off of oil. In fact, President Obama would probably be very happy that he would also leave a multilateral institution behind, adding to his legacy.
The nicest part about this project is that it would only need the co-operation of States and Provinces who want the project completed. No longer would one have to deal with the “craziness” that comes out of Washington or Ottawa. Given that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska are taking most of the risk of the development, this solution would mean that they would get most of the reward. Therefore, the development of the Bakken Oil Field (which runs through Saskatchewan, Montana and South Dakota) and the Athabascan Oil Sands (Alberta) as well as the building of the Keystone XL pipeline need not be seen as a zero-sum game where only the environment will lose. If we work together and look toward the largest benefit of Washington, Ottawa, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, we can find a solution. A solution that, in the short term, marries the environment to economic development of fossil fuels. A solution that provides new technology, jobs and companies in the long term. A solution that fits the needs of all concerned and one that will reward us for 100 to 150 years. This is my Liberal suggestion that the Alberta Liberal Party should take up to get the pipeline Alberta needs.