All 13 provincial and territorial premiers agreed Friday on a Canadian energy strategy that keeps oil, natural gas and electricity development and exports high on the national economic agenda.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall summed up the 40-page document in plain talk that dismayed environmentalists, who fired off protests against projects from oilsands plants and pipelines to hydroelectric dams and power lines as the leaders met in the Newfoundland capital of St. John’s.
“Oil and gas are not four-letter words,” Wall said.
The strategy document started as an initiative of Alberta’s former Conservative regime, as the political leadership in Canada’s chief energy-producing jurisdiction. After winning the May 5 Alberta provincial election, Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrat cabinet kept the legacy in amplified form, with a heightened green tinge but no reduction in emphasis on oil and gas as engines of investment, employment and government revenue growth. “It underlines the strategic importance of energy to the Canadian economy,” Notley said.
Attention to environmental concerns, and especially greenhouse gas emissions, figures in all elements of the overall program -- but as an evolving standard for making projects acceptable instead of a reason to stop development.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, whose province is renowned as the national hotbed of green sentiment, explained the approach as a matter of forging creative partnerships among industry, regulatory, environmental and aboriginal groups.
"Canadians want jobs. Canadians want economic growth. The only way to do that is to get to ‘yes’ on development of all kinds,” Clark said. “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.”
As a recital of principles rather than an action plan, the strategy document makes no mention of particular projects or regulatory initiatives. Translating the ideals into action will be assigned to four committees that the premiers committed their energy ministers to form: on energy efficiency, energy delivery, climate change, and technology and innovation. Initial reports are due in 2016.
The premiers also enshrined, as a formal Canadian goal, a much-discussed shift in overall strategy toward market diversification -- meaning lessened reliance on the United States as the mainstay destination for exports. The changed focus sharpened as a result of refusal, for the only time in memory, by the Democrat regime in Washington, DC, to approve a new Canadian oil export pipeline, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL project.
The energy strategy predicts, “Over the next 20 years, levels of energy production across Canada will increasingly outpace domestic energy needs, resulting in growing amounts of energy available for export. The United States will continue to be an important export market for Canadian energy products and services. However, to fully realize the benefits that can flow from the energy sector, our country needs to compete in new and emerging international markets.
As part of the export strategy change, Canada’s provincial and territorial authorities launched a campaign for the federal government in Ottawa to let them in on planning and carrying out global economic initiatives.
The strategy says, “Given that provinces and territories have constitutional responsibility for energy and natural resources, it is important that they engage meaningfully in international discussions and negotiations on energy and climate change issues.”
A “formal mechanism,” with a structure to be established with help from Ottawa, is sought for provincial participation in the traditionally federal sphere of international affairs.
The premiers’ strategy document says, “Developing new mechanisms with the federal government would enable provinces and territories to fully participate in international activities involving energy, as would provincial-territorial leadership in pursuing new venues for their own engagement.”