Years of talks finally culminate in national energy priorities
ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—Canada’s premiers reached a deal July 17 on a national energy strategy that supports both project development and the need to act on climate change, ending days of bickering over finding a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.
A communique released after the premiers met in St. John’s, N.L., states the strategy provides the foundation for provinces and territories to work on energy priorities.
It says the provinces and territories are better positioned to develop and transport energy and promote research and technology that will enhance the energy sector and encourage the transition to a lower carbon economy.
It also says Canada’s energy future requires policies that send a strong signal across the economy to enhance energy efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and support technological innovation.
Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall cut a solitary figure at times during this week’s meeting as he pushed his colleagues to give greater emphasis to the economic importance of the oil and gas sector.
He took aim at Ontario and Quebec, arguing their positions dismissed lucrative oil and gas resources while they benefit from the equalization funds the industry helps raise.
But Wall said a chapter of the strategy on moving oil across the country mentions energy self-sufficiency and adding value to what is exported, which won him over.
“Our country, notwithstanding the vast oil reserves that we have in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador, and other places, we import oil from other countries,” he said. “That just seems wrong to me. We ought to use our own oil and add value to it here and then export it to markets other than the United States. We’ve got one customer for this product right now.”
The strategy was announced as Nexen Energy apologized for a five million litre pipeline spill of bitumen, produced water and sand southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said pipelines are still the safest way to transport oil and gas, and safety is part of the energy strategy.
“The strategy itself refers, of course, to the need to not only develop our energy resources responsibly and safely but to transport them responsibly and safely,” she added. “And we’re all committed to that objective.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed her support for the environmental protections in the strategy, saying the premiers achieved the right balance.
“This is an issue of a strong economy and strong environmental protection and those two things are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “In fact, they must be complementary. And that is, for me, that’s the foundational work of this document.”
Agreement on a national plan to guide future energy projects while also protecting the environment has been on the premiers’ agenda since 2012.
While Wall changed his tone on Friday after his more aggressive stance earlier in the week, he still defended the oil and gas industries as the meetings wrapped up.
“Oil and gas are not four letter words,” he said.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark used her experience to promote the agreement, saying the province has had a carbon tax for seven years and it hasn’t damaged the economy.
“We lead the country in economic growth now despite the fact that people said a carbon tax was going to kill it,” she said.
“Canadians want jobs. Canadians want economic growth. 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.”