On the morning of Monday, Oct. 16, a group of climate activists gathered outside the parliamentary building in Ottawa for a demonstration in advance of the Natural Resources committee meeting.
I was among the crowd, a youth climate activist from Sudbury, joined by two dozen others from Environmental Defence, Citizens Climate Lobby, and Fridays for Future, including activists from Perth and Alberta, who shared a common concern. Together, we chanted in the morning air:
“Hold Suncor accountable! Make polluters pay!”
Twenty minutes later - with the help of Sudbury’s Member of Parliament, Viviane Lapointe, a handful of us were granted access to the committee room itself.
A tense space, filled with politicians from all parties as well as media, all of us waiting for two representatives from Suncor - CEO Rich Kruger and Chief Sustainability Officer Arlene Strom – who would be questioned by committee members about the company’s recent statement which maddeningly outlined a retreat from a clean, low-carbon energy future.
In short, we were there to hear why Suncor believed they – and other fossil fuel corporations - could keep polluting.
As the meeting began, the dynamic of the room became very clear. Rich Kruger, with some key Conservative supporters, came to Suncor’s defence, outlining what he believed to be Suncor’s future contributions to Canada’s net-zero plan, while adamantly maintaining that fossil fuel production in our Canadian oil sands should increase.
This tenuous relationship between two opposing ideals relied heavily on the forecasted future successes of yet unproven carbon capture and sequestration projects, which should be funded (Rich Kruger argued) by Canadian taxpayers.
He further claimed that when taking into account human rights, personnel safety, and environmental protection: “the world is a better place if the incremental barrel of oil comes from Canada.”
The veracity of this claim came quickly under attack.
MP Charlie Angus (NDP - Timmins – James Bay riding) took him to task on the environment, noting that during Rich Kruger’s previous tenure at Exxon, where he served as president of production and vice president of operations.
Internal reporting described the coming impacts of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels as “catastrophic.”
He also shared that the International Energy Agency had released a report telling the members of the House of Commons not to invest any more of Canada’s taxpayer dollars into the oil and gas industry, because it would result in stranded assets.
MP Viviane Lapointe hammered him on personnel safety, noting that “workplace safety reports indicate there is a problem at Suncor,” and that several of her constituents have spoken to her about the need for a cap on oil and gas emissions.
MP John Aldag (Liberal - Cloverdale—Langley City riding) said that Suncor seemed to be “doubling down” to get “every last dollar out of the sector” in the face of forecasted declines in global oil demand within the next few decades.
But the most damning critique of all came from acclaimed author and journalist John Vaillant, an invited speaker at the session.
While acknowledging the gifts petroleum has given us, Mr. Vaillant went on to describe the horrific fires that occurred in Fort McMurray due largely to conditions fostered by climate change, saying that the oil industry is in essence a fire industry, which means it is a CO2 industry, which means it is a climate-changing industry.
This basic chemistry and physics cannot be denied, gaslighted, or green-washed away, he said. What's more, Canada is perfectly poised to embrace the greatest greenest energy opportunity the world has ever known.
Although he stopped short of saying what exactly was preventing this opportunity, for those of us in the room, the problem and solution were very clear: “Hold Suncor accountable! Make polluters pay!”
Sophia Mathur is a young climate activist who lives in Sudbury.