As the site of a 19th-century conference that helped forge our nation, Charlottetown, P.E.I. is a fitting setting for a gathering this week that could lay the groundwork for Canada’s next chapter.
On its surface, the government meeting isn’t exactly big news. Canada’s provincial energy ministers are joining their federal counterpart, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, at their annual conference to discuss matters of shared interest. But this time out, the agenda is likely to include the Canadian energy strategy proposal that gained considerable traction at the Council of the Federation when all provincial premiers except B.C. Premier Christy Clark lined up behind it.
A Canadian energy strategy has the potential to do far more than simply help us secure new markets for our petroleum resources. It could unleash the necessary transformation of our economy, which could in turn allow us to update our international identity as hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Make no mistake: Canada is a resource economy today, and will be for many years to come. Our abundant reserves of oil and gas provide vital everyday services such as home com-fort and mobility for millions, both here and abroad. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that global demand for these raw, carbon-based resources will carry on forever.
They won’t. On a global basis, each year, investors pour approximately $1 trillion into low-carbon goods and ser-vices innovation. All this research and development investment is already spurring breakthroughs that stand to reshape almost every aspect of how we use, conserve, and produce energy. Even if you set aside the imperative to address climate change, the world’s appetite for Canada’s oil and gas will fall into decline long before the resource itself does.
An energy strategy cannot simply be a path to more pipelines. Canada needs to focus on real innovation – not tweaking around the edges of what we already do and sell. We need to turn to our history as innovators, leverage our highly educated workforce and stable banking system, and buckle down and face the fact that the future won’t be so kind to our current economic model.
In a recent national Harris-Decima poll, Canadians were asked to indicate to what degree they would prioritize a series of objectives for a potential Canadian energy strategy. They identified as a “top” or “high” priority improving energy efficiency (82 per cent), creating more jobs in clean energy (75 per cent), reducing Canada’s carbon pollution to slow down climate change (66 per cent), and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels (66 per cent).
In contrast, only 33 per cent of those surveyed placed a “top” or “high” priority on exporting more of Canada’s oil and gas resources.
Canadians know intuitively that an energy strategy must prepare us for the global energy revolution that is already underway. It must place a real focus on markets for low-carbon goods and services, including exports. This market is expected to crest $3 trillion by the end of this decade.
Fortunately, the ministers have a good starting point to work with this week. This past July, the premiers committed to focus work on a Canadian energy strategy that would include “a more integrated approach to climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing the transition to a lower carbon economy.”
British Columbia in particular is well-positioned to take advantage of a truly visionary Canadian energy strategy. We need to engage with other provinces in the Canadian energy strategy discussion. Instead of sitting out of this conversation – as we are now doing – we need to build on our climate and clean-tech leadership, and encourage other provinces to join us. By doing so, we will reduce our risk exposure, maximize the benefits that will flow to British Columbia, and help secure a better future for the families who call this place home. And we will help play a leading role in forging a new Canadian identity, and ensuring our next 150 years are as prosperous as those we have just enjoyed.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Vancouver Sun.