IN THE NEWS ~ The rise and fall of clean energy superpower

Sneh Duggal, Embassy Newspaper

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce in London, and said a phrase that he and his government would repeat several times in the years to come.

"Canada intends to be not just an energy superpower, but also a clean energy superpower, because the reality of climate change is upon us," he said.

That was four years ago. In 2010, industry insiders told Embassy they felt the term "clean energy superpower" was an empty buzzword. Now, industry critics, opposition members, former officials, and academics all say the Harper government seems to have stopped using the term regularly in national

media circles.

In fact, the last reference anyone could recall was in March. Instead, they say there is a new emphasis on branding Canada as an "energy superpower" minus the clean part. Mr. Harper also referred to Canada on Nov. 7 as a "natural resources powerhouse."

Analysts are offering different explanations for what appears to be a shift in rhetoric. While critics suggest the Conservatives don't have the policies

to back up the word "clean," others say the party is making progress, but that politicization of the term could be the reason.

The disappearing act

After Mr. Harper used the term in 2008, he told an Alberta audience in October 2009 that "the only way we are going to stay competitive in the global energy market of the future, is if we are also a clean energy superpower."

A December 2011 government press release announcing the government's investment in a project to help with biodiesel production stated that Canada had

"strengthened its position as a clean energy superpower" with the initiative.

Then in March, Environment Minister Peter Kent spoke to the Ontario Energy Association in Toronto. He talked about how it was almost impossible to consider one without the other.

"Given the commitment Canada has made to address climate reduce greenhouse gas take its place as a clean energy superpower...that convergence will continue," he said.

But some say they aren't hearing the phrase used as often anymore. Michael Cleland, former president of the Canadian Gas Association and former assistant deputy minister of energy at Natural Resources Canada, said that while "clean" could have been seen as a politically necessary term, the shift could be due to

a broader focus on natural resources.

This presumably includes the notion of "clean," but the government seems to have downplayed that, said Mr. Cleland, who is currently the Nexen Executive in Residence for the Canada West Foundation.

It could be that the word "clean" doesn't work well as a sound byte when the term is changed to include "natural resources," he said.

"I would just surmise that when you're talking about natural resources generally, the extra adjective doesn't seem to fit, and in any event, the focus on clean frankly has, it's dropped back a bit from what I can see," Mr. Cleland said.

He said he doesn't think people would understand what someone meant by "clean natural resources."

Warren Mabee, an assistant professor with the geography department and the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University, said he has noticed people using the term a little less and perhaps a little more pointedly.

"There's definitely more and more rhetoric about us being a superpower, not so much a clean energy superpower," Mr. Mabee said.

There is more emphasis on Canada having the ability to supply more of the world's energy, he noted.

In a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Foreign Minister John Baird said in August that when he meets his counterparts around the world, he "consistently" builds up Canada's reputation as a "resource superpower."

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver commented on a Senate committee report in a statement in July and cited "Canada's emerging role as a global energy superpower."

Mr. Mabee said he thinks the lack of emphasis on the phrase "clean energy superpower" is due to a politicization of the term in the past few years.

The term clean energy has been "owned by the left" in the United States, and this has probably played a role in dictating how Ottawa uses it.

"Green energy" and "clean energy" are becoming synonymous with things like Ontario's Green Energy Act, which is tied to the Liberal Party, Mr. Mabee argued.

"It may be partly that the word clean has become associated with the Liberal brand and they just don't want to be using something that's associated with the Liberal


But Mr. Mabee added that just because the federal government might not be using the term as often, it doesn't mean they aren't interested in "clean" technologies or resource development.

"I think they are interested," he said.

He cited the government's move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

In September the government announced its final regulations for such plants. This would mean that a plant would not be permitted to give off more than 420 tonnes

of greenhouse gases per gigawatt hour of electricity that it generated.

And the government does talk about clean energy in other contexts. Canada and its southern neighbour launched the Canada-US Clean Energy Dialogue in

February 2009 "to enhance joint collaboration on the development of clean energy science and technologies to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change."

David B. Layzell, executive director of the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, said it seems the environment went from being a high priority five years ago to more focus being on the economy and jobs.

"Public support for initiatives around the environment have decreased pretty dramatically," he said, arguing this is likely a reason the term "clean energy superpower" isn't being used as much.

Debate over a tough sell'

Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham said it started off years ago with the term "energy superpower," but that the prime minister would

follow up by saying Canada also needed to be a clean energy superpower.

"Well he has certainly backed away from that," Mr. Whittingham said. "I think it was a tough sell from the start, because that's certainly not how the world sees us."

It is hard to go abroad now and talk about Canada being a clean energy superpower, because people see through it quickly, Mr. Whittingham said.

Opposition members of Parliament agreed.

"What we've seen is a concept which I don't think was ever properly defined, and certainly has not been backfilled with the kinds of concrete actions you would expect so that you could reasonably defend your proposition to the world that Canada is a clean energy superpower," Liberal MP and natural resources critic David McGuinty said.

Travis Davies, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said they share the view of Canadians that the world needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and that they are working hard to do their part.

NDP energy and natural resources critic Peter Julian said the government used the term out of convenience.

"When Mr. Harper was trying to gain power, he was much more sensitive to the need to develop clean energy here in Canada he was responding to what is a very

clear interest in the public for Canada to be a green energy developer."

Meanwhile Sandra Schwartz, vice president of policy advocacy with the Canadian Electricity Association, said that just because the terminology has potentially

shifted, she doesn't think the government's focus has changed from what it was four years ago.

"I think the focus has remained that Canada has an abundance of natural resources and those resources can be developed in an environmentally

responsible way."

Mike Deising, press secretary for Alberta's energy minister, wrote in an email that while he couldn't comment on the federal government's use of the term, they appreciate the federal government's efforts to talk about Canada's energy sector on a global level.

"The Alberta government continues to use every opportunity to position itself as global energy player that is committed to responsible development," Mr. Deising wrote.

The federal government did not respond to request for comment before press time.

Is Canada even an energy superpower'?

Meanwhile there is also an ongoing debate about even using the term "superpower" in connection to Canada's natural resources.

Mr. Cleland said he always thought the term was an "overreach," but that it does seem to have caught on among Canadians.

Russ Kuykendall is a former research fellow with Cardus and a former director of policy to a past natural resources minister. He said it is to Canada's advantage

to be known as a clean energy superpower.

"I think it's important that Canada leverage its energy natural resources and do so for the benefit of Canadians, the benefit of investors and for the benefit of the public treasury."

Meanwhile, Wenran Jiang, associate political science professor at the University of Alberta, said some academics are uneasy with labeling Canada an "energy superpower," because the word "superpower" has negative connotations to it, such as being associated to the Cold War era.

"When you define Canada as a superpower in relation to energy you have to use energy as some sort of economic, political tool to force people to assert


This is something Canada cannot achieve, he said.

Mr. Jiang, however, welcomed Mr. Harper depiction of Canada during a speech at the World Economic Forum on Nov. 7.

"Canada, on the one hand, is a natural-resources powerhouse," Mr. Harper said.

"I think that's more of a better way of describing Canada I think that is quite accurate and quite acceptable," Mr. Jiang said.

He said only time would tell whether the government was rephrasing how it wanted to characterize Canada and its natural resources and whether other ministers started picking up on the term.


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