OTTAWA—As federal and provincial energy ministers gather this week in Charlottetown, forging a national energy strategy is conspicuously absent from their agenda.
The topic was all the rage over the summer as most of the premiers—spearheaded by Alberta Premier Alison Redford—called on leaders to hash out a solid plan for handling the country’s natural resources.
But the premiers’ meeting in July ended with B.C. Premier Christy Clark refusing to talk about any of it until her demands on the Northern Gateway pipeline were recognized.
Now, as the provinces come together once again, top-level talks toward a national energy strategy appear to have been downgraded to discussions for collaboration.
Instead, federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said the Sunday evening-to-Tuesday meetings will focus on implementing federal changes to environmental assessment, making sure marine and pipeline safety standards are world-class, and investing in market diversification, labour, environment and efficiency.
That’s not to say the national energy strategy is dead.
There’s a broad realization that the country’s regions need to take collective responsibility of the development of natural resources so that each region can share in the jobs and economic spin-offs, Oliver said.
And after speaking with both Redford and Clark frequently and recently about their differences and about their vision for energy exports, Oliver said there is plenty of common ground.
Regardless of their differences and the official agenda, the ministers will wind up talking about the need for pan-Canadian infrastructure that will allow for more efficient export of the country’s resources, he said. “It’s pervasive, really.”
Indeed, Oliver said, every region of the country is caught up with the challenge of moving resources to market and diminishing their dependence on American buyers
In their July statement, however, the premiers—all but B.C.’s Clark—were more ambitious than that. They issued a list of common principles and said a national energy strategy was “urgent” because Canada is facing newfound demand for its commodities just as the pressure to deal with climate change soars.
The statement was not just about pipelines and bitumen. It was also about creating a low-carbon economy, sustainable development, renewable energy and taking a more integrated approach to climate change.
But provinces have widely divergent views of how Canada’s natural resources should be treated, said energy economist Andre Plourde, dean of public affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
So it’s not surprising that the federal government, as co-host of the Charlottetown meeting, is not going to push talks for a national energy strategy ahead, Plourde said.
“It’s hard to talk about it because it will be clear that all parties don’t agree.”
There is no clear understanding of what a national strategy would actually do, beyond stating principles that reflect what governments do already, he added.