02/28/2012 05:39 EST | Updated 04/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Tar Sands: No Shortcut Out of Mucky Debate

Fossil fuel Premiers Alison Redford and Brad Wall launched broadsides against Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty after the latter dared to stand up for Ontario's interests against the damage that Canada's petro-dollar is doing to the manufacturing sector.

Redford's reply was that McGuinty was being "simplistic."

Wall said that he was being "divisive."

This is what passes for debate these days in Canada. Anyone dares question the benefits of the tar sands, or opposes its expansion gets the beat down.

But, let's dig deeper.

McGuinty is raising what is actually a complex problem that Canada has in its relationship between natural resources, currency rates, and regional fairness. To dismiss this without debate as "simplistic" is doing the whole country a disservice.

Premier Redford relies on an industry-friendly think tank to make the case that the tar sands benefits Ontario, which could easily be called a "simplistic" approach to balance on this issue.

As for Brad Wall, here's the relevant question: why is it not divisive to have the Western-fueled petrodollar quietly kill manufacturing jobs out East, but somehow "divisive" to talk about it? Where is the real division here, in the actual loss of all these jobs, or in the debate about it? What is McGuinty supposed to do, let his constituents get thrown under the tar sands bus without another word so that we can all go sing kumbaya together beside the tailings ponds?

As the graph below shows, our dollar is strongly tied to the price of oil, and with oil becoming globally scarce, this is a massive challenge for export-driven sectors of the Canadian economy that aren't oil. A gloomy CIBC report out today underlines the challenge.

So, yes, it's time to have a national debate that is the opposite of simplistic and divisive, but don't expect that industry-funded studies and political beat downs are going to solve things. We need real changes on how we manage fossil fuels in this country, and a real pathway to phase them out, as scientists tell us we must.