Tar Sands-Hurting Canadians From Coast to Coast to Coast

By Kaleigh McGregor-Bales

The Tar Sands and oil pipelines have become Canadian icons.  Just like Wayne Gretzky, maple syrup and the beaver, the fossil fuel industry is shaping our identity at home and abroad.

Today, delegates at COP17 were greeted by cheerful Canadian Welcome Committee that handed out samples of Tar Sands on behalf of Environment Minister Kent, along with tourism brochures for Canada’s scenic Tar Sands.

People often think of the Tar Sands as an Albertan project that doesn’t really impact the rest of Canada. In reality the Canadian Tar Sands are impacting Canadians from Coast to Coast to Coast.

The West Coast is impacted because of the plans to transport Tar Sands crude and refined products through B.C. to U.S. and Asian-Pacific markets, which involves building pipelines and refineries. Leaks and spills risk contaminating local ecosystems, and refineries will produce toxic emissions that will impact health.

The Arctic experiences impacts from the construction of pipelines to ship natural gas from the Northwest Territories to the Tar Sands. Further, the Arctic is also already experiencing the loss of land and the erosion of their traditional culture because of climate change, which as the largest and most destructive industrial project on the planet, the Tar Sands contribute to.

Alberta is experiencing direct impacts from the Tar Sands including pollution that threatens human and ecosystem health. There are significant social impacts from the rapid unplanned development around Fort McMurray including the lack of social infrastructure and the mistreatment of temporary foreign labourers. The Indigenous communities living downstream from the Tar Sands have been the hardest hit by cancers from the toxic effluent and the loss of traditional land-based practices because the soil and water are so heavily contaminated.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are receiving more acid rain as a direct result of the Tar Sands. Expanded Tar Sands development in Saskatchewan has been proposed.

In Ontario, there have been job loses because the Tar Sands have increased the value of the Canadian dollar which negatively impacted the pulp and paper industry. Further, some Tar Sands bitumen is shipped to Ontario to be refined, a process that pollutes the air and water, and depletes freshwater systems.

In Atlantic Canada where I am living there are very few jobs and especially good-paying jobs. Young workers are drawn to Alberta to work in the Tar Sands. The work conditions are often dangerous with high incidences of accidents and deaths. The outflow of youth has contributed low population growth rates and low economic growth in the Atlantic region.

There are negative social, environmental and economic impacts across Canada but government subsidies to the Tar Sands continue. The Tar Sands are currently the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in Canada, and are projected to rise from 7% of Canada’s total emissions in 2005 to 12% in 2020.

It doesn’t need to be this way. It is often falsely assumed that big projects mean lots of jobs. In reality, investment in locally-based renewable energy projects can create high-quality, long-lasting jobs dispersed across the country. It is often falsely assumed that we have to choose between the environment and the economy. In reality we can have a safe and healthy environment and a thriving economy.  But we need to stop believing the government and fossil fuel industry’s Tar Sands lobby campaign and demand that the Government put the health, safety and future of Canadian before polluting industries.

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