Here’s a lesson on how to tank an initiative.
The head teacher: federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.
The initiative: Generation Energy, a conference this week in Carr’s hometown of Winnipeg to which his ministry invited individuals and organizations interested in constructive dialogue about Canada’s energy future.
It’s a sound idea. Tensions around energy are dividing Canadians in polarizing and paralyzing ways, so the concept of civil face-to-face dialogue is refreshing.
That is, until you disenfranchise an entire sector that’s central to making the concept of rational conversation work. Then the idea of balanced and objective discourse falls flat with a resounding thud.
That’s what happened last week with TransCanada’s decision not to proceed with its Energy East and Eastern Mainline pipeline projects.
No one who watches energy affairs was surprised. You could hear the coffin nails being driven into the projects when the National Energy Board recently announced it would consider increased emissions production as part of the regulatory approval process.
Carr’s contention that Energy East would be considered under the same conditions as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the West Coast is political bobbing and weaving of the first order.
The uncertainty over emissions volumes attached to projects helps cement Canada’s global reputation as a place where stuff doesn’t happen unless it suits a small and clamorous minority.
There’s political hypocrisy in claiming to support a sector while creating conditions to punish that sector.
Worse is the startlingly glib and disingenuous way Carr tried to distance himself from the consequences of the company’s announcement, describing it baldly as a “business decision.”
No sane company would proceed with a project whose fate is already signed, sealed and delivered.
TransCanada has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into Energy East in the belief that it was working in an environment conducive to success. It wasn’t asking for a free regulatory ride, just the the kind of governing consistency that makes economies work well.
So Generation Energy is unlikely to be either festive or productive.
Sure, the oil and gas upstream and midstream sectors will show up.
But also in attendance will be too many representatives of those opposing constituencies who generate white noise disproportionate to those in society they claim to represent.
Somehow they’re able to catch the right political ears, so these folks will arrive in Winnipeg believing they have the upper hand on the petroleum sector. And they’ll keep pushing their objective of a fossil fuel-free future.
Oil and gas representatives will nod politely and leave the conference with the confirmation that there’s just no talking to some folks.
What should have been a positive opportunity to shape Canada’s energy future will instead go down as just another tepid affair where nothing is accomplished.
Call it De-Generation Energy instead.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.
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