Meet Canada’s new Natural Resources minister

March 20, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Following up yesterday’s post about Canada’s outgoing Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, we now know who his replacement will be. The Hon. Greg Rickford, Member of Parliament for Kenora will oversee the nation’s resource development, including the crucial task of finding ways to get Canada’s oil to the coasts.

Pushing pipeline projects will be at the top of Rickford’s responsibilities – putting him at odds with climate campaigners. Building new fossil fuel infrastructure when humanity must drastically reign in its carbon emissions is foolhardy. Oliver’s top priority during his time in office was Keystone XL, but it looks as if approval for the project may well be withheld by U.S. President Barack Obama. While Rickford can continue the job of travelling the United States rallying approval for the pipeline, it’s doubtful he can achieve what his predecessor couldn’t. 

Rickford’s appointment then seems an apt nod to constructing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline which would connect the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, on the coast of northern British Columbia. First Nations along the pipeline’s route have expressed vehement opposition to the transport of oil over their territorial lands and waters. More than 130 bands have signed a declaration of opposition to the project. Years of experience working with Aboriginal Canadians as a private citizen, as an MP in Northern Ontario and as parliamentary secretary to the Indian Affairs minister give Rickford much more credibility in negotiating with the nations affected by the project. 

In December, the joint review panel for Northern Gateway recommended the federal government approve the project, pending 209 conditions. It has until early June to decide whether to green-light the project. Opposition leader Tom Mulcair has said he believes Aboriginal opposition will leave the project dead in the water. Rickford’s appointment is likely an attempt to prevent that from happening. 

Concerns about climate change are one of many factors uniting the opposition to Northern Gateway. Analysis by Simon Frasier University suggests the pipeline would enable about four gigatonnes of new greenhouse gas emissions over its lifecycle. This project is crucial for the government’s ambitions to export Alberta’s landlocked oil to Asian markets. Rickford will no doubt be pushing Northern Gateway even harder in the absence of a Keystone XL approval. It’s far from the only project presented to the new Natural Resources minister. Twinning of the Kindermorgan Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby, B.C. and the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 project to Montreal (which was approved earlier this month) are also instrumental to the government’s oil sands ambitions. 

Attempts by the federal government to get Alberta’s oil to markets also spell “game over” for the climate, according to former NASA scientist James Hansen. Humanity needs to leave most Earth’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground and new pipeline projects make that all the more impossible. Rickford’s appointment may or may not mean more meaningful consultation for Aboriginal bands, but the consequences for the climate are the same. 

Rickford’s track record on science is far from stellar. As Minister of State for Science and Technology, he presided over the closing of Northern Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area, the only research facility of its kind in the world. One of the many things studied by the ELA was how freshwater fish are affected by climate change. In the past, however, he has expressed an understanding of the urgency of climate change. 

“We owe it to future generations to take action on climate change now,” he said on June 11, 2009 in a speech supporting renewable energy. I’ll be curious to see if his concern for the climate endures his latest promotion. Doubtful that in a country where the energy sector dominates the economy and the government, Rickford will all of a sudden see the light and change direction. More likely he’ll face stiff opposition at every corner from concerned citizens. Northern Gateway and the colossal expansion of Alberta’s oil sands cannot come to fruition if we are to maintain a liveable world.