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A Balanced Canadian Energy Strategy Emerges [finally]

Today at the Council of the Federation, the first ministers agreed to a joint declaration embodied in a new Canadian Energy Strategy. It is truly amazing that such a simple aspirational document designed to create space for the provinces to work together on joint priorities of energy and climate would take so long to emerge. Yet even now there is significant dissent, most notably Premier Brad Wall, who is unhappy that climate would deign to cloud the market access focus.

I started working on the energy strategy in 2009 under the Winnipeg Consensus and was involved somewhat for a number of years. It was all a very murky affair. Still, it catalyzed at the highest political levels the concept that climate and energy are tightly wound.

The Canadian Energy Strategy may have been long in the making and slow to move, but in the end a balanced declaration from the Council of the Federation is light years ahead of the myopic energy only state-of-play of 2009.

In honor of this occasion, I dusted off a short op-ed I put together in 2012 that never saw the light of day. I find the text below still resonates almost 4 years later.

Consensus on the need to

get our collective Canadian energy and emissions act together…

Efforts to portray the national energy dialogue as a polarized brawl within the energy project approvals process are thankfully false. Fortunately, the eco-focused and the economically obese do talk on issues of national interest. There is a rich and fulsome Canadian dialogue that is coalescing around a path forward to develop responsibly Canada’s vast and regionally diverse energy wealth.

One important catalyst for positive change has been the Winnipeg Concuss Group (WCG), a coalition of Canada’s think-tanks that has convened energy and environmental leaders to talk energy strategy since 2009. Winnipeg might seem a curious location to spark a Canadian energy dialogue, but it serves as common ground. To the west is vast oil and gas wealth destined for export, further to the center is a diverse and growing mix of non-emitting electricity, and to the east are untapped oil, gas and electricity potentials. This then represents Canada’s energy context, a diverse geographic energy warehouse destined to fuel domestic and global demand for years to come.

WCG discussions began with recognition that the on-going segregation of energy and climate policy is untenable. For the past few years it has been increasingly clear that energy and climate are simply too closely aligned to continue on separate tracks. The risk inherent in misaligned energy and environmental policies has manifest as the ugly and divisive outcomes we now see with Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and Europe’s Fuel Quality Directive. It seems that a social license to operate is not assured in the absence of a broader integrative policy frame creating space for both energy development and environmental performance.

Furthering the Canadian energy strategy conversation, 65 people from across Canada and a diverse set of interests gathered in Halifax in late February. Emerging from the group was a sense that the time for debating the need for a Canadian energy strategy was over, and action is now needed. A successful pan-Canadian strategy would enable the orderly development of our energy wealth while at the same time transitioning Canada to compete globally in a carbon constrained future. Success would also recognize broad national interests creating the space for political leadership across the country to set direction.

Canada’s long-standing climate policy maturations have for too long been perceived as a threat to energy development while a market driven energy policy has left our national interest globally exposed. Canada is at a transition point. We can continue on a path of division or move to mitigate risk through an enabling frame that accommodates a broader set of economic and environmental views. In this light, Alberta Premier Redford’s calls for the federation’s political leadership to discuss a Canadian energy strategy are timely, and should be applauded. While the energy project approvals brawl will continue for the foreseeable future, we need to get our collective energy development and low carbon acts together. Developing a Canadian energy strategy with an energy development and low carbon frame is a necessary first step.

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