An Energy and Environment Strategy for Alberta and Canada

james tannerEssays

In the wake of the last (2015) Canadian Premiers’ Conference, the focus on immediate yet temporary issues was prevalent. BC was concerned about the pipeline, Saskatchewan and others were concerned about energy infrastructure in general – pipelines. In my view, instead of focusing on short term political issues, energy and environment assets must be assessed for their longer term effects on the public interest. (See my last essay.) Fortunately, Alberta’s Premier, and many of the other Premiers expressed a longer term view and I was impressed that they linked energy strategy with environmental issues.

The creation of a new Canadian energy strategy which has been spontaneously emerging as an important issue is more ideologically significant than may be publically apparent. The admission that we need a strategy exposes the weakness of relying on private markets and emphasizes the role of the government in planning Canada’s energy and environmental future. Bingo! This consensus has been absent from energy policy in Canada since the Canadian Petroleum Association spent millions demonizing P.E. Trudeau during the NEP in 1981 through 1987. But the idea of an energy strategy goes even further! It really confirms the government participation in economic planning which launched the American and Canadian economies after WWII. Economic success in all modern economies has come from a coordinated effort between national governments and private capital to develop the infrastructure, regulatory environment and market initiatives required to allow optimal development to take place. It has been true of the US, characterized by Eisenhower’s coined phrase “The Military – Industrial Complex”.   In Canada, it was government cooperating with industry on ports, seaways, railways, pipelines, airlines and more recently oil sands which has launched much of our development. In Japan it was the MITI strategy. In Europe it was the Marshall Plan followed up and taken over by European Governments.

However, recently we have been living in the dark ages of phony movie star economics. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we need to manage our energy and environmental assets in the public interest. This means that governments must approach these issues with existing management technologies beginning with an assessment of services, benefits and costs flowing from those assets. It is not just a matter of making a revenue-sharing deal on a pipeline, but like the longer term view put forward by the Premiers, we must look at the fundamentals of an authentic energy/ environmental strategy. Alberta should start this process and demonstrate how it works by performing the resource asset analysis. Once the asset analysis is prepared it will become obvious that other governments must do the same. We must gather information before making a decision. What are our assets? How do we manage them? We need the courage to install these systems before another round of libertarianism pollutes the airwaves yet again.

That was a short statement about an essential policy which must be implemented soon.  Relevant to this issue is the fact that I received a note from the National Energy Board informing me that I will be helping Carry the Kettle First Nation participate in the TransCanada Pipeline hearings on the Energy East line conversion. The NEB process is the only remaining forum where our current national energy strategy can be discussed. But what an inadequate, watered down, impotent system our Conservative friends have created! Not only in energy planning do we have a vacuum of thought but our ability to review important environmental issues has been straightjacketed through limits on participation in this regulatory process. For example, no issues can be brought forward concerning climate change nor up-stream environmental or economic effects nor secondary economic effects.   Why? Because they are apparently not issues directly concerned with the pipeline operations. Pipelines are key to our national energy strategy and if Canadians do not want to be saddled by huge stranded infrastructure assets the national interests must be discussed in these pipeline approval hearings. IF NOT IN A PIPELINE HEARING – WHERE? Stephen Harper claims that the NEB process is an independent, rational, scientific and fair approval review process. Yet his new legislation has restricted the ability of the NEB to adequately play that role. After his draconian legislation was finalized, the only areas he could not attack directly were constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights. However, there is now a new rule where the NEB, pushed by new Conservative legislation, now claims that Elders’ Traditional Knowledge cannot be scientific nor technical – clearly an insulting violation of their rights.

My preference would be to participate in the preliminary processes of establishing a new energy – environmental strategy for Alberta and eventually Canada. How can Canadians get involved in that?

Just a note on Peter Lougheed: He followed the traditional Canadian industrial strategy by having the Alberta Government fund the costs of making oil sands economically viable. But then his successors sold the government interest and equity to their private buddies (not managing the asset in the public interest – but for private interests!!). However, when the economy was overheated by unbridled market froth, Lougheed did make a statement out of retirement that maybe we should slow oil sands development down which was ignored by the Alberta government of the day.

We need to take a step beyond the traditional so called enlightened Liberal/ Conservative approach practiced by Premier Peter which both parties have been using for so many years now. That old system promotes elitism not freedom nor democracy nor justice. As we finally move away from the absolute libertarian madness of the Harper Government, we need to move further into public interest technology. We need to implement the systems which will provide future governments the tools to manage our public resources effectively.


Jim Tanner