What happened to the bitumen export ban?

During the 2008 campaign, Stephen Harper promised to ban the export of raw bitumen to countries with weaker emissions targets.

“We will not permit the export of bitumen to any country that does not have the same greenhouse gas regulations that we are imposing,” Harper said in Calgary, where he was campaigning for re-election in an Oct. 14 vote.

Mr. Harper said the federal government had the constitutional authority to enforce a ban. And the Prime Minister acknowledged that such a ban could impact exports to Asia.

Harper’s promise is likely to have no impact on bitumen exports to the United States, said Environment Minister John Baird, but could affect the construction of a major pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast to feed the Asian market. Questioned on whether the emission target proposal would have an impact on future bitumen exports to Asian countries, Harper replied: “Well, it could. It absolutely could.”

Nearly four years later, the Harper government is quite keen to sell this country’s oil to Asia. But for all the discussion in recent months about resource development and oil exports, Mr. Harper’s pledge has gone unmentioned. What happened to promised ban? I sent the following query to the Prime Minister’s Office.

During the 2008 campaign, the Prime Minister promised to ban the export of raw bitumen to countries with environmental standards that were more lenient than Canada’s. Does the Prime Minister still intend to fulfill that promise? And, if so, how does he square it with the government’s desire to export oil to countries like China and India?

That question was forwarded to the office of Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. Mr. Oliver’s spokeswoman sent along the following statement by way of response (emphasis mine).

“Our government is focused on jobs creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Our plan for Responsible Resource Development will help unleash enormous economic growth, by streamlining environmental assessments while maintaining the highest possible standard for protecting the environment. In the next 10 years, more than 500 projects representing over $500 billion in new investments are proposed across Canada. We currently are continuing to review this policy.”

That roughly matches what Minister Oliver’s office said more than eight months ago when Postmedia checked on the Prime Minister’s promise.

“Our 2008 platform commitment remains in effect. We continue to review on an ongoing basis,” said Julie Di Mambro, press secretary to Oliver.

At that time, a “person familiar with Prime Minister Harper’s surprise announcement” said the promise was to be “buried and never seen again.”

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