In Your View Can or Should, Canada Call Itself an ‘Energy Superpower’?

KATHLEEN MONK

KATHLEEN MONK

Canada’s natural resources are an enormous gift, and they could bring benefits to all Canadians – but only if development is done right. Canada can’t be an energy superpower without federal leadership to ensure that development is both sustainable and focused on creating long-term prosperity for generations to come. Unless we have a federal government committed to bringing together provinces, communities, First Nations, and workers to achieve the goal of truly sustainable development, we won’t be able to fully benefit from our resources.

It’s true that Canada has the basics of what it takes to be an energy powerhouse: we have the third largest supply of crude oil in the world and are one of the world’s top producers of hydroelectricity, not to mention the untapped potential of other renewable energies like solar, wind, geothermal and tidal. We have a wealth of expertise in innovation, research and development that could help make us a global leader in clean tech. And, importantly, Canadians have shown that they want to benefit from our resources, however they want to do it in a way that respects the environment.

Centennial FlameBut instead of leading on the energy file, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is hurting our economy and the reputation of our resources. Our trade partners don’t trust that we are responsibly extracting our resources, and they’re making decisions accordingly: look no further than President Obama’s dilemma on Keystone XL, or the European consideration of a Fuel Quality Directive in the midst of CETA free trade negotiations, for evidence. As the world moves forward to address the climate change crisis, under the Conservatives, Canada has become a poster child for reckless inaction.

“Canada can become a leader in taking on the challenges of the new energy economy.”

Domestically, Conservatives weakened the safeguards that were in place to protect our environment and our communities, attacked Canadians who raised concerns about the environmental impacts of projects like Northern Gateway, and failed to consult First Nations as they are required to. The results have been predictable: Canadians are being shut out of meaningful review processes, First Nations are rejecting projects they haven’t had any say in, and companies are unable to obtain the social license they need to operate. By failing to insist on sustainable development, by refusing to internalize environmental costs or implement basic principles like polluter pay, the Conservatives are leaving Canada behind globally, and stoking opposition at home.

There is another way – if we make the right choices today, Canada can become a leader in taking on the challenges of the new energy economy. We can have good jobs and sustainable growth, a dynamic clean tech industry, and responsible resource extraction, transportation and use – all while doing our share to address climate change.

Instead of continuing to blame our trade partners for playing politics and attacking Canadians for disagreeing with him, Harper needs to step up and position Canada to be a true energy superpower. If he continues down this same short-sighted path, it’s Canadians who will pay the price for his failure.

Kathleen Monk is a senior communications strategist and frequent media commentator on politics and public affairs. She was the catalyst behind the Broadbent Institute, as its founding Executive Director, and served as spokesperson and media director for Jack Layton’s 2011 election campaign, which resulted in the best election result in the party’s 50-year history.


BY | PAR TIM POWERS

TIM POWERS

Stephen Harper’s first major speech overseas as Prime Minister was in London in the summer of 2006. In the address to United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce the newly minted PM decreed that Canada was indeed an energy superpower.

Specifically he said, “We are currently the fifth largest energy producer in the world. We rank third and seventh in global gas and oil production respectively. We generate more hydro-electric power than any other country on earth. And we are the world’s largest supplier of uranium… Even now, Canada is the only non-Opec country with growing oil deliverability. And let’s be clear. We are a stable, reliable producer in a volatile, unpredictable world. We believe in the free exchange of energy products based on competitive market principles, not self-serving monopolistic political strategies.”

Canada is indeed an energy superpower. From coast to coast to coast energy is central to our economy and the well-being of our citizens. Newfoundland and Labrador is an emerging economic player in Canada because of oil and gas. Ontario has the potential to dig itself out of a fiscal hole if the Ring of Fire comes to fruition. Saskatchewan’s new potency comes from potash. In Alberta the oil sands drive success. British Columbia is advancing with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and most of Northern Canada is cashing in on multiple mining opportunities. More recent data tells us that the natural resource sector generates a disproportionate share of Canada’s wealth. In 2011, this sector directly accounted for 15 per cent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and nearly 800,000 jobs. An additional 800,000 jobs in other sectors were supported by the purchase of goods and services by the resource sector.

There is no such thing as a perfect energy policy. But Canada’s approach to policy development and actual enactment seems reasonable and effective. At times it can be creative witness to the Mulroney government’s approach to developing the Hibernia project in Newfoundland or the Harper government’s investment in the Lower Churchill Project – notably Harper’s “low guarantee” was supported by all federal political parties in 2011.

“From coast to coast to coast energy is central to our economy and the well-being of our citizens.”

Morning At The Portland HeadFormer Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave a speech earlier this spring where he too touted the enormous potential of our natural resources. He offered some policy prescriptions that if further embraced would enhance our credibility as sound decision makers balancing all interests for the best path forward. He argued that Canada needs 1) a principled partnership with First Nations and the provinces that moves beyond grievances from the past to opportunities for the future; and 2) a realistic plan, using new technologies first and foremost, to reduce carbon emissions.

Canada is on the right path when it comes to our energy policy. But we need to keep at it. Never be complacent and recognize where improvement is needed.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarter 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.


BY | PAR ROB SILVER

ROB SILVER

Words matter. Terms matter.  I understand why Stephen Harper (and lots of other politicians and pundits) has decided to coin Canada an “energy superpower” – I really do – but I hate the phrase.  It’s the kind of thing a speechwriter comes up with and it sounds good. Who doesn’t want to imagine us – Canada – as a “superpower”? It’s a winner. Except the term isn’t only gobbledygook but if taken seriously, would be very harmful to our energy sector.

Historically, a superpower “is a state with a dominant position in international relations and is characterised by its unparalleled ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale.”

I support our energy sector. I think it’s a key driver of our economy, with the potential for much, much more. And yet I don’t want our politicians to think that “Canada” (the country) is an “energy superpower”. It isn’t today and the implications of a politician trying to make it into one would be disastrous for the sector and the country.

Globe and Cargo ShipHere’s why: “Canada” – the nation state – does not export any oil or gas. Companies operating in Canada do. That’s a dominant characteristic of our energy sector and yet by calling “Canada” an energy superpower, you flip this core characteristic on its head.

The companies operating in Canada, extracting and exporting our energy, make decisions driven largely by competitive market signals.  How much to charge for your oil? Where to ship your gas? Who’s your next customer for your electricity? Those decisions are made by companies, based on a number of market (and obviously physical) considerations. While politicians influence those decisions in so much as they approve pipeline infrastructure or create a regulatory environment, geopolitical considerations (how dare Germany oppose our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council!) are not currently part of the energy equation.

Finally, under the Canadian constitution, natural resources are largely under provincial jurisdiction.  Alberta has been able to set up their energy sector one way and Quebec has handled their power sector very differently. While there are clearly national interests and implications for our energy policies, it is exceedingly difficult to understand how we could ever be a single, truly coherent energy entity the way a superpower necessitates.

“Canada needs to be using its energy resources to ‘exert influence or project power on a global scale’.”

So that’s today. Needless to say, Canada as a true “energy superpower” – if the term actually means something and isn’t just an empty slogan – would act very differently. “Canada” would need to be using its energy resources to “exert influence or project power on a global scale.” Think about how differently almost every aspect of our energy sectors would need to be set up in order for that possibility. Upset with a future U.S., French or Australian government? Well, our energy is our power now and we will use it to exert our influence. Ownership of our resources, how we price it, when and where we ship it – all of that would need to change if Canada ever Versatile_Frame25actually wanted to be an “energy superpower”. If a government ever decided that Canada should actually be an “energy superpower”, it would almost certainly be a disaster for companies in the energy sector.

People who say Canada is or should be an “energy superpower” don’t really mean it – it’s just a slogan. The problem with this slogan is if people actually meant it, the implications are the opposite from what they mean. So let’s drop the slogan.

Rob Silver is a Partner at Crestview Strategy, a government relations agency with offices in Toronto and Ottawa. A longtime Liberal, Rob has worked with clients in all aspects of Canada’s energy sector. He appears regularly on CBC’s flagship Power and Politics to discuss Canadian Politics. He is also featured on the Fantasy Sports Network – the first ever 24-hour Fantasy Sports TV Network.