The recent decision by the Obama administration to punt the Keystone pipeline to beyond the presidential election generated much debate on energy issues. Premier Redford did a swing through Washington and Ottawa just as the issue broke, adding to the excitement. From my perspective two issues emerged from the media coverage around these events.
First, it has becoming increasingly clear that our entire Canadian energy industry – particularly oil and gas, and particularly the oil sands producers – needs to take a good, long and thoughtful look in the mirror. This was much larger than merely a failure to communicate by TransCanada Pipelines and/or the Government of Canada. It was a general failure of our resource sector to face up to the hostile environment they find themselves in. One only has to look at the nuclear and coal industries to find examples (far from perfect) of industries that recognize their need to move public opinion to understand the merits of their case. Until recently we have seen very little of this from the oil and gas sector. This simply must change. With the growing glut of oil, and the current glut of gas, we cannot just presume that the world will come knocking at our door to buy our resources. We must responsibly develop those industries and aggressively promote them. That is the sentiment behind the third principle of the Alberta Blue Committee, namely that “Alberta’s resource sector is the most ethical, innovative and clean in the world.” This is intended to be both a declarative and an aspirational principle.
Second, in the midst of these discussions, Premier Redford began pushing for a “National Vision” or a “National Strategy” on energy. This made me nervous. Alberta fought for years to make natural resources a provincial jurisdiction and these words rhetorically cede some important ground that I don’t think we should be giving up. Besides, what exactly do we mean by “National Vision” or “Natural Strategy”? Whatever it is here in Alberta, I am almost certain that it is very different in PEI, Northern Ontario and especially in Quebec. So rather than embark down an unknown path towards a “National Vision” or “National Strategy” why don’t we pick a few things that need fixing, and fix them. Like streamlining environmental approvals so that we can get to one process for one project. Or doing a better job of coordinating our industrial and government lobbying efforts in Washington on critical projects like Keystone XL. Or promoting the merits of the oilsands not only in Canada, but around the world? None of these require a “National Vision” or a “National Strategy”. A very smart leader I worked for once said “A strategy is what you ask for when you don’t know what you want.” He also said “A strategist is someone who wants to talk about things instead of doing things.” He was right. Let’s do things to promote our industry, not just talk about doing things. And let us remember that, in Canada, natural resources are owned by the provinces.