Are There Measures the Federal Government Should Take to Enhance the Security and Resiliency of the Energy Delivery System in Order to Ensure Reliable Energy Distribution to Canadians?

VIEWS FROM OUR POLITICAL COMMENTATORS: NDP, CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL

BY TIM POWERS

BY TIM POWERS

In most parts of this country, homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and industry get their energy for heat, power, and transportation through three energy delivery systems.  The natural gas energy system delivers natural gas using a network of buried infrastructure.  The electricity system generates, transmits and delivers electricity using largely a network of poles and wires.  And the transportation fuel delivery system with its large network of gasoline and diesel pumps.

Most Canadians haven’t experienced outages of natural gas or gasoline.

But, coming from Atlantic Canada, I have lived through my fair share of weather induced power outages.  I wish there was more governments could do to secure the resiliency of the electricity delivery system. However, neither armed guards nor cyber sleuths can do much to protect vast swaths of the Canadian electricity grid during winter. Government can’t fix everything but don’t dare say that if you are politician.

Former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s career was effectively disconnected in 2014 when she fundamentally mismanaged an electricity distribution crisis in her province. The period known locally as Dark NL happened in early January of that year when the province’s main generating station crashed and vast swaths of the province were left without power.

I wish there was more governments could do to secure the resiliency of the electricity delivery system.

“I wish there was more governments could do to secure the resiliency of the electricity delivery system.”

People were in the dark, cold and angry as it took in some cases days for the lights to come back on. Weather and old infrastructure were responsible for this major service interruption. The Premier refused to call the situation a crisis even though for many in their personal circumstances it felt that way. She was eviscerated by the media and savaged by the public for being out of touch. Days later Dunderdale would step down for demonstrating a complete lack of connection between the public and their power service.

Politicians are motivated by public opinion. Service reliability along with cost would seem to be the prime motivating factors driving the public debate on power. Investments in better electricity infrastructure and the desire for reasonable power bills focus elected officials minds far more than having advanced security systems at generating facilities.

If the federal government or any government is going to be inclined to spend money on securing and protecting power installations they will need some help from the various constituencies across the power generation and distribution industries to do just that. Despite the fact that we have had terror attacks on Canadian soil investments of this sort which are presumably expensive aren’t top of mind for many Canadians. Communities, industry and other advocates need to cultivate the opinion climate for this sort of spend as the public likely views their power grids as being safe already, too isolated or of little interest to those who would do use harm.

Governments need to do everything they can to protect and secure their citizens. But public education about the why security matters and resiliency is crucial. A selling partnership among all interested parties is vital. It is not simply enough to scream this needs to be done and cross your fingers. Industries need to show they are prepared to pony up some cash not just words. To say it’s simply the government’s responsibility won’t do and it will let governments off the hook because they will point to other areas of need where they must spend money first. The debate will drag and nothing will get done.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarters are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Gabriela Gonzalez

BY GABRIELA GONZALEZ

The energy sector is an important contributor to Canada’s economy. These are not just my words: according to a Natural Resources Canada report, close to a million people were directly or indirectly employed in the sector in 2014, representing 13.7 per cent of Canada’s GDP. We need energy for just about everything in this country and that we can all agree on. Where the opinions may differ is the source of the energy, whether fossil fuels, renewable, nuclear… you get the picture.

The energy sector is so important that it can make or break a government.

I can’t help but think back to the 2003 summer power blackout in northeastern North America. Fifty million people across Ontario and eight U.S. states lost power. The region came to a complete halt for days. A few months later the Progressive Conservatives were booted out of Ontario and McGuinty’s Liberals swept the province with a promise to do politics differently.

Look at Ontario now. When the Ontario legislative season resumed in February, the number one issue was energy – and really by energy, I mean electricity prices. We don’t really hear much these days about natural gas – only that many homes, businesses, industry, and fleets want natural gas delivery infrastructure extended so that they too can benefit from having access to reliable and affordable energy.

Besides the obvious, what do these two scenarios have in common? Reliable, affordable energy is very important. The electricity system failed that fateful 2003 summer. This time around, the Ontario Liberals tell us that the government needs to spend a lot more money to further modernize the electricity system.

In the summer of 2003 a power blackout in northeastern North America affected 50 million people across Ontario and eight U.S. states

“In the summer of 2003 a power blackout in northeastern North America affected 50 million people across Ontario and eight U.S. states.”

While these are lessons from Ontario, there are similar stories emerging across the country.

In addition to improving the energy infrastructure to ensure reliability, the sector must deal with environmental threats such as natural disasters and changing climates, and societal pressures. But cyber threats are increasingly becoming a key issue that must be addressed.

Governments and corporations everywhere deal with cyber security concerns, but due to the energy sector’s integral role in our economy and everyday activities, steps must be taken to protect the sector from cyber threats. Investments in digital infrastructure must go hand in hand with those in physical infrastructure. Information sharing on a timely basis becomes more crucial than ever before. Lastly, governments must work with the sector to properly address cyber security threats right from the beginning and minimize risks because the stakes are just too high.

Gabriela Gonzalez is Consultant at Crestview Strategy.

Prior to joining the Crestview team, Gabriela worked at Queen’s Park for four years and is a long-time Liberal organizer. Most recently, she worked as a Senior Communications and Operations Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth.

Gabriela holds an Honours Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology from York University and a bilingual (English/French) Master’s degree from the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs. She is an active volunteer and has held leadership roles at various organizations.


BY KATHLEEN MONK

BY KATHLEEN MONK

When doing media training for clients one of my go-to video clips is from an Errol Morris documentary. The movie, Unknown Known, is about Donald Rumsfeld.

In it, Rumsfeld is asked “How do you think they got away with 9/11? It seems amazing in retrospect.”

Rumsfeld answers the question looking straight into the camera: “Everything seems amazing in retrospect. Pearl Harbour seems amazing in retrospect. It’s a failure of imagination. It’s not as though you aren’t aware of possibilities, but you tend to favour some possibilities more than others. And it is enormously important to have priorities. What are you going to worry about? But what is it that you want to do? What are you going to be prepared for? You have to pick and choose. Well, to the extent that you pick and choose, and you are wrong, the penalty can be enormous.”

I use the clip in media training because Rumsfeld is a gifted communicator. When challenged, his answers remain cool and crisp, but his content is amazing too, as one would expect from a politician who has served at the highest levels of government.

Policy drafters and legislators wrestle with this “failure of imagination” constantly.  In retrospect, who predicted the disruption Uber has caused in the taxi industry or the impact Facebook has had on our print and broadcast media? The stakes, however, of our ‘failure to imagine’ are vastly higher when we’re talking about the security and resiliency of Canada’s energy delivery systems.

As the world becomes more connected, the threats increase exponentially.

“As the world becomes more connected, the threats increase exponentially.”

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Stephen Flynn speak at a conference on “Disaster Proofing Canada.” Dr. Flynn is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on critical infrastructure and supply chain security. He used the example of Hurricane Sandy to highlight how vulnerable the U.S. power grid is, after the 2012 Hurricane left more than 8 million people without lights, heat, or internet. Flynn raised the question of how much worse the situation could have been if there was a deliberate and coordinated attack on our infrastructure and energy supply chain.

The integrity of electricity grids and oil and gas transportation systems in Canada, the United States and around the globe have already been compromised to varying degrees through weather, cyber and terror attacks, so, the position legislators need to start at now is not will the system be breeched? But by acknowledging that the system will be compromised and then determine how governments can best respond.

The suggestion by Flynn and others is that we need to prioritize resiliency, not efficiency. As the world becomes more connected, the threats increase exponentially. Not only should governments leverage via incentives to create resilient energy systems, they should encourage industry to bring the best and brightest to innovate in preparation for the worst-case scenario. The penalty for failing to do so, as Rumsfeld notes, can be enormous. Ultimately, it is not just about predicting the snow storm or next attack, but about being able to function through and after it.

Kathleen Monk is a Principal at Earnscliffe, where she is trusted by Canadian leaders to navigate complex public strategy issues, design strategy and bring together diverse stakeholders to tell authentic stories that deliver results. She appears regularly on CBC The National’s preeminent political panel, The Insiders, and provides analysis for CBC News Network’s Power and Politics.