Completing TMX to Fund the Just Transition? Who Thought that One Up?

This post was written by Oil Sands Divestment and published on October 18, 2021.

The Canadian government used to roll out two stock answers when it was criticized for continuing to exploit fossil fuels. The first was that “no country in the world would leave Canadian oil untapped”, and the second that “oil is going to be needed for a long time so we need to keep pumping it.”

Those arguments were weak at the best of times but with the International Energy Association report this May, and the rapid decrease in the cost of renewables, there is general acknowledgement that most fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground – probably forever.

So the Canadian government needed another argument for completing TMX, and it’s PR specialists have obviously been tying themselves in knots to figure out a way to justify the project. The latest rationale can be found on the TMX website: “every dollar the federal government earns from the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project will be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition.” 

Our environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the same thing in August: “Canada needs to ensure that in the context of that transition, it’s extracting full value for its resources and using that money to push forward in terms of reducing emissions”

If Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka had collaborated on a story they couldn’t have done better! So, we’re planning to take the world’s most polluting oil, put it in a pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver, and ship it to Asia. And then we’re going to use the funds from destroying any hopes of Canada meeting its Paris commitment to repair the damage? That’s a bit like selling your kid’s favorite toy with the rationale that you’re going to buy them an even better toy – maybe sometime in the distant future.

Apart from anything else government funds are highly fungible, so how are we ever to know that funds from TMX are going to be used for a specific purpose, or even if the government uses the TMX funds for the just transition, what’s to stop it diverting other funds originally intended for the just transition to something else (another pipeline for example?).

It’s difficult to know why the Canadian government is continuing with TMX. Is it because of votes in Alberta, because they sincerely believe that it’s in the long term Canadian and global interest, or they don’t want to lose the political and financial capital of closing it down? Whichever it is, if the rationale for TMX doesn’t make sense, it’s more likely that we’ll see increased divestment.