Morneau and climate change: putting out a housefire with gasoline

This summer, in a stunning use of Orwellian doublespeak, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would provide a half billion dollars each year for government spending to fight climate change. The Liberals included this figure in their election platform, and Morneau’s office reiterated it to the media on November 25.

Oddly, though, after placing so much emphasis on this project, and investing so much political capital in it, Morneau has been unable to provide details about how he arrived at the $500 million figure. It’s not as if he hasn’t been asked – since he first floated the pronouncement in the summer he’s been peppered with questions, from both corporate media and environmental activists, about the how’s and why’s of his calculation.

All he has said is that it is a Finance Canada estimate.

But isn’t Morneau in charge of Finance Canada? Surely that gives him enough stroke with the organization that he could get just a wee bit more information than some scribbles on the back of a napkin from the Parliament Pub.

It’s okay, though – we’re happy to do the work for him, pro bono.

First, the costs – the financial ones, anyway. The government purchased the pipeline last year for $4.5 billion. But the extension is estimated to cost several billion more. Last year, the total cost of the pipeline plus extension was estimated at $9.3 billion. The government, about seven seconds after getting re-elected, promised to build the extension so we can assume the public is on the hook for this entire amount. Corporate and government hacks will, of course, point out that the idea is to sell the pipeline back to the private sector, thereby recouping the full $9.3 billion public expense. We’ll believe that when we see it.

Morneau, assuming he’s reading his napkin correctly, says that in its fifth year TMX will bring in $500 million annually in tax revenues. This means it will take a quarter of a century for the purchase and construction price to be paid back.

(Really, Bill, in that time, we could have used $4.5 billion to develop a federal daycare program, or build social housing, or actual government spending to fight climate change!)

Second, the costs – the environmental ones now. The TMX, as a piece of infrastructure, is dedicated to the purpose of expanding tar sands oil production. But the tar sands directly account for around 80 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon emissions each year. That’s more than 10% of Canada’s total emissions. (The tar sands also contribute several dozen more megatonnes through processing and distribution but since Bill is struggling with his figures, we won’t hit him with that just yet.)

This means that every year, we will move at least 80 Mt of carbon emissions (and more once the TMX starts pumping extra dirty oil) closer to climate catastrophe.

And Bill Morneau expects to solve that with a half billion loonies.

This is a plan that makes no sense, financially or environmentally. Moreover, TMX is another disgusting example of colonialism in Canada – the state dispossessing Indigenous people of their land (or of any meaningful control over it), in order to facilitate capitalist profit.

The Liberals are putting out a house fire with a gasoline hose, and if someone doesn’t intervene quickly the whole neighbourhood is going up in flames.