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Alberta: Escaping the tyranny of fossil fuel dependency

Post-election, five Canadians pinpoint the most pressing issues in their province for Prime Minister Trudeau’s re-elected minority government to tackle.

The overriding question for Alberta seems to be: what is the place of fossil fuels – with their promise of generating jobs, economic growth and wealth – in a world facing climate disaster?

The real question Parliament needs to address is why Alberta, and the entire country for that matter, is trapped in the tyranny of normal. Why do we accept our lifestyles and fossil-fuel-driven socioeconomic system as essential and inevitable?

Witness the election results from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding where the oil sands operations are centred. Hoping to save the industry and related jobs and prosperity, citizens voted 67 percent for Conservatives, 13 percent People’s Party, and one percent for the Maverick party. An astonishing 81 percent of voters saw no option but to stick with political parties that seek to prop up the fossil fuel industry and our energy-intensive lifestyle and system. The “normal” these voters desperately defend, however, is propelling widespread ecological decline and unprecedented climate disaster (see latest IPPC report, 2021).

No political leader during the election dared to publicly challenge how unreal, unsustainable and imminently destructive this “normal” is for both Alberta and Canada. Neither Liberals who depend on fossil-fuel-consuming voters in urban ridings, nor Conservatives leaning on resource-producing rural ridings, nor even NDP progressives or Green Party activists were willing to strongly assert how imprisoned in “normal” Canada really is. They all clung to the old rational-linear problem-solving approach that relies on technically adjusting our existing system.

For me, this is what Parliament must frankly debate: What type of first steps might invite Albertans to seriously begin re-orienting our energy industry away from fossil fuels to renewable energies? What type of initial policy can Parliament pass to invite Canadians to imagine new ways our fossil-fuel-dependent society can break with economic growth obsession? In other words, what approach to a just transition from fossil fuels might break the spell of the tyranny of normal?

Time is short. Let the national debate begin.


Read other letters to the Prime Minister here: Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, British Columbia.

  • John is a Professor of Political Studies at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta.

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