It’s not as if Premier Brad Wall does not have a point about the U.S. government’s dithering on approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Caught up in the pre-election politics in 2012, American President Barack Obama chose not to overrule local opposition in states like Nebraska to building the pipeline over aquifers.
This was applauded by the American environmental movement — that happens to be a big supporter of the U.S. Democrats — as a major victory in the effort to stop the import of “dirty” Canadian oil. It’s about here where Wall makes some critical points.
For starters, Canadian oil — whether from Alberta’s oilsands oil or not — should not be seen as an affront to American environmental standards.
This is, after all, a country that contributes more to greenhouse gas emission and world pollution than any other on the planet. Or at least, it contributes more pollution on a per capita basis.
Wall rightly argues that Americans hardly have much room to talk about when it comes to CO2 emissions — whether it’s from its car culture or its coal-fired power plants. By contrast, Saskatchewan and Canada have become world leaders in trying to address emissions from the latter.
The Saskatchewan Premier also extends the “ethical oil” argument well beyond the railings of federal Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent or Sun TV self-promoter Ezra Levant.
Notwithstanding how this term has become the rallying cry for federal government/political interests, there is a legitimate argument here. The pollution and human rights violations of Middle Eastern or African nations cannot be ignored and should be balanced off against Canada’s more ethical treatment of its citizens.
Similarly, the potential of environmental damage through an offshore drilling rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico or a grounded tanker off the Alaskan coast should also factor into the alleged damage caused by piping oil in either from the oilsands or the Bakken Play.
Finally, Wall makes a further solid point that it makes no sense for the U.S. try to change another country’s environmental standards — environmental standards, that by the way, may exceed those in your country. And it especially makes no sense if the only one you are hurting is yourself, economically.
These will be the messages that Wall takes to Washington next week. And given that the Saskatchewan economy has become as dependent on oil production as it is, one can see why Wall might be sincerely eager to deliver them.
There again, maybe Wall could put his energy to better uses than trying to change the mind of a foreign government.
Notwithstanding political friendships Wall has cultivated with a few mostly Republican Senators, he really has no influence on the Obama administration as a Canadian provincial premier.
This leaves one to question whether the Washington trip is really designed to exercise influence on Washington’s domestic policy or whether it’s really for domestic consumption back home in Saskatchewan.
One suspects the latter. It’s always good for a Premier to say he’s fighting for Saskatchewan’s interests ... even if he is exercising zero influence.
And then there is the issue of whether such exercises become a distraction from matters Wall truly can do something about.
Heaven knows, there’s a wide array of local issues in need of addressing — especially a week before the delivery of the provincial budget.
For example, a recent fiscal report card by the C.D. Howe Institute ranked Saskatchewan dead last in the accuracy of its spending projections. It awarded Saskatchewan the dreaded “Pinocchio award” for cumulative spending overruns — some $4.2 billion or 38 per cent between 2002-03 and 2011-12.
Isn’t this an issue more critical to Saskatchewan taxpayers? Aren’t there a hundred more such issues?
Yes, Wall may have a point about the Keystone XL pipeline. But maybe his time would be better spent on problems he can actually solve.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.