Premiers vacation in Moncton

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An Atlantic vacation in August should be a part of every Canadian life, as a citizenship right. Summer is certainly the best time to visit Moncton, N.B., and enjoy the nearby port of Shediac.

Canada's 13 provincial and territorial premiers are gathered in Moncton this week for their annual meeting. Energy and climate change are the main agenda items for what since 2003 has become the Council of the Federation, an institutionalized version of the premiers meeting without the federal government being present.

Alberta premier Stelmach is understandably concerned that the meeting will take dead aim at his province on the climate change issue. Usually, the premiers gather to gang up on the federal government; Stelmach made it clear he does not want a gang-up against energy-rich (but idea-poor) Alberta.

What is not on the agenda is how to create a national electricity grid, so that Canadians can count on energy independence. Publicly owned energy provided at cost to citizens, and companies is the best way to ensure affordable, stable access to what is a necessity of life in this big cold country.

Instead Canada has adopted a strategy of sharing energy with the U.S. We share our scarce, non-renewable energy, and in return we get little but a few thousand well-paid oil services jobs, and plenty of green-house-gas production.

Since the free trade agreement came into effect in 1989, exports South of low-cost natural gas and petroleum have increased rapidly, and plans are being made to invest billions in Alberta oil sands production to serve the American market. Americans get Canada's lowest cost resources and American companies get the profits from the sales since much of the oil and gas sector is American owned.

When world oil prices rise, foreign-owned companies capture the gain, and take the profits out of the country. Neither the provinces nor the federal government has made any attempt to tax the windfall profits. It is assumed the companies, not Canadian citizens, should benefit when world prices go up.

The provincial contribution to the national strategy of neglecting the future is to privatize publicly owned resources, so that citizens can pay more for what used to belong to them.

If the premiers were serious about climate change they would be figuring out how to reduce livestock production, since according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) livestock accounts for a major part of green-house-gas production.

The livestock issue was not even mentioned by Al Gore (or even George Monboit) as it raises questions about diet, one of the most personal issues, and one on which few people are subject to logical persuasion.

It would be hard to imagine Canadian premiers who have turned over so much of the agricultural sector to giant hog-farm producers taking any initiatives to reserve direction, despite the threats to human health and the environment posed by large-scale livestock production.

Host premier Shawn Graham has made it know the Moncton meeting will be green. “Steps are being taken to reduce paper use, prevent idling by vehicles around meeting sites and provide environmentally friendly water choices to premiers and delegates. To make this a carbon-neutral event, the provincial government will plant trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions generated in relation to this meeting.”

Somehow, setting a good example does not seem enough. Frankly, playing some golf, enjoying the lobster, and the New Brunswick welcome is good reason for the premiers to meet. Better a vacation than a meeting without any intention of taking any serious action on pressing problems of climate change, and major injustices arising from energy policy.

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