National Post - Financial Post Magazine
A national energy plan is in the works and it seems governments have learned their lessons There is no edict from Ottawa, nor from any dominant party, about whatneeds to be done. The provinces are driving the bus and looking for consensus based on needs a
Take the pulse of the nation and you can’t escape the conclusion: a national energy plan is emerging, led by the provinces, supported by Ottawa, cheered on by the business sector. Yes, we’re talking about Canada — the same country that was badly scarred by its last attempt at a national energy policy in 1980, the National Energy Program; that has been deeply divided historically between energy producing and energy consuming provinces; where national schemes of any kind tend to get bogged down by politics and regional self-interest.
It started as a naive attempt about three years ago by Alberta Premier Alison Redford to promote a national energy strategy to ship growing oil sands production to new markets in the face of aboriginal, environmental and anti-Alberta resistance. It picked up steam as British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick sized up the potential benefits — taxes, royalties, jobs, investment — of being big players in a national project to jack up the production and export of energy (oil, gas, hydro), improve technologies and practices, reduce carbon emissions, and distribute work around the nation. It gained strength in the face of criticism — particularly foreign — of Canada’s natural resources economy, environmental record and regulations.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward captured the mood on a recent visit to Alberta: “We will not allow those who scream the loudest to drag economic prosperity to a halt. Do we want to seize what could be one of the greatest economic opportunities our country has ever seen? We must have the confidence to move forward to develop our natural resources.”
There is no edict from Ottawa, nor from any dominant party, about what needs to be done. There is no single winner and no one is sacrificed for the greater good. The provinces are driving the bus and looking for consensus based on needs and strengths. “As soon as people understood that it was possible to not write a single document where all 13 jurisdictions had to sign on the dotted line, that put provinces at liberty to put all kinds of things on the table, conversations happened, and they are diverse, are robust, and are not hung up by the historic political tensions,” says Velma McColl, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa.
Important wins include B.C. agreeing to work with Alberta to solve differences on proposed bitumen pipelines such as Northern Gateway; Quebec showing an openness to having oil pipelines from Alberta traversing the province and feeding its refineries; and Ontario stepping up as a partner with Alberta to develop the oil sands. “What we have seen is a coming together to have a good discussion on areas that affect all of us, and individual projects that we can work on,” says Diana McQueen, Alberta’s new energy minister.
Many of the conversations are happening under the auspices of the Council of the Federation. Alberta’s Redford has been joined by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale to fine-tune a national energy strategy and a full report is expected in August. McQueen expects it to offer guidance on how to move forward on different projects and to continue building the relationship.
There are still, however, a couple of missing pieces. One is aboriginal support. Unprecedented efforts are under way this year by the federal government and industry players such as Enbridge Inc., proponent of the Northern Gateway pipeline, to ensure Canada’s First Nations benefit from the energy plan. If progress on the rest of it offers any indication, there is hope.
“If you look at where we were around two years ago, there was pretty much negative rhetoric around any aspect of energy,” says Al Monaco, CEO and president of oil pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. “What we have seen… is a coalescing around the fact that we need to open up markets. The [main] question is: How do we find a way to do this in an environmentally safe and responsible manner?”
The second missing piece is a stronger federal role. But with provinces lining up on their own to support Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s energy agenda, leading from behind may not be such a bad thing.