Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre Friday promised a government led by him would take a hard line on what he calls “polluting dictatorships” by dramatically curbing foreign oil imports from countries like Saudi Arabia while boosting Canadian production to make up the shortfall.
Oil imports have moved to the forefront of the political agenda since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine last month. In response to that violent incursion, many Western democracies have signaled they’ll boycott Russian energy products to cut off a crucial source of foreign currency for Putin and his regime.
Canada already has enacted a ban on Russian oil and other petroleum products. Poilievre wants to take it a step further by widening the net to ban oil imports from “dictatorships that fail to meet our environmental standards or abuse human rights” within five years of taking office, according to a backgrounder sent to CBC News by his campaign team .
A spokesperson for Poilievre said the ban would block imports from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, among others, if necessary.
Despite sitting on one of the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Canada imports billions of dollars worth of oil from foreign countries each year to fuel eastern refineries — a symptom of the limited east-west pipeline capacity that makes moving crude oil from Alberta to eastern Canada a challenge.
Most of that imported oil comes from the US, although Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Norway, Russia and the UK have also been important suppliers in recent years. In 2020, Saudi Arabia delivered roughly 73,600 barrels of oil a day to this country.
Right now, Atlantic Canadian refineries do not have pipeline access to crude oil, which makes them relying on these imports. The Irving-owned refinery in Saint John, NB is particularly dependent on non-US foreign oil, according to data from the Canada Energy Regulator.
Early in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first term, an attempt by pipeline giant TC Energy to repurpose an existing natural gas pipeline to move crude oil from Alberta to East Coast refiners was scrapped due to regulatory uncertainty and opposition from some Quebec politicians. The project’s failure has been a target of Conservative criticism ever since.
“Justin Trudeau supports oil — as long as it is foreign oil. Every time he kills a Canadian energy project, foreign dictators like Putin do a victory dance because they get to dominate the world market,” Poilievre said Friday.
“Buying overseas oil from polluting dictatorships is terrible for our environment. It exports our jobs, our money and our pollution to countries with poor ecological standards. Instead, let us bring home the jobs, money and business to the most environmentally responsible energy sector in the world here in Canada.”
Poilievre said today he’d do all he can to revive that east-west pipeline project, which was called Energy East when it was first pitched by TC. He also promised to study using new rail lines to move western oil to eastern markets. In the absence of new crude oil pipelines, there’s been explosive growth in oil-by-rail shipments in North America in the last decade.
For the last five years, Conservative politicians have promised to revive Energy East or a project like it. Unless a Conservative-led federal government actually builds the pipeline itself, that sort of project would depend on a private company coming forward with the money and a plan to see it through to completion.
Beyond a push to move more Alberta oil to the east, Poilievre said he’d back Newfoundland and Labrador’s existing plan to churn out much more oil each year.
Provincial leaders there are intent on more than doubling production from 244,000 barrels of oil a day to 650,000 by 2030. The Poilievre campaign estimates that the new supply would more than offset the 126,000 barrels of oil that would be displaced by the proposed ban on some foreign , non-US oil imports.
To increase that province’s output, Poilievre said he’d scrap the Liberal government’s existing environmental assessment act, Bill C-69 — which he called an “anti-energy law” — and “remove government gatekeepers” to quickly approve “environmentally responsible expansions of Newfoundland’s offshore sector.”
The proposed increase in Newfoundland and Labrador oil production depends on federal government approval of the Bay du Nord offshore project, which would produce about 200,000 barrels a day once operational in 2025.
But that offshore project — which is based on reserves of nearly 300 million barrels of oil — is in limbo. Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has repeatedly pushed off a final decision as climate activists demand the project’s termination over greenhouse gas emissions concerns.
Guilbeault is now expected to release a decision on that project on April 13.