Looking for leadership from our energy ministers

Published in the Charlottetown Guardian, September 11, 2012.

As the Energy Ministers converge to Charlottetown this week, much needed discussions on the plan to provide energy security to all Canadians can resume.

Over the summer, the Premiers gave the energy ministers a mandate to craft a Canadian energy strategy. The premiers made it clear that this strategy must address climate change and reduce emissions. They also recognized the importance of renewable energy, greater energy efficiency and conservation.

It’s about time we developed an energy strategy, for the sake of our economy and our environment. With one caveat, of course: this strategy cannot be based on the narrow interests of the oil companies.

A strategy based on oil would create too few jobs and too many emissions.

And there is reason to worry that this could be the case.

Big Oil is largely responsible for initiating this conversation. They presented their vision for an energy strategy at the energy ministers’ conference last year in Alberta. And, to be fair, their proposal wasn’t all bad. They called for regulatory reform, market diversification, increased energy literacy, and more conservation.

Unfortunately, the last two, energy literacy and increased conservation, appear to have been a cover for their plan to get more unprocessed oil to the coast and ultimately to China via the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and other similar projects.

We fully understand the importance of oil, and we know that we’ll continue to use fossil fuels for some time to come. But we need to talk seriously about changing the way we produce and use energy. 

Luckily the Premiers, not the Feds, are in control of energy policy, and they understand that “full speed ahead” in the oil sands is not an energy strategy.

The Premiers know that we need to cut emissions, and they know that by building more renewable energy, by doing more to conserve energy, and by dealing with transportation, they can not only cut emissions but also create thousands of jobs. They know that the line Big Oil has been peddling about having to choose between the environment and the economy, between creating jobs and cutting emissions is entirely ridiculous.

Premier Robert Ghiz knows this. The PEI government committed to doubling its wind energy capacity to 33% of the provinces’ total energy supply, cutting emissions and creating jobs.

Ontario knows this as well. Its Green Energy Act has already created thousands of new jobs in renewable energy manufacturing and has allowed the province to phase out coal.

Manitoba knows this, and their plans for energy efficiency are saving people money, creating jobs and dealing with climate change.

Even Alberta premier Alison Redford put forward a vision for an energy strategy that recognizes the importance of renewables, addresses conservation, and makes the link between energy and climate change.

The Premiers understand what is at play. They have given their ministers the mandate to get it done. So, the ball is now in the energy minister’s court. It’s up to them to deliver on the promise made by the Premiers to develop an energy strategy that cuts emissions and creates jobs.

No one is talking about closing down the oil sands today. That wouldn’t be fair to the thousands of people who work there, and it wouldn’t be good for the economy. But we do need to talk about how we can engage in a just transition to a low-carbon society with the well-being of our communities at heart.

The oil companies would have us believe that they are our only hope. But the Premiers and their ministers know it isn’t so. Now it’s time for them to do something about it and to show some real leadership.

Dave Coles is the National President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union of Canada (CEP). CEP represents over 110,000 members in several key sectors of Canada’s economy, including forestry, telecommunications, media and over 35,000 members in the energy sector.

Dr. Rick Smith is the executive director of Environmental Defence and co-author of the bestselling book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck:  How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health.”