Analysis: A Strong Energy Strategy For Canada Is Worth the Wait

A year ago, Canada’s premiers set a target of releasing a “final Canadian Energy Strategy” at this summer’s Council of the Federation meeting, which got underway yesterday in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

But reading the tea leaves this week, it looks like premiers will give themselves some extra time to craft this strategy—and that could be good news.

Continuing their energy strategy work into next year would give premiers a chance to catch up with changes in provincial capitals and at the energy-negotiating table (not to mention in the world’s energy markets).

Quebec and British Columbia have both recently re-joined the Canadian Energy Strategy negotiations—Quebec thanks to the election of a majority federalist government, and B.C. after resolving a dispute with Alberta.

Meanwhile, two significant energy players—Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador—are currently led by interim premiers, while New Brunswick is in election mode.

The Council’s incoming chair, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, signalled that a delay makes sense. Commenting on the energy strategy discussions just before the meeting got underway, he said that within a few weeks “we’re going to have every premier in place, hopefully for a little while now so I think you’re going to see a lot of progress … made over the next six months to a year.”

Little wonder, then, that an outline of the Council of the Federation’s agenda, released yesterday, doesn’t even mention energy.

A delay would also give new majority governments in Ontario and Quebec a chance to put their stamp on the energy strategy.

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne with Quebec premier Philippe Couillard. Photo: Patrick Lachance, MCE.

In recent weeks, Premiers Wynne and Couillard have both made strong statements about tackling climate change and investing in clean energy. As the Council of
the Federation meetings got underway yesterday, Quebec said it wants a Canadian energy strategy that includes “green energy, a real price on carbon and ways to address climate change.” For her part, Ontario’s premier called for a “balanced” approach to a Canadian energy strategy, one that goes beyond “transporting fuel” to include “climate change and innovation in terms of green renewable energy.”

Now we’re talking. Climate change and clean energy are two essential ingredients for any effective Canadian energy strategy.

At its core, climate change is an energy problem, and we can’t cut our carbon pollution without reducing our use of fossil fuels. Given everything we know today about the risks of climate disruption, any credible energy strategy for Canada also needs to be a strategy to cut carbon pollution.

Canadians agree: the energy strategy they want to see is climate-friendly. Polling we commissioned in 2013 found that over 60 percent of respondents agreed that the strategy “will only be successful if it transitions Canada to a low-carbon economy.” Canadians’ priorities for the strategy were all about clean energy: More than two-thirds of respondents supported energy efficiency, clean energy jobs, and cutting carbon pollution—while just 31 percent wanted to see more oil and gas exports.

An energy strategy should offer Canada a much-needed roadmap to a prosperous clean energy future, but to be effective it is going to require real commitment, not just lip service, from all the provinces and territories.

Energy is a high-stakes file, particularly in Canada. Given what’s at stake, taking another year to get this strategy right could be more than worth the wait.

Tomorrow, Part 2 of our Canadian Energy Strategy blog series will look at why we need an energy strategy and where premiers could take their negotiations in the months ahead.

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