Barely audible in the political storm over the Northern Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, are two voices arguing for the same thing, missing so far in the calculations of what to do with Canadian crude from the tar sands.
Their names are Gordon Laxer, a professor and former premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed. They are both asking why Canada is not refining the crude before shipping it.
And the question bears reflection.
We know that shipping refined crude is less expensive that shipping the heavier product. We also know that Canada has the opportunity to "feed itself first" in energy, in order to bring the two halves of the country onto the same page at least on this file. The western half of Canada gets its energy from the western provinces. Ontario gets its energy, originally from the west, transported to the U.S. where it is refined and then imported back into Ontario. Quebec and the Maritimes gets most of their energy from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The Prime Minister has told CBC news that he is not interested in making Canada "energy self-sufficient" preferring to let market forces play that game. Yet, at the same time, he is singing like a warbler to anyone who will listen that he wants to create jobs.
Well, by refining our own crude and making it available to all our provinces, we would do two things:
develop a model of energy self-sufficiency that demonstrated our capacity to solve our own problems, while at the same time bringing the country a little more together on this important file
and also creating thousands of Canadian jobs in both refining and distribution that could last.
But more important to this prime minister are "market forces"...code words for letting his political base have free reign in managing the industry. The national interest plays no part in the discussion, so far as this prime minister is concerned.
Once, Conservative politicians in Canada saw a need for a national railway to link the country. Others, later conceived of the notion of a national radio network, created the CBC and provided an additional and important link across the vast terrain. Perhaps this generation of Canadian conservative political leaders could also take a page from their history books and develop a national energy program, in spite of the west's contempt for such an approach under Pierre Trudeau, who even went so far as to purchase a national energy company, PetroCanada, something the west saw then and sees today as socialism, in the mild version, and communism in the more contemptuous version.
Provincial politicians are all facing budget problems, (except of course Alberta where the energy is being recovered) and the more Canadian leadership can and does do to enhance the linkage of all provinces and territories, while at the same time reducing the impact of this recession, and evidence yesterday from CIBC that Canadian jobs are losing both stability and wage levels, as they slip further into the temporary and unskilled variety, leaving few opportunities for permanent and skilled work for Canadians.
A national energy strategy would not eliminate the market, but merely work within the market to achieve national goals as well. We do not have to today, just as we did not have to in the part, worship exclusively at the altar of "private enterprise" without developing our national interests. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.