An Interview with Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford

Minister-RickfordBy Timothy M. Egan, President and CEO of the Canadian Gas Association

The Honourable Greg Rickford has a new job in Canada’s federal cabinet.  He’s Minister of Natural Resources and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.  He agreed to an interview with CGA’s president for Energy magazine to discuss his new role, a recent G7 energy ministers meeting (his first) in Rome, Canada-U.S. energy relations and other energy issues. Here’s a transcript of that interview.

You’ve been in the job for a few months now.   How are you feeling about things so far?
Obviously, I am honoured to have this position. The role is a natural one for me, given my riding. Kenora is well-endowed with significant resources and we have big resource infrastructure like the TransCanada pipeline going right through the riding. I have spent most of my adult professional life in the North and I believe I understand at a very grassroots level how important resources are to local economies, small towns, cities, and remote First Nations communities.  But as a new dad I’m also very aware that the portfolio requires an increased amount of my time.  I’m up to the task, but am certainly making some adjustments in terms of time management.

One of your highest profile subject areas within the portfolio is the energy file. Have you some early comments on that one?
In our caucus, energy has always been at the forefront of our discussions. It’s a very important employer and it drives the economy across Canada so I had a good understanding of it.

Within 48 hours of my appointment I was meeting with key stakeholders in the energy sector. These were very positive meetings with good signals from both sides of the table on a number of key topics.

The next couple of months mark some significant decisions on a couple of key energy files and so I have jumped in with both feet.

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You just had your first international foray with the G7 energy ministers meeting and Ukraine was front and center on that agenda. Can you talk about that meeting and its outcome?
The first day I met with a number of key G7 partners – the United States, Japan, and Britain. By the evening we moved into our first plenary discussion and continued for two days. The joint statement issued at the end of that time sent two important messages. First, in specific regard to Ukraine, we consider Russia’s actions a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and are extremely concerned by the energy security implications.  We are concerned about energy being used to coerce.  On this we agreed to provide, within a six month time frame subject to the approval of the leaders, steps to help Ukraine meet its domestic needs. For Canada’s part we offered up technical expertise.  Here we hope this isn’t just from NRCan, as we want to try and leverage the private sector to lend some expertise.

Second, we believe a broader energy security strategy is needed to address today’s globalized energy markets. This needs to be developed given the current situation with Ukraine, but beyond Ukraine for the benefit of the Eastern European countries that are significantly dependent on Russia for energy, especially natural gas, and more broadly still.  We agreed to support energy diversification, which we believe will provide some of the solutions for global energy supply and global security.

Was there talk about broadening that engagement around natural gas beyond supply, to the full value chain?Watson Lake Sign Posts
There were all kinds of ideas bouncing around in the room.  We’re focusing most immediately on Ukraine’s domestic supply and what we thought would be helpful. At least from the United States’ and Canada’s perspective, it is part of our technical work to do a resource assessment, which would gauge what their capacities are in a number of different areas. One of the things Ukraine is preoccupied with is heating homes, so our talks weren’t only focused on the big supply questions like LNG and crude oil access. As the two non-European G7 countries in North America, both with abundant supply and growing transportation capacity, our bilateral meeting focused on making sure that our messages were well aligned so that we could offer something substantive both in the immediate term and in the medium term.

And you feel Canada and the U.S. are well aligned?
Around natural gas it’s well known that both countries are moving forward with LNG export agendas.  Energy Secretary Moniz and I talked openly about our ability and desire to move LNG, and realized that our timelines were pretty much the same, and we were able to put that offering out to the plenary table at the G7.  It’s worth noting that natural gas is an area of particular expertise for the Secretary.  On other energy files – like Keystone – given the context and purpose of the Rome meeting, we agreed to keep those discussions separate.  Our conversations were good though. And there is good will – helped by the fact that we happen to be both intense baseball fans; he for the Red Socks and I for the Blue Jays.Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford

The circumstances in Eastern Europe can create a like-minded response from Canada and the U.S., but obviously we’re competitors in the global market. Is there an opportunity for us to pursue things together?
I believe so. I think that’s why we were able to talk about our sense of the sector and where we would be, say by 2017 or by 2020, in terms of capacity for exporting.   Competition is a good thing and at the end of the day, in the context of NAFTA, I think we strike the right balance on it. We each know that domestically we have to take care of our own and we have to do the right things to maintain our competitiveness.

You noted Secretary Moniz’ background in natural gas. Is there any discussion between the two of you on opportunities for cooperation around the use of natural gas in our domestic markets?
These are some of the good news stories that Secretary Moniz and I want to continue to build on. There are things that my predecessor had been working on and there is a whole host of clean energy technology that is of interest and a subject matter of the Secretary’s expertise. Those are good things so we will continue to meet and build on this.

On Keystone there is a process going there. We have expressed our disappointment. We believe this is a delay. Ultimately, the state department themselves have said there’s a very sound environmental and economic basis for moving ahead with the project. Obviously, we are watching closely as it plays out in the United States. We will continue to express our disappointment in the delays, but focus in the meantime on a number of other opportunities, like cooperation in the gas sector, to keep the relationship strong and to that end I believe it is.

You mentioned Japan as another of the bilateral conversations you had while with your G7 colleagues, do you expect to strengthen Canada’s engagement with Japan and other Asian markets?
The Japan energy minister is another passionate baseball fan. He has a natural tension though – his favourite baseball player pitches for the Boston Red Socks, but he is not a Boston Red Socks fan. He said he’s going to stay neutral to keep the energy discussion going! But in all seriousness, I told the energy minister that I hope to travel to Japan in the near future. He saw this as an important expression of Canada’s seriousness about diversifying our markets. Japan is well known to be actively pursuing natural gas supply. We want to make sure that we send the right signals to all Asian markets – as a responsible developer of energy products, and as a very politically stable country to do business with.

Japan is interested in LNG, but they’re also leaders on end use natural gas innovation and technology. Do you see technology applications for consumers in homes and businesses and industry as part of the conversation?
That’s part of the reason why I expressed an interest in travelling to Japan. Canada stands at a critical juncture as a prospective exporter, but the opportunities are significant in terms of production, transportation, and end use.  I want to fully appreciate and understand all of the dynamics and all of the expertise and technology that’s in play. So the short answer is yes.

grader at work on logging road in winterBack to the domestic agenda, you talked about competitiveness, can you expand a little bit on the idea of competitive energy markets and the role of the federal government in promoting them within Canada?
Well first of all, I think we need to acknowledge that much of the energy discussion is within provincial jurisdiction, and that the discussion for the federal government kicks in when we start to talk about crossing jurisdictions, where the issue is pipelines. Canada sees itself as world class when it comes to pipelines, and we continue to move to improve pipeline safety, and are moving in lockstep with the provinces on cooperation to access markets.

“Canada sees itself as world class when it comes to pipelines”

final jpeg logo fileAnother key role that we play is at the end of the pipe: and I have signed off on numerous new export licenses. I think that sends a strong signal on our level of interest.

There is a federal regulatory role, and right now various projects are at different stages with the National Energy Board.  We want to let them do their work. They’re independent, their decisions are based on science and facts provided by technical experts and the grassroots in the communities affected. We will take their reports and make our decisions accordingly.

And that brings to mind another key part of the federal government’s role which is engagement with First Nations. I’ve had the privilege of having spent most of my professional life in various capacities working with First Nations communities, with local, regional and national leaders. I believe sustained engagement with First Nation communities is essential as Canada builds on the energy opportunity.

Economic development for First Nations communities and other Northern communities turns on the affordability of good infrastructure and transportation systems, and that turns on the affordability of energy. But the energy agenda is often focused on exports. Is there more the federal government do on the domestic agenda around energy affordability?
On First Nations, we’ve made unprecedented investments in infrastructure for First Nations communities. Many of them are isolated and remote, and energy costs are a significant part of the overall picture, so addressing them is a priority. We want to build beyond infrastructure though in these communities, and are supporting training so that there’s capacity to work in exploration, extraction, transportation, and beyond and we’ve already demonstrated those investments. I always like to say that the training should be with the job in the line of sight, so we want to focus more on that.

On energy affordability more generally, I think again of infrastructure.  As an example, I think of the work we did helping to build the natural gas pipeline to Red Lake, contributing the infrastructure necessary so that industry and the community could develop their resources to create jobs – in this case a high yielding gold mine.  The focus on infrastructure is something appropriate for the federal government and something that can help Canadians continue to benefit from affordable energy.

Last question. We are at the end of a very long winter and people are happy to get out of doors and do some work around their homes. Do you have a safety message for Canadians?
There’s only one thing you can say. Call before you dig.   We just purchased a new home, and one of the things we checked off on our list before doing outdoor construction was knowing where our natural gas lines and other buried infrastructure were.  It’s very important.

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