Grassroots Liberals split on push for Canada to ease reliance on foreign oil

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As the Liberal government deals with deep divisions over a western pipeline expansion, grassroots party members are pushing for a long-term vision that relies less on getting oil to market and more on Canada’s energy independence.

Delegates at the Liberal convention in Halifax, the unofficial kick-off for the 2019 election campaign, begin to debate 30 policy resolutions on Friday, including one that calls for weaning Canada off foreign oil. But just as the premiers of Alberta and B.C. are split on the Trans Canada pipeline expansion project, so too are Liberals at odds over the country’s broader oil policy for the future.

John Caruana of Brantford, Ont., said too much negative energy is wasted feuding over building energy infrastructure to export oil instead of transporting it within the country.

“The more independence we develop, the stronger it is for our nation and for our economy,” he said “I think it would be a way to ease the tension if everybody focused on what we could do to make things more positive. There’s certainly more room for co-operation instead of this bickering and fighting.”

The resolution from Alberta Liberals calls on the government to consult with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous peoples and other stakeholders “to determine acceptable infrastructure and pipelines necessary for independence.”

“Canadian oil and gas independence would allow Canada to ensure that domestic natural resource extraction and usage would be carried out more efficiently, safely and sustainably than in countries which export oil and gas to Canada,” the resolution reads, noting that Canada imported 759,000 barrels of oil per day in 2016.

But other Liberals say the government is on the right track now.

Right balance

Marc-Andre Poirier, a University of Ottawa law student from Dieppe, N.B., said the Conservatives and the NDP are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the Liberals have struck the right balance in building pipelines for economic prosperity while ensuring environmental protection through managed risk.

“Let’s be careful with protectionism. On the one hand, we are criticizing it with NAFTA and we don’t want to get caught in the crosshairs where we are protecting our industries too much,” he said.

According to the Natural Resources department’s website, Canada imported crude oil from a wide range of countries in 2016 because of the regional nature of refining markets, including the U.S. (62 per cent), Saudi Arabia (nine per cent), Algeria (nine per cent), Nigeria (eight per cent) and Norway (four per cent.)

While Canada is a net exporter, imports can play a “significant role” in meeting demand that varies due to geographic constraints.

Because of their connection via major waterways, Atlantic Canada and Quebec have good access to supplies from the northeastern United States and Europe, for example, the website says.

The three-day Liberal convention kicked off with an opening ceremony Thursday evening, where various speakers called on the grassroots to get to work now to prepare for next year’s federal election. 

Another policy resolution up for debate Friday calls for the decriminalization of small quantities of all drugs, as a way to treat opioid and other drug abuse as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

Delegate Noor Samiei said it’s an important step for Canada to take.

“When there are laws that aren’t protecting people, they won’t go for help. And when you decriminalize it, people are more likely to get the help they need,” she said.

Liberal Party convention delegate Noor Samiei wants the government to decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs as a way to treat drug abuse as a health issue. (CBC News)

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