Binkley - Energy strategy talks welcome


Energy strategy talks welcome but long overdue

Canada's resources demand we think big on a world scale

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Melancthon EcoPower Centre, largest wind farm in Canada. Photo: Wikipedia..  

Canada has a potentially winning hand in the global energy sweepstakes. Now, we have to play our cards smartly.

If we do, our economy and environment will both be winners. And we can set a good example for the rest of the world.

But we need an open public debate and leadership to get Canadians engaged. And we need a forum so all the players can speak up so all the related issues get discussed.

As we have a government with a four-year mandate, it should create a special Parliamentary committee with adequate resources to work on the issue and hold hearings across the country. It’s vital in this exercise that Canadians come to understand what’s at stake but also what we’re capable of. Issues surrounding the oil sands, shale gas and nuclear power should all included in the mix.

If fully thought through and implemented, the strategy could have enormous benefits. We start the process with a lot of assets and a lot of challenges. We have to keep everyone from thinking small. It’s not just about blasting the oil sands or shale gas. It’s about the country’s current and future energy needs for electricity and other forms of power while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the country livable. If anyone doubts climate change, just look at the whacky weather of recent months.

The last thing we need is governments leaving the work to bureaucrats meeting behind closed doors.

In mid July, the federal and provincial ministers met to discuss the possibility of a National Energy Strategy. It’s a critical, long overdue initiative, but the politicians came out of it sounding more concerned about protecting federal and provincial jurisdictions than collaborating. Fortunately, some former politicians didn’t show the same timidity.

Former cabinet minister John Manley, now the head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, gave an informative interview on the issue to CBC Radio’s the House on July 16.

Perrin Beatty, another former minister and President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, has been talking up the potential of an energy strategy for a couple of years.

Former Toronto Mayor David Miller is trying to inject practical elements into the discussion.

A number of key industry groups have joined forces under The New Economy Alliance to pressure the current politicians to think big by “developing a comprehensive energy strategy that builds on Canada’s global advantage in agricultural, oil and gas, mineral and forest resources.” They want to see governments fully embrace the concept of a bio-economy so Canada could make full, sustainable use of its resources. 

The first step is a commitment to develop “clean, renewable bio-energy from a broad range of natural resources,” the Alliance says.“Governmentshave taken initial steps to help industry contribute to the emerging new economy.  However, much more must be done to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar opportunities in the bio-economy and turn Canada into a world leader in new value-added products.”

Beatty says, “There is virtually no country in the world that does not look at our or energy inheritance with envy.”

There are a few signs the Chamber’s support for an energy strategy is paying off.

“We are still waiting, but see signs of progress! More recently, a number of business and political leaders have become more vocal about the need for an overall energy strategy. What we have in mind is not simply a federal government policy to be imposed on the regions, but a truly national strategy in which all regions are full partners. Nor must its purpose be to simply transfer the resource wealth from one region to another, but to respect our constitution and to recognize that rising prosperity in one region will also lead to opportunities in the rest.

Supporting the development of the energy sector would enable the Harper government to deliver on its commitment “to create jobs and foster prosperity,” he adds. “Energy is an essential part of the formula.”

In his radio interview, Manley said Canada is “considered an energy superpower and that implies there should be a strategy around how we marshal our assets.”

The federal government can do it through a collaborative approach that respects provincial jurisdiction. It can present a united front internationally when it comes to energy resources that might impinge on our sovereignty.

“If we see ourselves essentially as part of a North American electricity grid … and we are part of a global market for oil and gas, we need to look after our interests, and one way to do that is to make sure we’re at the table discussing it as a continental issue,” he said.

Miller wants cities and environmental organizations included in the energy strategy discussions. “Most of our energy consumption is from cities.” He’s now an adviser on environmental and urban issues to several cities who also works as a sustainability consultant for businesses. “It's the energy used to heat and cool buildings and in a place like Toronto, that accounts for 65% of that city's energy use.”

Miller worries that the federal focus seems to be oil when an energy strategy should be much broader.

“For instance, all these concrete slab apartment buildings were built with federal funding in '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s and are massive wasters of energy. If the federal government would fund the retrofit of them, in Toronto alone the estimate is that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 6%, which is a massive number, and we would create about 30,000 jobs.”

Time to put on our thinking caps, folks.

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