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Rather than a 'Canadian Energy Plan,' an 'Energy Plan for Canadians'

A pan-Canadian Energy Plan is on the agenda of the Council of the Federation meeting this week in Halifax (July 25-27). It was going to be way-down on the priority list –- that is, of course, before B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced her government’s new position on the Northern Gateway Pipeline (NGP) and news of the $15 Billion bid by the Chinese government to buy Nexen –- a Canadian energy giant.

The idea of any kind of 'national energy plan' discussion happening would have been unthinkable only months ago, but something’s happened -- and I’m not talking about deadly and destructive weather. It's the massive (and growing) opposition to the NGP plan to pump oil from Alberta to the Pacific and lift the very popular 40 year-old moratorium on oil-tankers (B.C.'ers haven't forgotten Alaska's Exxon disaster). B.C. loggers, fishers, outfitters and property owners are being asked to take all the risks while big multinational oil companies will get all the benefits.

Then there is the rest of the country. Is it suffering from Mr. Mulcair's Dutch Disease? Is the strong Canadian dollar, propped-up by oil exports, killing manufacturing jobs in Eastern Canada? When the NDP leader raised the issue he met a firestorm of condemnation. It's worth noting that only a few weeks later a pulp and paper mill was shut down in Nova Scotia but that news wasn't met with similar exuberance. The company simply can't compete with European plants because of (you guessed it) the strong Canadian dollar.

The feds, with their now trademark "finesse," decided the best way to approach legitimate (and growing) public concern was to change the channel. But a boogey man would be needed. Enter the new enemy: the foreign-backed socialist environmental radical traitors. Using their new enemy they justified sweeping away 35 year-old environmental protection laws, and incorporated a new jingoistic vernacular in their Tar Sands communications, one that speaks of 'national interests.' History has shown us this kind of language is used by governments shortly before they expropriate your land or suspend your civil rights. Look no further than the NGP hearings as an example of the latter.

But Bill C-38 may have unexpectedly strengthened the resolve of the much-maligned opponents of the NGP. Could Harper's war on the environment (and its defenders) have backfired? Time will tell.

Premier Redford hasn't given up on diplomacy, though. Instead of talking tough she's talking-up the idea of a 'Canadian Energy Plan' (which she refers to as a "strategy"). Note the word Canadian and not National -– smart, an Alberta premier using the words "energy" and "national" in the same sentence is not a good idea. Maybe Redford's patriotic strategy will assuage opposition in British Columbia, and quell discussions about Dutch Disease and Canada's high dollar across the rest of the country. Not likely, but it was still a remarkable turn of events to hear an Alberta premier speak in these terms.

Unfortunately, none of this energy talk is about sustainably meeting the energy needs of Canadians. When you hear politicians and big oil talk about 'energy' they mean 'export commodity.'

When the premiers sit down in Halifax they won't be talking about how to meet the energy needs of Canadians, they'll be talking about the need to develop a non-aggression peace pact between the provinces to facilitate export. The reality is Alberta's not the only province facing export challenges. The electricity transmission dispute between Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador is 50 years old. Hydro Québec’s recent attempt to buy New Brunswick Power to gain a transmission corridor to the United States was stopped by a public revolt. Newfoundland is planning a massive new dam in Labrador to export energy to the US via an undersea transmission line to Nova Scotia (just to avoid dealing with Québec).

Such a pact among the provinces (combined with recent gutting of environmental laws and oversight) will mean little more than more oil for the Chinese and even more oil for the Americans and perhaps a mega-hydro dam too.

The fundamental problem of risks and benefits, however, will remain unaddressed. Canadians will still bear all the risk and incur all the environmental damage, and others -- largely foreign-owned corporations (oh the irony) -- will benefit.

Meanwhile, Eastern Canadians will continue to burn 'unethical' Saudi and Venezuelan oil in their cars (more irony) and all Canadians will continue to pay way too much to heat their homes and run appliances.

Unfortunately, in the emerging 'Canadian Energy Plan' scenario, Canadian needs are at the bottom of the list. And environmentally speaking, Canada is already at the bottom of the energy efficiency list. So we will continue wasting both money and energy while growing dirtier and less competitive with our greenhouse gas emissions growing unabated.

Even in a year with the wickedest weather in memory: mud slides, drought, crop losses -- all with a huge human and economic price tag -- climate change is not even on the political radar. When our leaders talk about energy they don't see disappearing Arctic ice for the canary in the coal mine that it is (they envision off-shore drilling rigs).

The premiers should be discussing an "Energy Plan for Canadians" to confront climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions while meeting our energy needs and improving energy efficiency. And such a plan would create jobs -- see the new report from the Tides Foundation: "New Energy Vision for Canada."

Premiers have a responsibility to leave a better legacy than ruptured pipelines, leaky toxic tailings ponds and a coastline covered in oil. An "Energy Plan for Canadians" might be the way.

John Bennett is the Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada. Follow John on Twitter or visit the Bennett Blog. He can be contacted at Executive[dot]Director[at]sierraclub[dot]ca

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