Skip to content

NEWS: Redford’s call for a ‘Canadian energy strategy’ prompts rebuff from McGuinty

Alberta premier Alison Redford’s call for a ‘Canadian energy strategy’ has hit a snag.

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported, “Ms. Redford had suggested Ontario should be a more vocal advocate for oil-sands development, on the grounds that related businesses benefit Ontario’s economy. That met with a rebuff on Monday from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said Canada’s high ‘petro dollar’ has hobbled exporters in his province.”

“Ms. Redford cites a study that says Ontario’s economy is the second-largest beneficiary from the production of the gooey bitumen. The Canadian Energy Research Institute says Ontario is expected to see $63-billion in economic spinoffs and 65,520 oil-sands-related jobs between 2010 and 2035. (But) Mr. McGuinty rejected that assertion, saying the harm caused by the high Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. greenback far outweighs any spin-off benefits Ontario might derive from Alberta’s oil and gas sector. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development supports his stance. It says Canada has entered into a form of the dreaded ‘Dutch disease’, whereby the increase in exploitation of natural resources is leading to a decline in manufacturing.”

According to other news reports, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce says Canada has lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs, most of them in Ontario, since 2001; some, but not all of that, due to the high dollar. And the Toronto Star editorial board has pointed out that the 65,000 jobs Redford highlights is over a 25-year period, and so, they say, really just 2,600 jobs a year.

“The latest tensions threaten to pit Mr. McGuinty not only against other leaders in Western Canada (including Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall who has endorsed Redford’s call for a national energy strategy) but also the federal government, to which he made a pointed reference on Monday when mentioning Ottawa’s support of Alberta’s oil-sands sector and comparative neglect of his province’s ambitious green-energy plans. Responding to Mr. McGuinty’s remarks, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told reporters, ‘The oil sands are a valuable asset for the entire country, from coast to coast to coast, including Ontario’.” But as for supporting a national energy strategy, when asked for his views on this in early-January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated, “the honest truth is I don’t know precisely what it means.”

And while later in the week McGuinty still refused to endorse the tar sands, he stated, “I think where we can make common cause, if we talk about a national energy strategy, is I’d like…that to officially include a clean-energy strategy and the work that we’re doing here in Ontario. I’d like to broaden the vision, so it’s one that we can all share across the country.” This has variously been reported as McGuinty offering “an olive branch” or stepping back from his earlier statements, but it also appears clear that Redford wanted a fuller change in position than this.

While calling on McGuinty to take the higher ground, the Toronto Star editorial board commented, “Redford can’t just demand national support. Her province must earn it by developing the oil sands in a balanced way, boosting environmental protections and ensuring the substantial economic benefits go beyond Alberta’s borders. …The facts are irrefutable: the vast majority – an estimated 94 per cent – of economic benefits from the oil sands remain in Alberta. The booming oil and gas sector has contributed mightily to the high Canadian dollar. That has damaged Ontario’s traditional strength in manufacturing. …Every new job is a good thing, but let’s keep this in context. Ontario’s auto sector employs 400,000 people, the IT sector more than 270,000 and bio-tech involves some 43,000 jobs.”

Competing visions of a Canadian energy strategy
In January 2012, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote, “When industry and business groups talk about a national energy strategy, they mean a concerted push to expand sales of Canadian oil abroad, together with the regulatory approvals needed to make it happen at home: a big broom to sweep away local objections to energy infrastructure projects, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline… But when labour and environmental groups talk about a national energy strategy, they mean policies to reduce Canada’s use of fossil fuels, whether through conservation or alternative energy sources.”

In June 2011, the Victoria Times Colonist reported, “The Council of Canadians seeks a national energy strategy to serve two purposes: to ensure the stability of supply to Canadians, and also to set out a plan to wean the country off its dependence on non-renewable fuel sources. ‘One of the points the council has been very clear on and continues to be clear on is that not only does Canada not have an energy plan, we’ve actually relinquished a lot of our control in the energy sector through free trade agreements like NAFTA, to the markets and to the interests of big oil and we find that problematic,’ said Andrea Harden-Donahue, energy and climate justice campaigner for the council. ‘We would say that any plan needs to be balanced with environmental protections concerning the production, transportation and consumption of energy,’ she said, adding: ‘We are very wary and would oppose a strategy that allows business as usual — namely, the pursuit of an energy superpower status through increased exports to the U.S. based on unfettered ongoing fossil-fuel exploitation. The social and environmental costs of this we’re really seeing now, particularly in the tar sands.’”