There was a big ruckus in the otherwise quiet Hill bubble last week as new Environment Minister Peter Kent used the term “ethical oil” to describe Alberta’s oilsands. It’s controversial because Sun Media columnist (and future Sun TV host) Ezra Levant wrote a book called Ethical Oil. He argues if the world won’t stop using oil, they might as well get it from Canada, which is a democracy that respects human rights, has a decent environmental record and isn’t a threat to global security.
As Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told me, Ezra didn’t just popularize the term, he coined it. So it’s significant the new environment minister would use it in one of his first interviews on the job.
But that’s not the only way he’s struck out a tough stance on the issue.
In a CBC interview last week, Kent also seemed to step back from his predecessor Jim Prentice’s concerns about pollution in the Athabasca River.
Prentice set up a federal panel to look into water quality monitoring in the region after Alberta scientist David Schindler found toxic pollutants downstream from oilsands developments, including mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium.
At the time, Prentice said, “I have had my own concerns about the nature of the testing that’s being done and I’ve proceeded on this basis to get immediate response from some of Canada’s best scientists (the panelists).”
Months later, in accepting the panel’s recommendations, interim environment minister John Baird repeatedly said everyone – federal and provincial governments and industry – needs to “step up our game.”
But in the CBC interview, Kent said there’s no evidence the oilsands are polluting the river. He went as far as to say Schindler is wrong (despite his research having been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal).
Does this mark a shift for the government? Is Kent stepping back from some of Prentice’s work on the file?
Then again, even in accepting the water panel’s recommendations, Baird seemed to refer to Levant’s book too, without using the words ethical oil.
“In an increasingly unstable world, a secure source of energy in a free and democratic society is an important source of stability,” Baird told the news conference Dec. 21.
Sure sounds like a familiar argument.