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The West Block – Episode 18, Season 12

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 18, Season 12

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus Energy

Kendall Dilling, Pathways Alliance

Shogofa Danish, Global News Journalist

Heather McPherson, NDP—Edmonton Strathcona

Tim Laidler, Veterans Transition Network 

Location:

Ottawa, ON

 

Mercedes Stephenson: A furious debate over the future of Canadian oil and gas. Are we headed for a much needed green transition or risking economic disaster?

And, terror at the hands of the Taliban. Has Canada abandoned Afghan women and girls?

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I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.

Ottawa’s plan for what it calls a ‘just transition’ to migrate oil and gas workers to green jobs, kicked off a firestorm this week and saw the Alberta premier on the attack.

We’ll talk to the CEO of Canadian Energy giant, Cenovus, about whether the oil industry can change, and he has a warning for Ottawa about the price of moving too quickly.

Plus, the rights of Afghan women and girls that Canadian troops fought so hard for, now being smothered by the Taliban. As Taliban death squads hunt those who dare to stand up to them, we’ll take a look at whether the Canadian government is moving fast enough to save lives.

You may have heard the term “just transition” last week, which sparked furious debate over the future of the oil and gas industry in Canada and the federal government’s plan for it.

The Liberal government says the transition would prepare workers for the move to more sustainable green jobs, but Premier Danielle Smith says the plan would destroy Albertans livelihoods.

Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier “It has nothing to do with transition at all. It’s about eliminating entire sectors of our economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs deemed too dirty by Ottawa elites.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now to talk about the ‘just transition’ and how the industry is planning to meet its emissions targets is Alex Pourbaix, president of Canadian energy giant, Cenovus; and Kendall Dilling, president of Pathways Alliance, which represents 95 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas companies who are focused on trying to get to net zero by 2050.

Thank you both so much for joining us. A big week for a pretty passionate debate around the environment and oil and gas in Canada. Alex, I’d like to start with you. What was your reaction to the information about the federal government’s plan in the ‘just transition’ and Premier Danielle Smith’s reaction to it?

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Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus Energy: Well first off, Mercedes, I think I would say that it’s one of the more unfortunate titles I’ve seen for a bill. It really leads to this view that what we’re going to be doing is transitioning jobs out of oil and gas into other sectors and in fact, as what we’re doing with Pathways, in essence our plan to decarbonize the barrel of oil, we see an opportunity to continue to grow jobs in Alberta, and I really like how the premier, I think she described it more as an evolution, where right now we have a lot of operating jobs in oil and gas. I suspect we’re still going to have those, but we’re going to have jobs in carbon capture, sequestration, hydrogen, ultimately small modular reactors, and I think that’s a much more accurate way of looking at this.

Mercedes Stephenson: You know I believe Kendall that your group represents the five biggest oil and gas producers in Canada, so you’re talking about significant emissions and serious concerns about the future. Do you think that it is realistic for Canada to be looking at transitioning off oil and gas, which the federal government says is inevitable? It has to happen to get to net zero. Or do you think that—I mean, obviously you believe carbon capture is important, but do you think the federal government agrees with that or are they trying to accelerate the move completely away from oil and gas?

Kendall Dilling, Pathways Alliance: Honestly, right now I think anybody who is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions recognizes that industry has to be part of that transition, existing industries and that’s oil and gas but also many other heavy industries in Canada and around the world. Any notion that we can just ignore them and focus on alternative technologies to replace that industry is really short-sighted because we are responsible for the bulk of emissions. In the Canadian context, the oil sands are responsible for about 11 per cent of Canada’s emissions, so we very clearly have to be part of the solution. And as Pathways, that’s what we’re all about is reducing our emissions, parallel path with alternatives and non-emitting forms of energy that will also need to be developed, and that is the fastest way to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions is to do those two parallel paths.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Alex, I want to come back to something you were saying about the concerns that you also have about trying to transition people too soon off of oil and gas and what it could mean for the Alberta economy.

The federal government says that they’re confident that they can find jobs for people in Alberta who right now are working on rigs or in processing plants. It doesn’t look like you completely agree with the federal government’s assessment. Do you think that this is a matter of the wrong wording? Or do you think that these are very different world views that conflict between the oil and gas company and the province of Alberta’s position and the federal government’s position?

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus Energy: You know, Mercedes, I would kind of go back to the basics here. You know, this industry, the upstream oil and gas industry that we’re involved in, I mean, I don’t think the average Canadian just appreciates what a massive part of the Canadian economy this industry represents. I suspect that this industry is probably going to represent close to 10 per cent of the entire Canadian economy. This year, we employed 500 thousand Canadians across the country and, you know, a number of banks have come out and have suggested they expect this industry is going to pay around $50 billion in taxes and royalties to all levels of government in this country. So this is a massive industry for the country and, you know, regardless of where this all goes, I don’t think there’s anyone who seriously looks at energy, globally, who thinks that we are going to get off oil and gas in the next 5-10 years. We’re going to—this is going to take decades, this transition. And our view at Pathways has very much been that if we can decarbonize the production of a barrel of oil, then it doesn’t matter if the world is consuming 50 million barrels of oil a day or 100 million barrels in 2050, the compelling case is made that those barrels should come from Canada and we don’t think you need to transition off of oil and gas. What you need to do is to reduce the carbon, and that’s where we’re focused at Pathways. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: I want to turn that kind of back on its head with Kendall and asking, you know, on the one hand is the federal government maybe being unrealistic with their timelines to try to get off of oil and gas, and ask you about carbon capture. There’s been debate over how effective it really is and if it’s just delaying the inevitable. Obviously, you believe in it, but when Canadians are looking at this and they’re looking at a change in climate and they’re looking at an oil and gas industry that is going to be pumping out more oil and gas this year than last year, why are you convinced that carbon capture is the future versus moving to alternative fuels?

Kendall Dilling, Pathways Alliance: Well again, Mercedes, it’s really not an either or, it’s both, and that’s the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To your point, there are, you know, alternatives and non-emitting sources that are being developed. That’s great because global demand is growing and we need more forms of energy to fill that fill that wedge. When you look around the world, you know, the UN refers to what they call ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors and so that’s not just oil and gas, it’s steel, it’s chemicals, it’s cement products, power generation. There’s all these industries that need to reduce emissions urgently because of the climate imperative, and there’s only so many tools in the toolkit to do that for sure and at least in the near to mid-term. And carbon capture and storage is clearly one of those that’s going to be incredibly important both here in Canada and around the world. And the UN is calling for hundreds of large scale carbon capture and storage projects to be developed globally so that we can reduce emissions now with technology that’s readily available. And we know—I mean we have CCS projects operating right now in Canada and around the world. The Quest project, which is majority owned by one of the Pathways member companies has been operating in Alberta for seven years with excellent performance. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Alex, final question to you. We have seen the prime minister of Japan come to Canada. We saw the chancellor of Germany both talking about access to Canadian natural gas, something—but there’s an increased demand in Europe now, obviously, for natural gas with it being cut-off from Russia as a result of the war. I know your company deals not only in oil but also in natural gas. Are you satisfied with the federal government’s response on this? Because I’ve heard some frustration inside the industry that these are countries that ultimately ended up going elsewhere to find their natural gas because Canada didn’t seem to want to be a partner.

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus Energy: Well Mercedes, I think it would be an absolute tragedy if Canada is not there front and centre, serving the natural gas needs of the world. As I’m sure you know, we have one of the world’s greatest resources of natural gas in northeast B.C. and northwest Alberta, the Montney region. We can and we have the gas. We should be supplying the world’s needs. We’re watching an unfolding tragedy in Western Europe. You know, and one thing I would say about that. I think that is a cautionary tale about the risks of attempting to move away from fossil fuels before you have replacement technologies that are in place to fully take the place of oil and gas, but we have this extraordinary resource in the country. We are committed to the environment. You’ve heard us say today, we’re committed to decarbonizing the production of oil and gas. I can’t think of a better place in the world to get natural gas than Canada. And trust me, the vast majority of other countries in the world that are blessed with the kind of oil and gas resources Canada has, have no interest whatsoever or care about reducing their emissions. So it’s a win-win for the environment. It’s a win for Canada and it’s a huge win for the countries that are still unbelievably reliant on natural gas for their economy and to keep their people safe.

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Mercedes Stephenson: The federal government has said there was sort of no business case to build a natural gas line going out to the Atlantic coast and that we’ve essentially missed the boat now. I take it you disagree with that? You think there could still be something built?

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus Energy: As I said, I think the resource is there. The infrastructure is largely there and you know, we have to build some incremental pipeline to get to the east coast, but once it’s there that natural gas can be liquefied and can get anywhere in the world. This is not a problem that is going to be going away in seven or eight years. This is a concern, you know, reliable, affordable energy. This is a concern that’s going to be with us for decades. And I can’t think of a better country than Canada to be supplying that need.

Mercedes Stephenson: Alex and Kendall, thank you both very much for your time. We appreciate you joining us and I’m sure we’ll be talking about this again soon, in future. 

Up next, after a former Afghan MP is shot and killed in her home, members of parliament here in Canada say Ottawa needs to do more, faster, to bring Afghan’s living in jeopardy from the Taliban to Canada.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban almost eighteen months ago, the progress for a generation of girls and women has vanished. Women are not allowed to work, girls can’t go to school and the Taliban is hunting women who held prominent roles, including former members of parliament.

Last Sunday, one former MP was assassinated in her home, she was part of a group of women that Canadian politicians were trying to help escape, here. Obviously, she was not saved in time. And there are others like her, still trapped in Afghanistan and in hiding from Taliban death squads. We spoke to one of those women MPs but we are not disclosing her name or location for security reasons. Here is what she told us.

Shogofa Danish, Global News Journalist [Words of undisclosed Afghan MP]: “We are now secretly moving from one province to another province, from one house to another house, and from one region to another region because of the security situation, which has become very bad and make us very worried.”

Mercedes Stephenson: We’re joined by a panel to talk about Canada’s progress and the situation in Afghanistan as Canada tries to bring more Afghan refugees here. We have Heather McPherson who is the foreign affairs critic for the NDP. We have Tim Laidler, who is with the Veterans Transition Network; a group of veterans trying to help Afghans who work for Canada come here. And we joined by a new colleague, Shogofa Danish, who was an Afghan journalist. She was an anchor with TOLOnews network. We’re very excited to be able to introduce her as now with Global News, but obviously sorry about the circumstances in which she has come to Canada.

Shogofa, you were on the air, getting ready to go on the air, the day the Taliban took over. You had to flea and go into hiding at your uncle’s house for a day. You then, incredibly, came back and decided to go on the air. The Taliban was trying to direct you on what to say. Your life was under threat and now you’re here in Afghanistan, but pardon me, in Canada from Afghanistan, but you’re still talking to women who are back in your home country and you’re the person who spoke to and translated that interview with the former MP. What is the situation on the ground for women right now?

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Shogofa Danish, Global News Journalist: Since I came to Canada, so I always have my contact with the people, with the women, girls who are still in Afghanistan, who were active women or who worked for a high position in the previous government. And recently, I talked with two MPs who are still remaining in Afghanistan. So one of them was telling me about her situation that she skipped from one province to another province and in the beginning, one of her relatives told her that we know that the Taliban council sent a letter to the province that it includes 25 person’s names and your name is also on that letter and they are searching for you.

Mercedes Stephenson: So it’s much worse than what Canadians know.

Shogofa Danish, Global News Journalist: Yeah.

Mercedes Stephenson: And that’s so important because we hear about these high profile stories, Heather, and we’re trying to help these women, but there are women who are simply not allowed to leave their home without a man. They cannot be educated. They cannot work and they don’t have the profile. But I’m wondering what’s going wrong that you were not able to get the Government of Canada to bring this woman MP to Canada and the others who are still there in jeopardy. What seems to be the hold up on what is clearly a very urgent situation?

Heather McPherson, NDP—Edmonton Strathcona: So urgent, and you know, to wake up on Sunday morning and hear the news that we had lost one of these MPs, that she’d been murdered, just heartbreaking, just really, really difficult to hear. I don’t know what the holdup is to be perfectly honest. The government, the minister, Minister Frazer has the capacity to do this. He has the ministerial ability. He has the legal ability. He can make an exception for these women. He can get them to safety. We have been pushing since October to get him to do that. We’ve been trying to do that sort of by talking to him back channels, you know, under not quite so publicly and nothing has happened. And what we have now is we have a murdered female member of parliament in Afghanistan. These women are amongst the most vulnerable women in the world right now. All women in Afghanistan are dealing with gender apartheid. All women in Afghanistan are at risk right now, but these members of parliament, these law makers are particularly at risk and we have to, as a country who believes in feminism, who has a feminist foreign policy, we have to do what we can to get these women out and that the minister has to act urgently.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Tim, you are working to try to save Afghans who work for Canada and work for people like you when you were in Afghanistan deployed doing translation, helping with intelligence. The Canadian government sites that look, we promised we were going to bring 40 thousand Afghans to Canada and we’ve brought 27 thousand in. So clearly, we’re doing great. Is there something about those numbers that we’re not understanding, that the situation is so dire and we don’t seem to be getting people out who you’re deeply concerned about?

Tim Laidler, Veterans Transition Network: For sure, you know, we were really excited when we heard the 40 thousand number announced, but what we all that—I think what most Canadians think—is that’s 40 people who are at risk inside Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. Unfortunately, what it’s become is it started to be watered down by they’re taking some people from inside Afghanistan but they’re also taking Afghans who’ve been outside of Afghanistan for a long time in other refugee camps. So we really want to push the government to keep the number of 40 thousand of at risk people inside Afghanistan, to expand that program to include members of parliament who are highly at risk, as we’ve just seen, to women leaders. That group of people has not been captured in the first program that was announced. We have been focused on the interpreters and the people that work for the Canadian mission that were inside Afghanistan. But even those people, many of them have been issued their paperwork to come to Canada and they haven’t been able to come here yet because of a whole bunch of bureaucratic barriers that are in the way at the moment.

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Mercedes Stephenson: So I think you raise a really important point there because I think a lot of Canadians, like me, assume that it’s just that there’s maybe no planes getting out, or we can’t move them. But you’re saying, they have the paperwork and there is the ability to leave, it’s just that the Canadian government—what aren’t they doing? Are they not granting a visa? Where’s the gap happening here?

Tim Laidler, Veterans Transition Network: I think, unfortunately, there is a feeling within some of the—within the Canadian government that there is a higher risk of Afghans coming to Canada and that they’re putting through this fingerprinting process that needs to take place outside of Afghanistan. So what that requires and Afghan to do, even one of these women MPs, if we were to issue them their paperwork to come to Canada, they’re still going to be forced to go to a third country that has a Canadian embassy to do their fingerprints. To leave Afghan and do that, you’re going to need to secure yourself an Afghan passport and get a visa to one of those countries. Most countries will not allow Afghan passport holders to come in or be granted a visa. This is a big barrier and what we want to do, and we want to advocate for, is for the government to find a way to get rid of this requirement for fingerprinting for biometrics. What I’d really like to see is the Canadian government fly Afghans directly from Afghanistan to Canada, and as a public, we accept the risks that there may be some people on those planes that shouldn’t be here. When they arrive and get their fingerprints done, we send them back. It’s not something Canada likes to do because it’s a very difficult process with refugee law and all those other things, but I think the risks are so high that we should be pushing for all the remaining people who we say can come to Canada, to get their fingerprints done in Canada and not go through a third country. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Heather, does that seem reasonable? Is it something the NDP would support?

Heather McPherson, NDP—Edmonton Strathcona: Well absolutely, and it’s something that the committee that was looking at some of the issues around Afghanistan has recommended. You know, we’ve seen this—there are solutions. The government’s not taking those solutions. But I think it’s important to note as well, these are members of parliament. Like that’s a different scenario, they are at deep risk and I don’t think that the process needs to be the same for members of parliament that stepped forward to help their country develop. Like these women are at risk, we know who they are. They are in a different scenario and could be brought out, immediately. We could get them to safety immediately and that’s what I’m going to continue to push for. Working with my colleagues from all parties, that’s what we’re going to continue to push for.

Mercedes Stephenson: Shogofa, we just have a few moments left, but for Canadians at home watching this, how dire is the situation for women in Afghanistan right now? 

Shogofa Danish, Global News Journalist: Now it’s like a prison for women who are in Afghanistan, especially the women who are active and did great things for Afghanistan before the Taliban. Like they cannot go to school, they cannot go to university. They cannot go to work. They cannot go without a man out of home. They cannot go to work. Like they don’t have any participation in society and they are not allowed to choose what they want to do. What Afghan told me and they are hoping that international communities and countries like Canada, U.S., they should pay attention that what is going on in Afghanistan and what women are going through. And they have this hope that because they are countries that they always talk about the freedom, democracy, women’s rights, they were supporting these things but now, why can’t they do anything for them? 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Shogofa, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your story and what’s happening in Afghanistan. We are, again, just so excited to have you here at Global News and joining us on The West Block.

Heather and Tim, thank you, too. We will continue to talk about this story because we believe it is an important one for Canadians to hear about 

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a cabinet retreat in Hamilton, and the Bank of Canada’s next interest rate announcement. 

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet retreat starts tomorrow in Hamilton and there is a lot to discuss, everything from health care funding and Ukraine, to of course, the cost of living and inflation.

And economists as well as Canadians across this country will be watching the Bank of Canada’s interest rate announcement on Wednesday. It’s expected that the bank will hike its rate by a quarter of a percentage point.

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That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson and I’ll see you right back here next Sunday. Have a great week.

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