Canada's oiled future: Ezra Levant and Andrew Nikiforuk debate

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First aired on Q (09/15/10)

The debate surrounding oil has been raging in these environmentally and economically precarious times. Peak oil has passed, it's yet to happen, we need a greener energy source, oil is green. When it comes to oil, if you can find an angle, you can find an argument.

Ezra Levant, a conservative political commentator and best-selling author, wants to bring this debate out of the ideological clouds and put it on the ground, where we live and work every day. Regardless of how awful you think oil may be, Levant is calling for Canadians to face the facts: We use it. A lot of it. Every day. And it needs to come from somewhere.

Levant argues in his new book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands, that as long as we need oil, it might as well come from Canada. It's better for our economy, better for the environment and is "morally superior" to the oil imported from Venezuela, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia, thanks to our progressive views and democratic practices.

"If we are going to hold the oil sands to some perfect standard of some fuel that hasn't been invented yet with no side effects, well, it's going to lose right now," Levant recently argued on Q."But since we all have to drive our cars tomorrow and the Americans and the Chinese and the Indians are all getting more and more carbon-oriented, if we're not going to sell them the oil, someone else will."

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Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent and a Greenpeace journalist, believes that Levant isn't looking at the big picture. For Nikiforuk, oil, in any capacity, is detrimental on all fronts: economically, environmentally, ethically and politically. In order for us to move towards a truly "morally superior" fuel source, not only do we need to explore cleaner fuel sources, we also need to examine our current consumption practices and implications. It's not enough to simply be better than the alternative.

"The production in Canada is generating enormous amounts of wealth that raise a lot of ethical questions," Nikoforuk countered in the lively debate. "What do we do with this money? Do we save it for future generations? Does Canada have a sovereign fund, like Norway? No, we don't. How are our regulators behaving? Is it ethical to have a national energy board that is 90 per cent funded by 166 oil and gas companies? What about the players in the oil sands? What are their ethical records?"

Levant and Nikiforuk represent two different viewpoints, one embedded in practical issues and the other in ideological ones. It can be argued that Levant is being short-sighted and that Nikiforuk is not being realistic. However, what both these commentators agree on is that oil isn't perfect. But is that really enough? Are we ready to move towards an oil-free future? And if we are, do we even want to?

Related content:

Visit Q's website.

Check out Ezra Levant's website and Andrew Nikiforuk's website.

Read Ezra Levant's op-ed piece on the Day 6 website.

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