​Trudeau's actions may already be phasing out the oilsands

Image: Flickr/Justin Trudeau

A scorpion and a frog meet on a stream bank and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the water on his back.

“How do I know you won’t sting me?” asks the wary frog.

“Because if I do, I will die too,” responds the scorpion.

The frog accepts this logic, and they set out across the stream. Midway across, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog, paralyzed, begins to sink, and knowing they will both drown and die, asks, “Why?”

“It’s my nature,” responds the scorpion.

Aesop’s famous fable just replayed itself in Canada’s energy sector with the oil industry playing the role of the frog and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau starring as the scorpion.

In late November, Trudeau lured the industry into trusting him by approving two export pipeline projects, the Trans Mountain and Line 3 expansions, that will carry current and future oilsands production already under construction to markets. In making the announcement, he aligned his government’s interests with the interests of the industry, much like the scorpion did with the frog.

“I have said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it,” he said, making a point industry representatives have made over and over in the last decade.

Then, in January, out came the stinger, when Trudeau completely contradicted his earlier statement during a town hall in Peterborough, Ont.

“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels,” he told the crowd.

The prime minister couldn’t help himself. Like most politicians, it is his nature to talk out both sides of his mouth.

Taken in isolation, Trudeau’s comments on phasing out oilsands production could be seen as a gaffe, or an effort to calm his environmentalist supporters.

But combined with his coming carbon tax, refusal of the greenfield Northern Gateway pipeline to the west coast that would allow for future oilsands growth rather than just market access for production already under construction and politicization of the pipeline approval process, it appears he is working to curtail future development. He’s definitely undermining investor confidence in the industry by sending mixed signals.

His plan, despite his earlier comments, appears to be to leave billions of barrels in the ground despite there being a market. What else could phasing out the oilsands mean?

This is, of course, speculation. But the very real possibility that it is true should make the industry very wary about its dealings with the federal government. It has been stung once by Trudeau’s Liberals, and the next strike could be fatal.

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