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Canada election puts spotlight on the oil-climate divide

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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REGINA, Canada (AFP) — On the eve of Canada's federal elections, Conservatives and Liberals are neck-in-neck in the polls. But in the prairie province of Saskatchewan support for the Tories is steadfast, centred around the fate of the oil and gas industry.

Though Saskatchewan isn't the country's top oil-producing province – it accounts for roughly 12 per cent of Canadian oil output, compared to neighbouring Alberta's nearly 80 per cent – the industry is crucial to the region's economy.

And many voters here feel the last four years of Justin Trudeau's Liberal government, with the stricter environmental policies it has rolled out, has hurt them.

"I'd like to see the oil and gas back up, because Trudeau's trying to shut it all down," said 71-year-old Sarah Wall. "He's tearing our country apart; West and East are fighting against each other."

Wall, a retired cleaner, lives in the electoral district of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, in the provincial capital of Regina.

Her neighbours, Peter and Daisy Popkie, were also quick to name oil as a top reason they support Scheer and the Conservatives.

"It just seems like he's more geared to the oil industry out west here," said Peter Popkie.

Their son is studying geology as he prepares for a career in the petroleum industry, a future the Popkies said they are "hoping will look better" under a new government.

"We want him to have a job when he's done," said Daisy Popkie. "Living out west, this is a big push we need: jobs for our people."

Andrew Spagrud, who says he "didn't really get involved in politics" in his student days, is now 33 and the CEO of Villanova Energy. When it comes to the elections, he says the choice is "obvious."

"We've been in a four-year cycle of getting beat up – like the industry's just in a state of disrepair," said Spagrud. "Regulatory issues are just causing our industry to really suffer versus our peer countries."

Canada's economy is relatively strong and the jobless rate is near a historic low, but its oil patch has been hit by a global oil price slump and a flight of foreign investment.

In April, Trudeau's government rolled out a starting carbon tax of Can$20 ($15 US) per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted, affecting four provinces that had not fallen in line with the prime minister's emissions reduction strategy.

That tax is scheduled to increase incrementally to Can$50 over the coming years to discourage the use of large amounts of fossil fuels.

Six other provinces were initially exempt because each had come up with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system to help Canada meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing CO2 emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.


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