A National Energy Strategy for Canada – Premiers agree to agree!

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Source: GLOBE Foundation

Canada’s Premiers released a Canadian Energy Strategy statement last week, calling it a demonstration of their commitment to strengthening the economy, creating jobs, ensuring a secure supply of energy for all Canadians, supporting energy innovation and addressing climate change.

“What we have here is a visionary document that agrees that provinces will work together to allow the transfer and the movement of energy throughout our country,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis at the end of last week’s meeting of provincial and territorial heads of government.

Much of the post-meeting commentary focused on the sometimes tense debate between the Premiers on such contentious issues as new oil pipelines and further development of Canada’s oil sands. However the strategy document is based on a carefully-articulated exploration of a wide-range of energy and environmental issues carried out by the Council of the Federation Secretariat. Hydro-electric power and natural gas also figured prominently in the strategy document.

The strategy focuses on three broad themes:

SUSTAINABILITY AND CONSERVATION Building on the ongoing efforts of individuals, businesses, governments and others to improve energy efficiency, lower carbon footprints, and improved understanding of energy in Canada. Key focus areas included: Promote energy efficiency and conservation; Transition to a lower carbon economy; and Enhance energy information and awareness.

TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION Pursue research and education initiatives to develop new technologies, build human capital, and become a more innovative and competitive provider of energy. Key focus areas included: Accelerate the development and deployment of energy research and technologies that advance more efficient production, transmission, and use of clean and conventional energy sources; Develop and implement strategies to meet energy sector human resource needs now and well into the 21st century; and Facilitate the development of renewable, green and/or cleaner energy sources to meet future demand and contribute to environmental goals and priorities.

DELIVERING ENERGY TO PEOPLE Work to develop infrastructure, enhance energy regulatory processes, open markets and responsibly move energy products to the people who need them. Key focus areas included: Develop and enhance a modern, reliable, environmentally safe and efficient series of transmission and transportation networks for domestic and export/import sources of energy; Improve the timeliness and certainty of regulatory approval decision-making processes while maintaining rigorous protection of the environment and public interest; Promote market diversification; and Pursue formalized participation of provinces and territories in international discussions and negotiations on energy.

Collaboration key theme

Though the many ‘Action Items’ set out in the document lack precise targets or timelines, they do provide a general foundation for further action by provinces and territories to work together on energy priorities and shared goals for energy production, supply and transportation.

These very broad, open-ended areas of endeavor rely heavily on intergovernmental collaboration on areas of mutual interest involving energy resources, energy conservation, and technology development. They also call for more open and transparent co-operation and partnership with between governments and key stakeholders in a national context, something that has not been much in evidence in recent years.

The Premiers noted in their communique that provincial and territorial governments will collaborate in different ways to pursue initiatives and address energy issues in line with their unique strengths, challenges and priorities, another point reflective of the open-ended and essentially non-binding nature of the commitments made.

The fact that the Premiers and territorial leaders were able to reach an agreement on a national energy strategy stands as a significant achievement, notwithstanding the fact that under the constitution they the authority to enforce or prevent energy transmission across provincial boundaries.

However, the impetus the agreement provides for the sharing of knowledge and the joint development of cooperative frameworks in specific areas having environmental or energy related implications should not be dismissed lightly.

Having agreed on a vision, common principles and objectives for energy development, the provinces and territories are better able to identify opportunities to develop, transport and transmit energy and to promote a robust research and technology sector to enhance the competitiveness of Canada’s energy sector and encourage the transition to a lower carbon economy.

At their meeting Premiers backed a call from British Columbia and Saskatchewan for a national approach to fighting forest fires. They also charged their ministers responsible for emergency measures to work with the federal government on recommendations made at the meeting.

Immediately after the Premiers’ meeting Energy Ministers from Newfoundland and Ontario announced an initiative to explore opportunities for importing clean and reliable electricity from Newfoundland and Labrador into Ontario. An agreement between British Columbia and Nova Scotia to share knowledge about tidal energy is another example of energy-related cooperation opportunities underway between stakeholders from different jurisdictions.

Climate Change Downplayed

The strategy document has been criticized because of its watered down commitment to fight climate change. An earlier promise that all provinces would adopt absolute cuts to greenhouse gas emissions was stripped from an earlier draft of the document.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, quoted in a Globe and Mail article said the final version “is the language everybody could live with,” stressing that the fact that until this document was signed, there was no shared goal on energy and climate change among the 13 provincial and territorial leaders.

“This is an issue of a strong economy and strong environmental protection and those two things are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “They must be complimentary.”

A press release issued after the summit noted that the Premiers will continue to work toward concrete climate related solutions including technological investments such as the continued development of wind energy, carbon capture and storage, and innovations that reduce the reliance on diesel fuel in remote communities.

They will also explore policy levers such as “carbon pricing, hard caps on emissions from electricity generation, and renewable energy targets so that GHG emissions may be better taken into account in decision-making processes.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark reinforced the point that measures to contained emissions growth need not have detrimental impacts on economic growth, citing B.C.’s carbon tax as a prime example.

“Canadians want jobs. Canadians want economic growth,” she said. “The only way to do that is to get to yes on development of all kinds, but the only way we can get to yes and guarantee that those jobs will be created is if we can assure Canadians that we are doing it in an environmentally sound and responsible way. And that is ultimately the benefit for Canadians out of the energy strategy in my view.”

The full document is available here.

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