When we talk about energy policy here in Canada, whether provincial or national, the discussion usually revolves around investment, jobs, revenues, and the environment. That's generally been the terms of discussion on the recently killed Northern Gateway pipeline: who'll get the money, who'll get the jobs, and who'll bear the risk. But there's another dimension to energy policy that is often left out of the discussion, which is the idea of energy security, not only for Canada, but for the world as a whole. And decisions like Northern Gateway do little to add to Canada's energy security.
On the last day of May, the government of British Columbia gave the back of its hand to Alberta and indirectly to the rest of Canada, which benefitsand could benefit morefrom continued development of Albertas oilsands. Claiming insufficient environmental protections, the BC government rejected the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project that would bring bitumen from Albertas oilsands to Kitimat, where it could be exported to markets in Asia.
When Christy Clark recently asserted British Columbia didnt need the federal government and also said we don't need Alberta, the B.C. premier demonstrated why Canadas founding fathers were concerned about provincial politicians: when they think in isolation, such premiers harm the interests of all Canadians.
The context of Clarks election-time remark was how BC could become an energy superpower if more natural gas was developed and delivered through pipelines, as opposed to allowing oil pipelines to crisscross British Columbia more than they already do.
In a speech to the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in London on July 14, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to Canada as the emerging energy superpower that his government intends to build. The prime minister and Joe Oliver, minister of natural resources, have repeated this claim on various occasions since.
While the term energy superpower sounds exciting and important, that likely isnt where the country is heading (and likely not what we want to be). Rather, Canada is on track to become an energy superproducer if the right policy framework is in place.
Quebecs political leaders seem to have fallen for the Great Green Dream of economic prosperity without energy or natural resource production. Its a magical vision of a world powered by unicorns and rainbows, where consumer goods are somehow conjured out of thin air rather than being manufactured with resources extracted from the ground. But experience in Europe as well as in Ontario show that chasing the green dream is a path to financial ruin, not utopia.
In 2009, under the Premiership of Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario legislature passed the Ontario Green Energy Act (GEA), an Act that aimed to increase Ontarios use of renewable energy such as wind power, solar power, biofuels, and small-scale hydropower. The centerpiece of the Act is a schedule of subsidized electricity purchase contracts called Feed-in-Tariffs that provide long-term guarantees of above-market rates for power generated by those renewables.
Earlier this month the Fraser Institute published a report sharply critical of one of the flagship policies of the Ontario government, namely the Ontario Green Energy Act (GEA). We found that the Act is costing Ontario over $5 billion annually but yields negligible environmental benefits, and that equivalent or greater benefits could have been achieved using conventional pollution control measures at less than one-tenth the cost.
Carbon taxes are once again dominating the discussion over energy policy in Alberta, where Environment Minister Diana McQueen has proposed a sharp hike to Albertas carbon levy. Presently, large emitters in Alberta are required to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity (that is, emissions per unit of production) by 12 per cent, or face a levy of $15 for every tonne they come up short. The new proposal would hike the emission intensity target to 40 per cent, and raise the levy to $40. Nice round numbers, to be sure, but extremely ambitious ones.