Harper About to Lay an Egg
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 2007

The world’s largest Easter egg, a symbol of new life, is located along the Trans Canada’s Yellowhead Highway 100 kilometres east of Edmonton. Measuring almost nine meters long, six meters wide and standing ten meters high, the Ukrainian ‘pysanky’ that welcomes you to Vegreville, Alberta, was built in 1975 by the area’s self-described largest multicultural community in Canada as a tribute to the centenary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. More recently, they turned out to elect one of their own.

In an upset victory to replace Ralph Klein as leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, Ed Stelmach, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, was literally ‘piped’ into office by the voices of a Ukrainian men’s choir. Not quite the earth-trembling sounds of Zulu warriors preparing for battle but like Welsh men’s choirs, they convey the sad sense of suffering, exploitation and courage that only the once-colonized can know.

Not that Stephen Harper would, like Stalin who starved millions of Ukrainians, ever condemn his fellow Albertans to “eat grass”. Au contraire. The ascendance of Mario Dumont’s Quebec ‘autonomists’ means the world according to a prime minister favouring more provincial autonomy is unfolding as it should. This must mean more autonomy for everyone … right?

Right. But Harper’s immediate and unlikely allies may well prove to be climate catastrophes, not Mario Dumont, and a reluctant farmer premier who still works the homestead his grandfather settled in 1898.

New rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are in the federal regulatory pipeline, rules the environment minister promises will be the toughest in the world. Dismissing the Alberta oilsands as a minor emitter, John Baird conveniently avoids the fact that seven of Canada’s top emitters, mostly coal fired generators, are located in Alberta’s industrial heartland. He also knows that nothing could fuel Alberta’s autonomist sentiment more effectively than interference with its energy supplies. Even so, for Ed Stelmach, a one-time intergovernmental affairs minister now committed to made-in-Alberta policy, facing down the feds may prove unavoidable.

Already, as a preemptive strike in a potential jurisdictional war, Stelmach’s government has legislated emission intensity reduction targets and options that allow emitters to invest in an Alberta technology fund or in Alberta based operations that reduce or offset emissions. Condemned by some Albertans as a de facto carbon tax, it is benign compared with the much tougher Kyotoesque Bill C-30, the revamped Clean Air Act that emerged from a Commons committee last week. It calls for progressively steeper emissions targets (no intensity reductions here), an international emissions trading scheme and a $20 per tonne levy on companies that miss their targets.

Other signs for an Alberta-Canada accord on carbon emissions are equally discouraging. That tax on income trusts still smarts and the accelerated capital cost allowance – a tax break that promoted oilsands technology and was worth $1.4 billion annually – was slated to be eliminated by the federal budget even as it was extended to the mining sector in Ontario. Most worrying, federal and provincial legislation could differ so significantly only the Supreme Court could decide which has jurisdiction. According to Ross McKitrick, an environmental economics professor from Guelph University interviewed in this week’s Western Standard, “In the case of air pollution, it has typically been that the first level of government to regulate is the one that gets jurisdiction.”

So why not avoid a fight and focus on areas of mutual agreement? The designation of federal money for carbon sequestration, a technology that siphons emissions underground, was a start in this direction. As part of Canada’s clean coal technology development it will help create clean energy from the geo-politically risk-free coal that comprises 90% of the U.S. and Canada’s combined hydrocarbon reserves. And if applied to the 2,200 additional coal plants China plans to build by 2030, it could help achieve global emissions reductions far in excess of anything Canada with its meagre two percent of global emissions can achieve.

But such measures, only slowly developing, won’t satisfy the climate catastrophes. Can Environment Minister John Baird appease them without hatching negative reactions in Alberta? Ready or not, the regulatory emissions bill that follows a rare weekend when Orthodox and other Christians celebrate Easter together could give Ed Stelmach another reason to connect with the painful colonial history of his Ukrainian ancestors’ homeland and autonomy a whole new life.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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