Dearth of leadership on national infrastructure
By Bruce A Stewart
Give Alberta Premier Alison Redford credit: she was, and is, willing to talk about a national energy policy.
As those who remember the bad old days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his high handed National Energy Program, “them’s fightin’ words.”
So you might think that her proposals would be seen as worth discussing. Instead, for the most part, they’ve been ignored.
What little reaction they’ve gotten elsewhere has been to make demands in return, not to seize the issue and figure out how to work with it.
Pettiness and small-mindedness from Canada’s provincial Premiers is nothing new, of course: this is a country that only allows for free trade in goods, services and credential mobility between three of its provinces (BC, Alberta & Saskatchewan). Something that the 27 countries and just over half a billion citizens of the European Union take for granted is something we Canadians just can’t wrap our minds around.
Not, of course, that Ottawa has shown any leadership — even to say a nice word or two in support — on this issue either.
What Canada doesn’t need is another NEP — a Green Shift — or even elements of Mulcair’s proposals that would see polluter penalties and cap-and-trade incomes shift monies from the West to the East.
But, for all of that, Canada does need a National Energy Grid. A way to move our resources and energy production — from fossil fuel based to electricity — from where it is produced to where it is consumed in Canada.
At world prices (which, for oil, means the Brent price, not the artificially low West Texas Intermediate price of Cushing, OK). This isn’t about a freebie or a subsidy.
It’s about access.
Gas prices today are so low exploration not associated with some other development to subsidize it has ceased. It just doesn’t pay the cost of capital. Meanwhile our established wells are depleting and production is dropping — fast.
Yet we’re looking at exporting liquified natural gas (LNG) from northeastern BC rather than sell it into the Canadian gas system. What are we going to do, reconvert those gas-fired electrical plants and all those gas-fuelled homes back to coal?
Our conventional oil is likewise well into decline. In most of this country personal transportation, shipping goods to stores, and a fair chunk of heat for buildings comes from oil. So getting the oil sands’ products to Canadian markets seems like a no-brainer.
Except we’re willing to export all of that — raw, not even a refining job in it — and import oil from declining sources elsewhere in the world.
If we were serious about national security, we’d be getting pipelines and refineries going, whatever it takes, instead of futzing around with F-35s and security theatre.
Then there’s electricity: Québec, Newfoundland & Labrador and Manitoba still have hydro capabilities to export; Ontario (for better or worse) has committed to solar and wind.
But the Québec and Atlantic grids don’t connect to Ontario; Ontario doesn’t connect to Manitoba. Again, dumb, dumb, dumb.
Energy is the national security issue of the twenty-first century. We seem determined to ignore that.
It’s going to be awfully cold and dark later this century and all the money brought in by exports won’t, by then, do a thing to change that.
Only growing up and getting serious now will.
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.