The House

Premiers' clash leads to unprecedented energy agreement

There were heated discussions and tough words, but in the end the country's premiers managed to compromise and create the long-anticipated Canadian Energy Strategy. But can their various interests really coexist? The House is in St. John's this week for the Premiers' annual summer gathering.
A national energy strategy was the big item on the agenda during the annual summer meeting for Canada's premiers, held this year in St. John's. (The House/CBC News)

Despite heated discussions, tough words and "frank", "vigorous" debates, Canada's premiers compromised this week to create a long-anticipated national energy strategy.

The goal of the national strategy is to balance the promotion of a strong oil and gas industry with equally strong environmental protection — an objective Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne believes is realistic.

"Those two things are not mutually exclusive," Wynne said at the Council of the Federation closing press conference in St. John's July 17. "In fact, they must be complementary. That, to me, is the foundational work of this document."

The premiers are touting the new strategy as visionary and monumental, but how will the logistics of the energy deal work out as the provinces' individual interests invariably come into play?

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger acknowledged that striking the right balance could be difficult, but that an energy strategy for the country was necessary.

"We needed a strategy to move Canada forward," he told CBC Radio's The House. "At the time, a lot of people said it was impossible. It's not an easy issue for (oil-producing provinces), but they're showing an interest. We have to encourage them to be part of the solution."

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the main strength in the document is its very lack of details on just how individual provinces will achieve environmental goals such as reducing carbon emissions. 

"It allows for the flexibility for each jurisdiction to look at what they can reasonably do, while acknowledging their economic realities and their geographic realities," she told The House in a separate interview.

Critics of strategy: 'We're at a standstill' on climate change

But the lack of detailed commitments was a source of disappointment to Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental action organization.

"The problem is that the energy strategy itself is so vague that it's all things to all people," he told The House.

"What we would like to see are more commitments around climate change. We need numbers on the table in terms of carbon pollution decreases. When we don't have every premier in the country agreeing we need to reduce our carbon pollution in absolute terms, we're at a standstill."

Two provinces with an aligned approach to energy and the environment are Quebec and Ontario. Premiers Philippe Couillard and Kathleen Wynne's neighbourly friendship was on display this week in St. John's, where the two campaigned for a broad climate change plan as part of the Canadian Energy Strategy.

Couillard said he was proud of the provinces' work on the energy deal and specifically, the role that safety considerations for oil and gas transportation will play in future project approvals.

"Nothing in this strategy...allows us to cut corners in order to approve projects," he said.

"We realize that oil will move and has to move, but how should it move and what is the lesser impact on the environment? If you ask people in Megantic, they will have a very different perspective on the safety of rail transportation," Couillard said. 

Listen to the full episode of The House here.