Canada’s oil sands minister moving up

March 19, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Turns out the fervour with which Joe Oliver promotes expansion of Alberta’s oil sands has earned the Canadian Natural Resources Minister a promotion. Elected in 2011 and given the portfolio responsible for Canada’s energy ambitions, Oliver has spent three years pushing new pipelines to the ire of climate campaigners. Tomorrow he will take over the country’s most important file – Finance.

Looking back at Oliver’s time as Natural Resource minister paints a polarizing picture. He’s accused Canadian environmental groups of being funded by “foreign radicals.” He’s said renowned U.S. climatologist James Hansen should be “ashamed” of his words. He’s called climate change concerns “exaggerated,” adding “I think people aren’t as worried as they were before about global warming of two degrees.” 

It’s fair to say some environmentalists are happy to see him move to a more benign file. But such celebration would be premature. As finance minister Oliver will be tasked with preparing the budget – and past omnibus budget bills have inflicted plenty of pain on the planet. Control over the country’s finances could give him a new arsenal in paving the way for expansion of the oil sands.

No doubt his friends in the fossil fuel industry must be happy to hear their biggest supporter is one notch closer to power. Most likely, he will continue to fashion Canada’s economy exclusively around oil and gas development and oppose investing in renewable energy or protecting the nation from the coming carbon bubble. Climate change seems to be entirely absent from Oliver’s view of Canada’s future. Just last week he heralded his vision of Canada as a 21st century energy superpower at the East Coast Energy Conference in the United States. If Canada remains committed to aggressive exploitation of its energy resources well into this century, the outlook for our climate does not look good. 

Next the natural question becomes who comes next? The next Natural Resources minister will be tasked with finding ways to get Alberta’s oil to the coasts – and this means pipeline projects. I’ll explore the various battles the Harper government’s newest commander will fight after we find out his or (doubt it) her identity tomorrow. Whoever takes the reigns will be responsible for crucial decisions affecting Earth’s climate for the foreseeable future. More moderate rhetoric from the next Natural Resources minister would be welcome. Concern for climate change would be remarkable. No matter who it is though they will be doing everything they can to expand Canada’s oil exports. Climate campaigners in North America will be taking note of who they’re up against. Twitter users kickstarted the debate almost right away.