Canadian oil can make the world a safer place

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Appeared in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal

Given Canada's proximity to the United States, we tend to take our peace and security for granted.

This comfortable distance from most of the world's violence has also led us to underestimate how useful Canada might be in defusing threats elsewhere using an item some people overlook as leverage: energy.

Canadians might have a general sense that oil in particular, matters to world affairs; but given that Canada has never been a superpower, it has never been responsible for the wider world order to ensure that oil (or natural gas) flow to countries that need it. Given recent developments at home and abroad, that blissful unawareness merits re-thinking.

The world received a wake-up call recently in the form of Russian expansionism into Ukraine. A full history lesson is not possible here but Ukraine, as with much of central Europe, has had the misfortune to be at the crossroads of aggressors, and sometimes competing aggressors before.

In his 2010 book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, historian Timothy Snyder recounted the full, tragic history of Ukraine and other nations in the region, being starved, trampled on, warred in, warred over and conquered between the two worlds wars by the Soviet Union and Germany. That's what can happen when a country is at the intersection of international currents and not, as Canada is, at the edge of a continent with a neighbour and ally with similar liberal democratic norms.

I note Ukraine's tragic history because insofar as Canadians think about energy, we rarely think about its geostrategic importance, at least not in relation to Canada. But more energy exports from this country might, at least in the medium to long-term, help some countries escape from dependence on Russian energy supplies.

At present, on average, European Union countries are dependent upon Russia for one-third of their imported natural gas supplies. The dependency ranges from a high of 92 per cent in Lithuania to one per cent dependency in Ireland.

Some major EU economies are highly dependent on Russian gas, such as France (17 per cent) Italy (28 per cent), Germany (30 per cent) and the Netherlands (34 per cent). European governments not only accept this, they've rejected competitors (such as Canada) on spurious grounds.

Over the last several years, some politicians in the European Union in particular have been actively trashing Canadian oil over the bogus claims of climate activists. Thus, when I wrote of the benefits of Canadian energy for world affairs a few years back in a Brussels-based newspaper, anti-oil politicians in Europe replied, denouncing oil sands oil because of carbon emissions.

But as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently observed, Russian adventurism in Ukraine means at least some Europeans might shift their views on Canadian oil, while on natural gas in particular, additional Canadian-based companies might export more to that region.

Single-interest groups and politicians, though, often miss the deeper tectonic reality occurring around them. That reality just reared its ugly head once again with the trouble in Ukraine. Dependence on liberal democracies is good and helpful for a stable world; dependence on corrupt autocracies is anything but.

A wider perspective beyond just emissions includes the following: Of the world's top 15 net oil exporters in the world, Canada is one of just two countries (Norway being the other) that is considered free according to Freedom House, a Washington-based think tank, which considers freedom of the economy, media, religion, voting and independent courts among other markers.

Three other significant exporting countries (Kuwait, Nigeria, and Venezuela) are considered partly free; while 10 of the 15 top oil exporters are considered not free and Russia, incidentally, is on that not free list. That is a status Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently wishes to export.

The big picture is this: Canada's products be it oil or natural gas, or anything  we can manufacture and export including traditional sectors such as forestry and mining ought to be sold around the world with this rather long sticker attached: Made In Canada: Safe, reliable, liberal democratic and free.

It's a selling point Canadian-based companies, and politicians, should not overlook that, and how European energy dependence on Russia is unhealthy in general.

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