Opinion: Canada Needs An Energy Plan

By Lee Loftus, Special To The Sun August 18, 2015

What Canada's premiers said in July is wrong - there are simple answers to developing a national energy strategy - but what's difficult is making tough decisions.

"There are no simple answers."

Canadian Energy Strategy, Canada's premiers

While the need for a Canadian energy strategy should be a key federal election issue for all political parties, it's not just a national version that's required.

British Columbia and regions of the province also require strategies tailored to demands each has, particularly as we contemplate the impact of huge liquefied natural gas plants and exports.

But give the premiers some credit because at least they made an honest effort to fashion a document addressing one of the country's most pressing needs.

Unfortunately, the federal Conservative government has simply shrugged its shoulders and walked away, leaving the provinces, energy sector and companies to ponder the future without any national guidance. At a time when fighting climate change and the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are paramount, that's an abdication of responsibility and it's also counterproductive.

Scandinavian countries have pointed the way, with Norway sitting on a near $1-trillion oil fund, worth about $177,000 per Norwegian.

Canada's energy sector is significant, providing almost 10 per cent of our gross domestic product and more than 280,000 direct jobs and many more supporting the industry.

In other words, it's too big and too important to ignore.

At the same time, Canadians are taking sides on the symptoms of the energy challenge - pipelines, hydraulic fracturing, mining, oilsands - without looking at the root cause.

Whether it's the proposed Enbridge or Kinder Morgan pipeline, coal ports, fracking or oil tankers, the argument reverts to the old jobs versus the environment conundrum.

But the real root cause of the problem is that we have no energy plan and no strategy to resolve the seeming contradictions. So it's time to stop the wild, wild west approach, stop shooting from the hip and start planning for a different energy future.

The energy sector is currently the national equivalent of local urban sprawl, such as cities awash with quickly built strip malls and miles of highways connecting them without forethought. Yet everyone agrees the world must move to dramatically cut greenhouse gases.

The G7 nations - including Canada - pledged recently to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2100, an 85-year timeline but also a difficult task, given that world energy consumption is expected to rise 56 per cent by 2040, with nearly 80 per cent supplied by fossil fuels.

Think back 85 years: what were world leaders planning in the midst of the Great Depression in 1930 for 2015? That's the kind of daunting timeline the G7 is talking about.

Will every car in the world by 2100 be a Tesla or other electric vehicle? Will millions of workers be out of a job because we didn't plan for a huge transition? The answers are yes and maybe. These are enormous challenges and to arrive there depends on planning and strategy, not highsounding promises from politicians who won't be around to deliver in 85 years.

That planning has to happen at all three levels of government - federal, provincial and municipal - if we are to succeed. LNG is a good example of potential problems. We already have skilled worker shortages leading to temporary foreign worker concerns, environmental and First Nations issues with LNG.

It's essential B.C. not let LNG create a new Fort McMurray, an oilsands capital without adequate services for workers or community planning.

With planning, rules that apply to all LNG companies and a government commitment to defend B.C. workers, we don't need to.

Labour has a challenge too.

It needs to understand what a low-carbon economy means while engaging environmentalists so they understand the jobs concern.

Canada has a bigger challenge because between 1990 and 2013, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions rose by 18 per cent.

So it's time for a national energy plan that works - and provincial and municipal plans too - because all the science says we are running out of time.

Lee Loftus is business manager of the B.C. Insulators union Local 118 and president of the B.C. Building Trades.

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