Will Quebec be the next Alberta?

The province says it has young Quebecers’ interests at heart, but plans for major oil exploitation are underway.

quebec oil and gas (640x480)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has been giving a lot of lip service lately to how his government is working hard to protect the future for young Quebecers, yet a report quietly released this week shows “the government intends to open wide the door to oil and gas exploitation. Even shale gas” is on the table, according to a lengthy front-page story in Le Devoir.

The report comes just as a group of 200 prominent Quebecers has issued a Manifesto for a Global Movement calling on the province to:

* Halt all hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation projects on Quebec soil.

* Bar all transportation of oil products destined for export, whether by train, pipeline or tanker-truck.

* Adopt a credible plan to reduce our gas consumption by 50 per cent by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

* Order the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec to divest from the fossil fuel sector.

Radical? Certainly. But any serious effort to protect the coming generations from irreversible climate change requires radical action.  A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report issued last fall warned that carbon emissions must be cut to zero by 2070 to prevent a “global catastrophe.” The critical window to putting policies in place that can realistically achieve that objective is much more imminent: 2020-2030, UNEPp’s chief scientist, Jacqueline McGlade, told the Guardian.

Instead of working toward that goal, Quebec is literally still trying to find new ways to put more fuel on the fire, from oil exploration on the Îles d’Anticosti to exploiting shale gas and oil deposits through the highly wasteful and dangerous process of fracking.

The attitude is best expressed by business interests who this week ridiculed the authors of the Global Movement manifesto. Françoise Bertrand, president of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, suggested its supporters move to Pennsylvania or Utah to join the Amish and the Quakers in a lifestyle of horse-drawn carriages and candle-lit kitchens.

Her colleague Éric Tétreault, president of the Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters association, bluntly asked: “If we don’t enrich Quebec with hydrocarbons, what will we do it with?”

It’s the same kind of question people like Tétreault asked when the world was trying to shut down the asbestos industry merely because its fibres were killing people. They worship at an altar called profit and conveniently ignore the cost to the rest of us for the public resources their industries consume — and the damages they cause.

Witness a recent report for UNEP’s Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity program, which concluded that “unpriced natural capital costs” (principally water use, land use and air pollution) means that, without access to these publicly provided freebees, not one of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable.

None. Zero.

Especially not notoriously dirty industries like oil and gas exploitation on the tarsands and fracking for dollars in shale deposits. Their wealth comes from a mortgage that future generations will pay in the form of climate change, water shortages, land pollution and even earthquakes.


“We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy Earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it.” – Author Paul Hawken

To answer Tétrault, there are plenty of other ways to enrich the province than to provide oil and gas companies with billions of dollars in “unpriced natural capital costs” so they can strip the Earth of its non-renewable resources. Rather than trying to suck the marrow from the fossil fuel industry, we can be world leaders in developing new practices and technologies that help reduce our carbon footprint and pave the way to a carbon-free planet before it’s too late.

As the manifesto puts it, “Solutions exist. We have the technological and human resources that will allow us to launch a vast operation for truly sustainable, viable, just and equitable development. We have a duty to become the leaders of this new global impetus, one that will mark the 21st century.”

Or Couillard could just tell the next generation the truth. “Sorry, we could have avoided all that mess we left you, but we needed to goose the GDP numbers before the next election.”

If Couillard was really interested in building a better world for future generations, he’d take the money Quebec is thinking about spending on on oil and gas exploration and instead invest it on research and development into new energy technologies. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, he’d ensure Quebec was a world leader in building a future.

Until then, he’s not looking out for youth, he’s just another politician looking out for his buddies in the oil lobby, which now conveniently includes his Liberal predecessor, Jean Charest. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.