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Canada Kelly McParland: Trudeau's climate crusade ensures oil profits won't be invested in jobs

23:16  28 october  2021
23:16  28 october  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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Readers of the National Post may have wondered what got into its editors after the prime minister revealed he was entrusting the climate change portfolio to a man with a history of radical environmental activism and anti-oil zealotry.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as he speaks during a news conference after the swearing-in of a new Cabinet in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada October 26, 2021. © Provided by National Post Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as he speaks during a news conference after the swearing-in of a new Cabinet in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada October 26, 2021.

“ ‘Heads exploding’ in oil patch,” ran the headline on a story about the appointment of Steven Guilbeault as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environment minister. “Trudeau names his no-growth cabinet,” warned a report denouncing Guilbeault’s appointment as “absurd” in a country as dependent as Canada on energy revenues for its financial health.

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Bracketed with the bad news was a seeming contradiction. “Oil firms flush with cash,” read the headline next to the “Heads exploding” story.  Nearby was a commentary predicting “The oil party has just begun,” in which a senior investment manager outlined his belief that huge profits are in store. “Could things get any better for Canadian energy investors?” it began.

It might seem impossible that both situations could be true. If oil is doomed, why is it doing so well? But in the weird world of energy supplies, they might be. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, though.

Trudeau’s positioning of Guilbeault as environment minister is an unmistakeable signal that he’s placed the climate file above all others. For better or worse, he’s decided that the perceived threats from climate change outweigh other considerations, and decisive action must be taken, come what may.

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Given the implications of an all-out effort to remake the country as a zero-emissions economy, those considerations could be staggering. Energy prices are already at record levels due to shortages caused by government policies around the world. Higher energy prices impact every aspect of life. Higher costs to heat or cool homes, higher costs for transportation, for manufacturing, for construction, for clothes, for food…

Anyone who lived through the challenges of the 1970s, when a sudden spike in oil prices sent economies around the world into a tailspin, knows how bleak the impact can be. Spiralling inflation is a weapon for destroying jobs, businesses, hopes and ambitions on a frightening scale. Inflation mixed with slow growth produced a decade no one who remembers it wants to repeat.

Trudeau is gambling that won’t happen. Like his father, he shows no deep interest in, or understanding of economics. Throughout his years in office, he’s borrowed and spent at unprecedented levels in a seemingly blind conviction that somehow it will all work out in the end. In turning Guilbeault loose on the oil patch he’s telling those who proclaim faith in the markets, “OK, here are my changes, let the markets figure a way through it.”

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While all Canadians will feel the pain if the gamble doesn’t work, the greatest danger is obviously to Alberta. Again, Trudeau is daring others to sort things out: the province has lived through booms and busts for 50 years, regularly pledging to find a means to wean itself off its energy dependence, yet has never managed to resist the urge to spend when the cashbox is full. With prices back at lofty levels, it has another chance; Trudeau is leaving it to the province to use the time granted by rising revenues to figure out another way to make a living.

He may also be counting on Premier Jason Kenney’s unpopularity to give him a helping hand: Kenney’s low standing with voters raises the possibility of a second chance for opposition leader Rachel Notley’s New Democrats, who are far more philosophically in tune with Trudeau’s aims.

So if all this explains the first set of headlines — the “woe is Canada” ones — how about the second set, the ones about the oil party? That’s easy. Smart people with large amounts of money to invest don’t think Trudeau’s dream will come true, and certainly not without an enormous amount of disruption. In particular, they don’t believe the shift to renewables can be made in the timelines being touted by governments in Ottawa, Washington or Europe. They think demand for fossil fuels will remain high, greatly aided by scarcities already in evidence, and that the squeeze will last for years to come. They see huge money to be made from government failures.

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There is plenty of reason for that belief: the very people at the United Nations who are clamouring for change already say the follow-through on previous promises has been far too little to produce success. Inflation is already growing, and western countries are girding for  a winter of shortages caused by shutting down traditional energy sources without finding replacements.

The biggest emitters — China and India — are turning back to coal in panic. Europe is forced to hope Vladimir Putin’s Russia will keep the taps open until spring to save them from a public backlash. U.S. President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate package is in tatters thanks to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the coal-producing state of West Virginia, whose vote is crucial to passing the multi-trillion-dollar spending bill that is the hallmark of Biden’s administration. At last report, White House figures were meeting with environmental groups in search of ways to cut emissions without touching coal.

Good luck with that. All the signs suggest the climate crusade will fail to meet its goals. Neither Putin nor Chinese President Xi Jinping — whose countries produce a third of global emissions between them — will even attend the upcoming UN climate summit in Glasgow, having discovered issues at home preventing them from sparing time for a gathering touted as a last-chance, make-or-break effort to save the world from catastrophe. Biden will be there, but much reduced in stature given his inability to deliver on his promises.

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It’s a fair bet Canada’s prime minister has been apprised of this, though he’s never shown himself to be a ready listener. He prefers his own counsel, and his gut appears to tell him to forge ahead in spite of the dangers and the low odds of success. The great gain would be a Canada that wrestles its emissions to a negligible level, allowing a country that represents less than two per cent of the global total to claim success before countries whose emissions are of far greater consequence. It won’t make much difference in the big picture, but it would enable Trudeau to claim a triumph of principle over whatever pain it may produce.

Canada’s oil giants already have so much cash on hand they can’t decide how to spend it: hand it to shareholders via dividends, buy back shares to support the stock price, or pay off debt? The one thing they’re not likely to do is risk it on the sort of investment that creates jobs, income and productivity. Trudeau has made clear his priorities lie elsewhere.

National Post

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This is interesting!