Ottawa Caves to Gas Lobby on Plan to Decarbonize the Centennial Flame
Don’t be too surprised that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is bending over backwards to mollify an aggressively recalcitrant pipeline company based in Houston. His government couldn’t even stand up to the natural gas lobby to protect an emerging plan to decarbonize the iconic Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill.
University of Ottawa communications professor Patrick McCurdy is pointing to the reversal by Public Services and Procurement Canada as “an important symbolic victory for the gas industry.”
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PSPC “quietly launched a study last fall into options to cut the flow of natural gas from Western Canada to the popular Parliament Hill monument, and replace it with a more eco-friendly energy source,” CBC reports. But Canadian Gas Association President Tim Egan broadcast his objections in a May 3 open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and launched a Twitter hashtag to back it up.
“The flame is a unifying symbol in what it does,” Egan wrote. “It draws on a fuel that moves across our country, uniting the regions in a unique and powerful way.”
“Right now is a critical time in our country’s history,” agreed a supportive form letter circulated by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers through its Energy Citizens social media platform. “We need to show support for our oil and gas sector which provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to our economy.”
In a National Post op ed, CAPP board members asked: “How can we expect the world to buy our natural gas when it’s not welcome on the steps of Parliament?”
The pressure was too much for PSPC, where spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold acknowledged the study had been dropped. “We’ve recognized the symbolic value of the Centennial Flame,” he told CBC.
The government will continue paying Bullfrog Power $20,000 per year to offset the Flame’s consumption with bio-methane supplied to the gas distribution system.
“In an age of outrage politics, this is exactly what the Canadian Gas Association, CAPP and others were looking for,” McCurdy said. “A small but symbolic victory where they can not only claim impact, they can use it as a means to mobilize sympathizers in the ongoing struggle over energy…From a social movement perspective, these wins are important for group identity and solidarity.”
But the win hasn’t been enough to dampen the outrage from Bill Whitelaw, president and CEO of fossil industry publishing house JWN Energy, who writes the plan off as “egregiously wacky and ill-advised” in an opinion piece earlier this week.
“The flame on Parliament Hill was ignited utilizing natural gas produced in the west in 1967 by then PM Lester Pearson to celebrate 100 years of Canada as a federation,” Whitelaw states. “Its key purpose: a symbol of unity. It is mind-boggling to consider how many thousands of Canadians and visitors have stood before its dancing flames and provincial and territorial plaques pondering the forces that hold together this great country.”
To Whitelaw, “the idea of a Centennial LED does not convey the same essence of togetherness and hands-across-the-country unity. So at a time when energy narratives are cleaving the nation instead of binding it, the proposal smacked of thinking that could only exist conceptually in some alternative universe.”