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Any plan of any substance needs to be a plan in which Albertans see a reflection of themselves and the energy future they want

Bill-WhitelawEver hear an energy cricket chirp?

Not likely, because “hearing crickets” is a semantical stand-in for deafening silence.

And it’s silence of that magnitude which may be puzzling Albertans about what they aren’t hearing when it comes to the work of the five-person energy-future planning panel created with some fanfare several weeks ago.

It was a big deal for Premier Danielle Smith as she laid out her vision to ensure a vital and vibrant future for Alberta’s energy system.

Her hand-picked panel’s task, she proclaimed, is to engage Albertans on the key issues to create a master plan for how the province will forge into a future of both opportunities and challenges.

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Now, the panel – led by industry veteran analyst David Yager – may well be engaging with Albertans. After all, it is supposed to deliver its plan by the end of May. And Yager and fellow panellists Hal Kvisle, Carey Arnett, Bob Curran, and Phil Hodge know a lot of people. But there are a lot more people with a stake in Alberta’s energy future than this energy quintuplet knows.

So, while the five may be the right people for part of the purpose – in that they represent what might well be framed as Alberta’s conventional oil and gas sector – Alberta’s energy future will be about a whole lot more than just conventional drilling.

So, are they, in fact, the only right people a whole range of Albertans might be comfortable talking to about the complex, nuanced and often value-laden issues of energy systems beyond fossil fuels? There are no indigenous leaders on the panel; only one in five is a woman. There are no young professionals. Nor are there any representatives from the power or renewables sectors. There are no NGOs represented, and regional representation is notably absent. But downtown Calgary is there in spades.

So, it seems Albertans must contend with a panel whose representative imperfections will potentially provide a vision suffering from its self-inflicted myopia.

But that’s not the only issue.

The end of May will be here in the blink of an eye. And any plan of any substance needs to be a plan in which ALL Albertans can see a reflection of themselves and the energy future they want.


That’s a BHAG, as they say in corporate-speak: a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. But BHAGs often fail – and they often fail spectacularly.

But good luck trying to find any evidence – at least in the public sphere – that the panel is out there engaging and consulting away on its way to the BHAG. That means it’s also challenging to determine whether the panel’s obvious compositional limitations are even worrisome to members.

It’s a little disconcerting to think that the panel might be conducting its consulting and questioning in the shadows – away from anything that resembles public scrutiny at a time when the energy-future stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. And it’s doubly disconcerting to think Albertans have not been shown any kind of roadmap for the panel’s direction of travel, nor word of any mechanism by which they can input into the process – unless you happen to be someone or something favoured by one of the panel members or the premier.

Indeed, for all the noise the premier makes about Alberta’s energy sovereignty, there’s little indication she is hanging a big old “Suggestion Box” on her office door so she will pass along input to the panel.

So, no Suggestion Box. No broad-based call for public opinion. It seems more like a spy cell system reminiscent of the Cold War era. You knew you were in a cell – and you knew there were other cells – but you sure as heck didn’t get to know who or what was involved in the other cells.

With an election mere weeks away, Albertans ought to be fretting about their birthright’s future management. Life for the most part in this province is what it is – pretty darn good – because our energy system works for the people who own it – not the governments and regulators who are merely stewards Albertans appoint to run the system competently.

But this system and its health are under tremendous pressure. We’re moving full-steam ahead into times of profound complexity that will require policy, regulatory and innovation deftness like we have never experienced before.

So, to have a process purporting to deal with those times in which ordinary Albertans have no obvious sticky notes to have their say seems more than a bit ludicrous.

And with a provincial election stirring up the pot, one might expect a little thing LIKE A FUTURE ENERGY BLUEPRINT FOR ALBERTA to deserve a little more public exposure than it is receiving.

The panel may prefer the crickets approach, but a deafening roar is much more productive than a deafening silence.

Albertans, let’s make a little energy noise.

Bill Whitelaw is the Managing Director of Strategy & Sustainability with Geologic Systems.

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