A new national energy strategy plan meant to make Canada a "centre for clean energy innovation" is drawing the interest of federal, provincial and territorial energy ministers, CBC News has learned.
Broadly speaking, the strategy, which has yet to be named, would also strengthen ties between the various levels of government by encouraging voluntary co-operation on energy conservation and environmental protection.
"It's a good framework for moving forward," Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert said Wednesday.
His counterpart in British Columbia, Bill Bennett, also said the ministers "respect the work that's been done."
Bruce Carson, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who now co-chairs the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), presented the strategy to the country's energy ministers at their annual meeting in September, in Montreal. Carson's co-chair at EPIC, David Emerson, served as the Liberal Party's industry minister from 2004 to 2005, under former prime minister Paul Martin.
"There's very good people," Bennett told CBC News. "David Emerson is a British Columbian. We have a high regard for him. So we're very interested in pursuing the discussion."
Consequences of no strategy
Without a new strategy, Canada "might lose the opportunity to be leaders in the world," Carson told CBC News.
"I think that going forward with a coherent strategy, then one sector of the energy sector relates to another ... and it would allow us to really take on the world leadership role that we could possibly [have]," he said.
"Without a strategy, everything that's announced by government, everything that industry does, is always just a one-off. If you've got a strategy, you could make your energy efficiency announcement relate to international trade, relate to demand-side economics, relate to other parts of the energy sector and other parts of the Canadian economic and social sector."
"It impacts our global competitiveness," said Marlo Raynolds, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental think tank.
"It impacts our ability to meet our commitments to reduce pollution. So it's vital that we have a strategy from an economic and an environmental perspective."
The still-nascent strategy was born in April out of the Banff Clean Energy Dialogue, a three-day conference in Banff, Alta. The conference included leaders, environmentalists and analysts, including representatives of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, the Energy Framework Initiative, the Canada Council of Chief Executives and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. It purposely excluded government representatives.
"We really felt, given the history around this public policy theme, that it really had to start from outside government," Carson said.
History, environment present challenges
Energy policy has not always had an easy ride in Canada.
In 1980, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program, which sought to solidify Canada's ownership of its domestic oil industry, secure its energy resources and redistribute oil revenues throughout the country
Western Canadian — Albertans, in particular — argued vociferously against the NEP, saying it trampled their provincial rights and aimed simply to transfer oil wealth from the West to central and eastern Canada. The measure was repealed in 1984.
Since then, national and provincial governments have been wary about discussions about energy strategy.
Discussions have also been avoided because of the huge implications any energy strategy would have for Canada's environmental policies — something that is not lost on those who support the new strategy.
"For Canada to truly become a world clean energy leader is going to take big changes and big investment," said Stewart Elgie, an environmental law professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the participants in April's conference.
"Part of it will require putting a price on carbon emissions to help drive and fund that investment," he said.
'A big rock to push uphill'
Working in the strategy's favour is the endorsement of other high-profile former civil servants and politicians such as former clerk of the Privy Council Mel Cappe and John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister.
EPIC also has strong backing, from some of the biggest names in Canada's energy industry, including EnCana, TransAlta, Irving Oil and Suncor Energy.
Energy ministers hope to have something more detailed — and thereby more saleable — to discuss at their 2011 annual meeting next summer in Kananaskis, Alta.
"In order for Canadians to buy into a strategy, they need to see exactly what this is going to look like," Liepert told CBC News. "You need to be able to feel and touch it. And that's the work we are going to try and get to over the next several months."
"I think there is a fair degree of skepticism amongst all the provinces and territories and probably at the federal level as well because this is a big rock to push uphill," Carson acknowledged.
"On the other hand, any test like this is probably worth doing and doing well."