An energy-independent Canada? Not so fast

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Last week, my colleague Matt Roth and I attended a speech at the Economic Club of Canada where Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, outlined his key policy priorities ahead of the upcoming election. Even though we are months away until the writ is dropped, Scheer has embarked upon a cross-Canada speaking tour in an attempt to try to raise his profile as he squares off against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While Scheer isn’t known to be a great orator -- labelled by some opponents as “Stephen Harper with a smile” -- what he said in his speech made national headlines and has a lot of people in the energy industry talking.

An energy-independent Canada in the next decade? That’s exactly what Scheer’s proposing should he become prime minister. This was a bold announcement, and likely well-received in parts of the country that have been hit hard by low oil prices and stalled construction of pipelines. With the recent election of Jason Kenney as Alberta premier, Scheer has a former colleague and ally he can lean upon in his quest to speed up pipeline development and make Canada energy-independent. While the idea of Canada no longer being reliant on foreign oil, particularly from troubled regions of the world, may be appealing, it’s not that easy. Just ask the current government.

This past spring, Ottawa invested billions of dollars in purchasing the Trans Mountain Pipeline from U.S.-based energy conglomerate Kinder Morgan. The deal was supposed to give the federal government more leeway to move the project along faster. Unfortunately for pipeline proponents, a court ruling in August put the brakes on the pipeline, which would move Alberta crude to the British Columbia coast for export. Now industry experts are eagerly awaiting Ottawa’s decision next month on whether it will move ahead with the nearly $10 billion dollar pipeline that’s also facing stiff opposition from environmental groups and B.C. Premier John Horgan’s NDP government. If Scheer thinks it’s possible to create a coast-to-coast energy corridor within the next decade, he may be in for a tough ride.

It’s not only the Liberals and the Conservatives who are making bold moves in the energy debate. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh recently declared full opposition to Trans Mountain after being on the fence about the issue. Echoing Horgan, Singh cited environmental concerns for his opposition to the pipeline. Singh also came out against fracking after voting to support LNG Canada’s $40 billion liquid natural gas export facility in northern B.C. While this may have been a politically driven decision in an attempt to bolster Singh’s environmental credentials against a rising Green Party that just took one of his party’s seats, it’s also another example of how divisive energy and pipeline politics have become.

Given the oil-and-gas sector makes up eight  per cent of Canada’s economy, there are a lot of competing interests and many companies looking to get a piece of the action. While some are applauding Scheer’s grand vision for an energy-independent Canada, it’s important that we not rush decisions of this magnitude, nor make them solely based on ideology.

Climate and energy policy must be guided by facts, and Canadian policy-makers and energy companies alike have an opportunity to lead by example in striking the right balance that benefits future generations not just at home, but around the world.