Ensuring that Canada's energy policies promote the development of clean, sustainable energy is one of the defining challenges of our times. It is an urgent priority for the economy and the environment. With a comprehensive vision for a Canadian energy strategy and strong leadership, the federal government could enhance our energy security, promote innovation in our energy sector, and ensure that we get lasting value from our resources. Canada needs an approach that not only protects the future of our natural environment but establishes Canada's place in the global economic community as a responsible energy leader.
Promoting upgrading and refining of our resources before shipping them abroad is part of that puzzle. Equally important is ensuring that balanced and sustainable development is at the core of policymaking.
The late Peter Lougheed, a former Alberta Premier, understood the need to think and act like an owner when it came to managing his province's oil wealth. When asked about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would initially ship up to 830,000 barrels of unprocessed crude every day to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Lougheed shared some wisdom that we would do wise to consider: "We should be refining the bitumen in Alberta and we should make it public policy in the province."
Now contrast that sentiment with policies of the current federal Conservatives that are rooted in short-term profit rather than long-term value, and which fail to ensure our resources are developed in a way that maximizes Canadian interests. As result of the Conservatives' unwillingness to look beyond the short-term, Canadian crude is being sold for significantly less than it is worth, causing provincial and federal governments to miss out on billions in potential royalties and tax revenues.
Conservative enthusiasm for subsidizing oil sands and exporting our resources without internalizing the full environmental cost has also distorted the market, contributing to an artificial rise in the Canadian dollar. Their unbalanced approach hurts other export-oriented sectors like fishing, forestry, manufacturing and agriculture.
Further, Canada's international reputation and our trade interests are being damaged by the Conservatives' gutting of Canadian environmental standards. Former Canadian environment commissioner Scott Vaughan warned that trade partners are starting to consider the environmental impacts of how a resource is extracted, treated and transported in international negotiations. This warning has fallen on deaf ears.
Strong opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline south of the border, and a potential European Union Fuel Directive that targets oil sands exports, are two examples of what the future holds if the current government continues to favour short-term solutions over long-term vision. No public relations campaign can paper over this government's fundamental disregard for the environmental implications of development.
In place of its current approach, the federal government could show leadership by working with industries that are dependent on polluting energy sources and find incentives for them to decrease their carbon emissions.
Canada was recently ranked second-to-last out of 12 major economies in terms of energy efficiency. To support Canada's transition to a clean economy, federal programs that provide grants to retrofit homes and businesses for energy efficiency must be re-established.
Many Canadians support President Obama's statements recognizing the need for a shift to renewable energy and the urgent need for action on climate change, and to reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuel extraction. The Conservatives' persistent refusal to act may damage our relationship with our closest trading partner and push Canada further out of step with global consensus.
Establishing a price on carbon would go a long way to reassure our trading partners that we can develop our resources sustainably. It would enable Canada to reduce its carbon footprint and we would meet our international obligations. As well, experts agree that a price on carbon would encourage innovation in the energy sector, while increasing the competitiveness of the Canadian economy overall.
While other governments investigate ways to strengthen environmental regulation and protection, the Conservatives are gutting environmental protections like the Navigable Waters Act, refusing to consult with First Nations and the broader public, and giving Cabinet unprecedented power to overrule unfavourable decisions from independent regulators.
Under the Conservatives, Canada has missed critical opportunities to add value to our resources. However, there is still significant opportunity to pursue policies that can rebalance our economy and keep economic and employment benefits here at home. There is still time to reverse direction, but if we fail it will be our children who will pay the price.
NDP MP Peter Julian, who represents Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C., is his party's energy critic.
The Hill Times