Politics·Analysis

Stockwell Day: A plea to Canada's energy ministers

Canada's energy minister's shouldn't get bogged down seeking some overarching national strategy when provincial rules are already clear and the world needs our energy, Stockwell Day argues.

Don't get bogged down with a national energy strategy, provincial rules are already clear

Getting on with it? Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver (left) and his Alberta counterpart, Energy Minister Ron Liepert, at the close of the recent energy ministers conference in Kananaskis, Alta., on July 19, 2011. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Drawing deeply on his hand-rolled cigarette, the bearded thirtysomething next to me watched intently as the proceedings unfolded before us.

On stage, an engineer was proposing a safe approach to constructing the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline.

The year was 1976. I was living in Inuvik, in the N.W.T., learning what 50 below (without wind chill) felt like, and wondering how many weeks I could survive without seeing the sun.

Stockwell Day

Stockwell Day, a senior federal cabinet minister from 2006 to 2011, when he chose not to seek re-election, had been minister of public safety and international trade, as well as head of the Treasury Board. He is a regular contributor on the CBC's Power and Politicswith Evan Solomon.

The three-year-long Berger inquiry was in full swing and the Arctic mood was hopeful among many of my Dene and Inuit friends. They had visions of jobs and prosperity for themselves and their families for generations to come.

After 45 minutes of flow charts, seismic readings and painful detail on the chemical composition of muskeg, the professorial engineer mercifully took his seat.

The moderator then called for the scientist representing the environmental groups opposed to the other environmental groups who supported the pipeline. My seatmate rose.

Unlike the engineer, the PhD-equipped biologist was not equipped with notes, a presentation style I personally prefer.

He pointed out that in some places along the pipeline, where muskeg was problematic, engineers would build elevated sections at a height of about four metres or so.

This, he insisted, would be a threat to the caribou and reindeer.

"How so?" I wondered. As if reading my thoughts, he explained that during mating season, amorous males on the endless tundra might become distracted and be unable to perform if they were to glance heavenward at an important moment and espy a section of pipe.

On that ominous note, the good doctor returned to his seat and fired up another tailor-made.

Despite my lack of doctoral training in biology, I could safely conjecture that the presence of a section of overhead pipe would hardly be a deterrent to the intentions of a lovesick bull.

Nevertheless, the following day the media duly reported the threat to the caribou and reindeer herds if the project went ahead.

Obviously, this was not the only study in the Berger report. It is however a reminder that, as with any project, we must heed and consider only those studies that are backed by scientific fact and can stand up to the fullest scrutiny.

Valley of indecision

Now, forward to last week's meeting of ministers of energy and resources. They are struggling to find a pan-Canadian method to approve a variety of energy-related initiatives. I applaud their efforts but caution their optimism.

An attempt to develop a so-called national energy strategy is as noble as it is Herculean. But it is also fraught with the metaphorical muskeg that created such a quagmire in the Mackenzie Valley.

Consider this. By the tens of millions annually people in Asia are, thankfully, emerging from centuries of poverty and starvation. Notwithstanding the challenges of sporadic growth they are lurching towards middle-class status. They need and deserve the commodities, energy and technology to fully acquire the standard of living that we enjoy.

We already have the capability to get these precious goods and skills to them in ways that minimize environmental impact. And we are improving all the time.

But if we needlessly delay out of political paralysis these markets will acquire what they need from those parts of the planet less attuned to the protective measures we continue to develop. This would leave our own resources and talents un-mined.

Our next generation hopes for prosperity and adequately funded social programs: these hopes will fade while, ironically, harm to the global environment would increase.

My dear ministers, please allow the provinces to approve and move ahead with their projects in a more timely and reasonable fashion. The federal national emission guidelines are already in place. We cannot afford to become bogged down in another lost Mackenzie Valley of indecision.