The West-East “battle” obscures other issues
By Bruce A Stewart
I want to conduct a thought experiment.
Rather than take sides — do you support Mulcair (and May, McGuinty and many more), or do you support Clark, Harper, Redford and Wall on Western energy policy — what if, for a moment, we explored the possibility that both are wrong?
Our love of a two-sided battle, the press gallery’s love of a horse race (“who’s ahead? who’s behind?”), and bruises still felt from ham-handed policies in the past make it easy to fall into an us-versus-them position and overlook other possibilities.
Maybe the problem with our energy industries isn’t how we produce it, but rather that we export that production.
Christy Clark, for instance, may very much like the economic prospects of liquifying BC natural gas for export to Asia.
Gas liquification is energy intensive — and one description of an LNG operation is “a bomb”. Maybe we’d be better off using the natural gas in Canada?
After all, that’s still a sale — and goodness knows our original gas fields are mostly played out these days. We drill new wells in gas country to get ever-decreasing returns.
Maybe BC’s pipelines should point east, not west?
Albertans, of course, are justifiably proud of their oil sands, and their ability to wrest bounty from the north.
Of course, that’s very energy-intensive production, too, just like processing LNG. It’s also capital intensive, which holds the whole thing hostage to global financial crises.
Then, of course, we rush to export the product as soon as it’s liquified enough to transport. We don’t turn it into anything else. We sell it as a feedstock and buy back the finished products.
A disruption in getting the finished product as in “you have to ship us your inputs because of NAFTA, but we’re restricting export of gasolines, fertilizers, plastics, etc. because we need them here” would be just as deadly to Canadians as not having had the oil sands in the first place.
I’d love to see Alberta manufacturing lots of end products from its bounty. But of course we close the discussion down by saying “we can’t tell companies what to do”.
Saskatchewan is enjoying great bounty these days, too. But their energy resources are also capital intensive — and water intensive in a dry land, one that’s too easily forced to decide on uses for that water between agriculture and people’s needs, or industry’s needs.
Look: Ontario, Québec, the Atlantic provinces have made a host of bad decisions — and have a business class that’s too ready to ask for a 70¢ dollar rather than become world class at what they do. A big part of that was in selling off so much — branch plants don’t decide their futures.
But that doesn’t excuse the West. Deep policy questions about the West’s future are being ignored.
It’s easy to point the finger. But it shouldn’t end there.
Or sooner than we think, the West will be as bankrupt as the East is.
That’s “national unity” none of us need.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at email@example.com.