Vancouver is ground zero on Canada’s energy debate

In a week where there were several political hot topics that catch our attention in Vancouver — such as school closures, CPP payroll tax increases and the ever-present rancour over housing affordability — the mayor’s expanding campaign against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is easily lost.

Recently, we learned the City of Vancouver is piling on — joining First Nations and environmental groups — in filing a lawsuit against Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), accusing their decision as being “invalid and unlawful,” which, by the way, it is neither.

It is well and fine for Gregor Robertson to be disappointed by, or disagree with an independent regulator’s decision, but it surely crosses the line when he sullies the federal office with his accusations.

There is nothing new with the mayor’s hyperbole when it comes to our natural resources, however.

Just recently, Robertson made some pretty inflammatory claims. He repeatedly states that “hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk” in Vancouver in the event of an oil spill. He says the Trans Mountain pipeline primarily benefits a “Texas oil empire” — referring to company owner Kinder-Morgan.

Robertson’s rhetoric has irked his political fellow travellers in Alberta. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi fumed in response: “it’s probably not helpful to scare people using numbers completely out of context or based on no facts at all,” he said in the Globe and Mail.

The City of Vancouver is conducting an entire campaign, dubbed “Not Worth the Risk,” that is ticking off pretty much every politician in Alberta, whether they be Wild Rose MLAs, Liberal mayors or members of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

Vancouver taxpayers have ponied up for a website and social media campaign featuring videos of the mayor decrying the NEB. But that cost does not include the mayor’s recent anti-Trans Mountain lobbying expedition in Ottawa, accompanied by several city staff.

Robertson’s so-called bromance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been discussed a lot by the media, and the mayor is pulling out the stops to make sure the PM sides with his anti-pipeline stance.

Some observers have a hard time seeing how the two could split on this issue.

Whether they know it or not, by electing Robertson as mayor, Vancouver got someone who desires to stop Canada’s oil sands industry in its tracks. In his view, leaving that energy resource in the ground serves as a way to achieve progress on fighting climate change.

The mayor has signaled that there is no compromise on this matter. For Vancouver to maintain its “clean and green” brand, there can be no oil shipments through Burrard Inlet.

By clean and green, the city is being redefined as a place without industry, without a relationship to Canada’s natural resources sector or the jobs based here that support it, or with our working port and the billions in trade it provides.

Instead, Vancouver starts to look a lot like a resort city.

How the federal government will reconcile its relationship with Vancouver and a final approval of the Trans Mountain expansion is anyone’s guess.

A recent keynote by an energy industry economist at the Winnipeg Liberal policy convention signals that the party is delving into the topic.

Peter Tertzakian is chief economist for Alberta-based ARC Financial, an energy-focused private equity firm. Tertzakian has published two books on the history of the energy industry, which he details as far back as when candles were replaced by whale oil lamps as a source of light.

His riveting talk to LPC convention delegates in May made a strong case for strengthening our country’s access to energy markets, which currently supply about three per cent of the world’s needs.

He also cautioned that the transition to more renewable forms of energy would be slow.

In his presentation, which is available on YouTube via CPAC’s channel, Tertzakian decries the environmental destruction caused by extractive industries beyond our borders. He was emphatic when saying he “wanted to put those guys out of business” for their lack of safety or environmental standards.

Our industries, by contrast, are an example for others. Tertzakian told delegates, “The world would be a much better if we had more of Canada’s energy and regulatory standards.”

So, more of Canada’s energy products to market, or none at all? That debate continues right here on the West Coast.

Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper.