If a man is as good as his word, Stephen Harper is a bad man. This Tuesday, he announced that his government will not regulate the oil and gas sector. In doing so, he broke a promise that he has made several times since 2007. His decision to do so was both incredibly smart and incredibly stupid, although we imagine the Prime Minister doesn’t understand why.
Harper informed the House that it would simply be “crazy economic policy” to regulate oil and gas. In a sense, he was right. The International Monetary Fund reports that Canada generously subsidizes oil and gas. Moreover, the OECD documents numerous tax incentives, exemptions, and other producer support mechanisms that give oil and gas an easy ride. With this in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to regulate the sector because we’d be picking our own pockets. So not only is our Prime Minister a liar, he is also (quite inadvertently) a wise economist!
À la Harper, part of the problem with regulating oil and gas is “the current condition/circumstances” of the sector. Once again, he couldn’t be more right. Oil and gas have fallen on hard times. As the price of crude oil slides, it is reasonable to assume that industry growth will slow, even with all the subsidies. That’s bad news, especially considering that more Canadians work in clean energy jobs than in jobs related to the tar sands. Yes, you read that right- it’s actually true. Clean energy is also a fantastic source of foreign direct investment: a neoliberal economist’s dream. So why regulate a dying industry? For that matter, why subsidize a dying industry? Harper voiced a desire to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions while preserving, protecting, and growing Canadian jobs.” To that end, why not use those subsidies towards clean energy? Unfortunately, the number of good questions is inversely proportional to the amount of brainpower this federal government dedicates to answering them.
Driving in the fast lane on the stupid highway, and apparently unaware that he had already said so several times, Harper added that it would be bad to impose “unilateral penalties” on oil and gas. Excessive repetition aside, this comment was especially mindless because it betrayed a lack of knowledge of the Prime Minister’s own policies. Harper opened his speech by bragging about his sector-by-sector approach to emissions reduction, and how his government has “gone much farther than the United States” in regulating the electricity sector of the economy. It follows that regulations on oil and gas are long overdue, but clearly not unilateral.
If the Prime Minister claims that regulations on oil and gas would be stupid, unilateral, and crazy in the absence of similar U.S./global policy, perhaps he should put actions before words by matching the recent U.S.-China climate deal and making a plan to achieve its goals. That might silence his critics for a few minutes. He could also try leading on this issue rather than complaining that he has no one to follow. For now, Harper’s announcement that he will not regulate Canada’s most polluting sector confirms that he is disinterested in climate change, disconnected from the realities of the Canadian economy, and barely aware of his own climate change policy. To say it was a wise decision would be, in the Prime Minister’s own words, “simply not true.”