It is clear that debates dealing with energy choices dominate the news: Pipelines – Keystone, Enbridge, Kinder-Morgan, Energy East; oil sands versus tar sands; climate policy and the lack thereof; coal plants and so on. For the most part, these debates are treated as isolated, zero-sum games. You can either have a healthy economy or a healthy environment; choose between oil sands production and shut them down. The result is an unhealthy, polarizing and divisive argument.
Yet, surprisingly the discussion of energy policy gets brushed under the carpet. My contention is that the reason the various energy debates are so unproductive is that we are operating in the absence of any over-arching strategy. Canada is the only country in the OECD without an energy policy. Canada is one of the only countries in the world not participating as a member of the International Renewable Energy Agency. Canada is the only country in the OECD without a comprehensive climate plan. Canada is the only country in the world to have ratified Kyoto and withdrawn. Canada is the only industrialized country without a national Transportation plan.
These are not small gaps. And their absence contributes to the nastiness of the debate. The debate tends to fall to regionalism. As a federal party leader, I find the province versus province aspect of the discussion the least productive and most damaging to our national interest. Energy decisions cannot be presented as binary choices in which for British Columbia to “win,” Alberta must “lose.”
What we need is to think like a country. We need to assess what set of policy tools best advance the multiple interests of all parts of the economy and all parts of the country. We need an energy strategy for Canada.
The idea that we need a national energy strategy was floated by former Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford. It was then immediately shot down by the prime minister.
That idea must be revisited. We need a national approach to our energy future. Our starting point should be to agree to some key national goals. I would suggest they would include:
Taken separately, we could be fighting over these individual elements without resolution. Taken together in a grown-up conversation, they all fit together.
If we met around the same table and worked to achieve a consensus that respected the interests of all parts of Canada, demonstrated a responsible approach to the growing climate crisis and worked to create the kind of energy super-power we could be, one working to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, I am confident a realistic energy plan could emerge.
The first step is to start thinking like a country.
Originally published in the Hill Times.