The Artificial Respirator

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Mr Montpetit, from La Présentation, feels that it is unthinkable to use emergency governmental aid  to subsidize a « has been » industry during a pandemic.

The Artificial Respirator

On an economic level 2020 has made a remarkable beginning, but for the wrong reasons. After the blockade of the railways by the Indigenous Nations in support for the Wet’suwet’un protest against the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, we now have a pandemic, originating in China , which is obliging the government of M. Legault to ‘put the province on pause’. Meanwhile, all the governments on the planet, even that of Mr Trump, are forced to face this grave crisis. Because of the lockdown for health reasons, millions of people have lost their jobs and thousands of businesses have had to shutdown.

Under this avalanche of bad news, the governments of Mr Trudeau and Mr Legault have improvised programs to help workers and businesses. With more than a million unemployed, the Canadian Emergency Benefit is intended to ease the financial distress of citizens. Another excellent idea is to help small businesses to start back up after the crisis. But, as in all exceptional situations, some people are trying to turn things to their advantage.

This is the case with the oil industry. It received two slaps during this month of march: in addition to the pandemic, the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia caused the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) to plunge to about $5.00 U.S. In other words, it would take two barrels of WCS to buy a mug of draft beer at your favorite brewery! (1) The oil industry lobbyists howl and pull strings to gain the lion’s share of the government’s aid package. According to The Globe and Mail, Ottawa is preparing to inject billions into that industry. (2)

A crisis can be the starting point for a decisive turn. In addition to all the problems caused by the climate crisis, the air pollution caused by the combustion of fossil fuel is another respiratory problem to compound that caused by COVID 19 . As the emergency care physician Courtney Howard says ‘…Our country is contemplating a massive transfer of public funds to support an industry which threatens to further provoke the next health crisis. And the following one…’ (3)

Why finance the industry which will prevent us from reaching the objectives of the Paris Accord? What is more, the exploitation of the tar sands is not competitive compared to the fuels with a better return on energy investment (EROIE). For the producers of the oil sands, the break even price in order to have a profitable operation is between 60 and 80 dollars per barrel. Imagine $5.00/barrel!!! Besides, every evening on the TV news, the price of WCS is always below that of a first quality oil like Brent. The oil sands producers are in a bad financial position after the fall of prices in 2014. Why waste money to save an industry which is already on a respirator?

This is why M Morneau, the finance minister, should not come to the aid of the oil industry which has been in dire straights for all these years. Koch Oil Sands Holdings, Statoil, Total, Shell and other oil giants have pulled out of Alberta; they have left the sinking ship, (4) Instead, M Morneau should help the Albertans to make a transition to a sustainable economy. (5 and 6)

If we make good decisions, this pandemic crisis can help us become better and stronger. This message is not against Alberta, it is for Albertans. We must help them diversify their economy to enter the 21st century with an economy which is not at the mercy of raw materials prices on international markets. (7)

Spending 12.6 billion dollars to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, is throwing taxpayer money down the drain.(8) Spending the same amount to help Alberta’s workers is an excellent idea, The tar sands are moribund; it is time to ‘ pull the plug’ on its respirator.

Gérard Montpetit

Member of Comité des citoyens et citoyennes pour la protection de l’environnement maskoutain

April 2, 2020








“Diverting desperately needed public funds to subsidize a poorly-managed sunset industry during a pandemic is absolutely unconscionable,” tweeted Debra Davidson, a professor of environmental sociology at the University of Alberta.