Pipelines vs. the environment: weighing greenhouse gas emissions against the economy

WATCH: Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Jonathan Wilkinson and B.C. Conservative Ed Fast join Tom Clark to debate the government's approval of the LNG pipeline and whether or not Canada can meet its Paris climate commitments.

In one of his first big tests as prime minister, Justin Trudeau jumped onto the world stage, adding his signature and voice to the historic Paris climate agreement.

But a year later, Trudeau’s Liberals may have put those commitments in jeopardy after his government approved the Pacific Northwest pipeline last week.

Critics of the pipeline say the project would become one of the country’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. So, how does this affect Canada’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas by 30 per cent of the next few decades?

In a panel discussion on this week’s episode on The West Block, Ed Fast, the Official Opposition Critic for the Environment told West Block’s Tom Clark that this potential conflict is a direct example of promising too much to too many.

WATCH: Understanding the environmental conditions on the Pacific Northwest LNG Project 
Understanding the environmental conditions on the Pacific Northwest LNG Project
Understanding the environmental conditions on the Pacific Northwest LNG Project

“When he was in British Columbia speaking to First Nations, he promised them that he was not going to allow hydrocarbons to make it to tidewater in order to protect the environment. When he’s in Alberta, he’s promising that he’s going to get resources to our oceans and to markets beyond North America,” Fast said.

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“So what has happened now, we have some very angry First Nations,” Fast said. “You have some very angry environmental groups are saying we’ve been betrayed. And that’s what happens when you try to be all things to all people.”

The Liberals imposed 190 legally binding conditions on the pipeline to help curb its environmental impact, though Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson still concedes the emissions the project will generate will be “significant”.

However, Wilkinson said balancing environmental commitments while helping drive Canada’s crucial oil industry is something the Trudeau government is committed to. He pointed to the work Canada did imposing the legally-binding conditions on the project and the emissions that may have curbed.

READ MORE: Five things to know about the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project in B.C.

“We were able to actually reduce the direct emissions by over 20 per cent,” Wilkinson said. “And while the emissions are still significant, what we have very clearly is that they need to fit within the overall emissions profile of Canada and they need to fit within the context of the commitments we’ve made to meet the targets that were established under the Paris agreement.”

The goals set within the climate agreement will be front and centre this week in Canada as federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers are meeting in Montreal Monday.

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Then the discussion will move to Parliament where the discussion will be focused on just how Canada will strike a delicate balance of keeping the oil-dependent economy afloat while honoring the goals set in Paris.