The Quebec premier’s recent statements about Alberta oil, which he referred to as “dirty energy,” have understandably raised the ire of Western Canadians. Many Albertans might think Quebecers want nothing to do with Western oil, or any oil for that matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s start with the obvious: A little more than half of the oil that is consumed in Quebec comes from Canada, largely Western Canada, and this proportion has been steadily increasing since 2014.
Are Quebecers OK with that? In fact, a large majority of Quebecers, 66 per cent, prefer to get oil from Western Canada, versus seven per cent who want it from the United States, three per cent from Algeria, and one per cent each for the countries of the Middle East and Nigeria, according to a recent Leger poll conducted on behalf of the MEI.
We also learned in the same poll that 53 per cent of respondents would rather that Quebec develop its own oil resources than continue to import the oil it consumes. Quebecers also think oil should be shipped by pipeline. Indeed, they know that there is less risk involved in pipeline transport than in the other common modes of transportation.
Obviously, Quebecers’ opinions are very different from what is often heard from certain interest groups and from a portion of the political elite. Moreover, when Quebecers are polled on these matters year after year, the results remain pretty similar.
Not only are they open to hydrocarbon development in Canada but we learned a few days ago, in a report published by the Chair in Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal, that Quebecers are among the biggest consumers of energy in the world.
Indeed, between 1990 and 2017, sales of SUVs and light trucks increased by 246 per cent in Quebec, and sales of gasoline jumped by 33 per cent. This trend has continued, as each year since 2015, these types of vehicles are the champs in terms of sales. In other words, Quebecers continue to consume a lot of oil.
Nevertheless, because Quebec benefits from having access to hydro power for electricity, it remains the province with the lowest emissions per capita in the country. Even with all the additional gas guzzling in recent years, Quebec reduced its emissions by 11 per cent between 1990 and 2016.
Obviously, there is a considerable gap between the typical political discourse and the behaviour of the people. This is undoubtedly because Quebecers are pragmatic and more interested in paying the bills at the end of the month than in the prophesied end of the world. But ecological activists are well organized and have the support of many well-known celebrities. Their voices are dominant in the public space. Politicians, who understand the unpopularity of carbon taxes, are left with gestures that don’t affect most people in their everyday lives, such as prohibiting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or opposing pipelines and “dirty” oil, to build up their ecological cred.
Quebecers are certainly aware of the importance of problems related to the climate, but they also understand that we need oil; that this need will not disappear overnight; that we should enrich ourselves by developing our own oil; that short of producing it here, we should purchase it from our fellow citizens out West and transport it using the safest and most economical means, namely pipelines.
We need to stop conflating oil production with oil consumption. We can very well want to reduce our consumption of oil and reduce GHGs, without denying ourselves the economic prosperity that accompanies the development of our resources and that enriches us all. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Instead of demonizing Western Canadian oil, Quebec politicians should adopt behaviours that are more in line with the desires of the people, and stop interfering with the production and transport of Canadian oil.
Germain Belzile is a Senior Associate Researcher at the MEI. The views reflected in this op-ed are his own.
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