Thursday, November 15, 2012

Canada: Give Muclair's energy proposal a full hearing

But the net effect of supplying Eastern consumers with cheaper Western oil would be closer to a less celebrated federal initiative — Pierre Trudeau’s late and unlamented National Energy Program. (From John Ivison's piece, "Thomas Mulcain offers Alberta an updated version of a bad idea," National Post, November 14, 2012, below)
While there is no doubt that Albertans continue to complain about the Trudeau NEP (National Energy Plan) and its economic impact on their province. Nevertheless, that was then, and this is now!
When is this country, and its people, and its organizations and its government going to unshackle itself from elements of its past that were not perfectly pleasing to one section of the country, seemingly imposed by the federal government, dominated by another part of the country? (And that includes its reporters and columnists!!)
To colour Mulcair's proposal with the crayons used by Alberta to characterize the Trudeau plan is to fail to grasp the differences between today and yester-decade, or was that another century?
Mr. Ivison may well be writing on behalf of his paper's political/editorial position (tilting significantly in support of the Harper government's penchant for foreign sales of Canadian crude) in trashing the Mulcair concept of sharing Canadian energy with Canadians. However, in a world beset with the kind of political and terrorist turbulence that continues to impact world energy prices, energy transportation costs and the potential impact on the environment, not to mention the need for energy supplies in eastern Canada and the capacity to refine crude in eastern refineries, Mulcair's proposal merits full consideration by all Canadians, including especially the people of Alberta.
This is a country too much bound by "old resentments" and "old regional conflicts" and "policies and personalities that represent those old wounds, myths, injustices and even dreams. While remarkably we have "muddled through" as Arthur Lower reminds us, and created a nation of considerable merit, in many fronts, we have also missed significant opportunities to do more and do it better, often because our political landscape is so fraught with mine fields, divisive, even racial politics and the politics of niche marketing, as more information has become available on more potential voters in every neighbourhood.
One of the advantages of considering the Mulcair proposal, and this piece does not pretend to have researched its fine points, nor has Mr. Mulcair probably done all the fiscal, political, economic and engineering projections, is that the country could benefit from a national program that benefits all Canadians.
We all know about the conflict between British Columbia and Alberta about the potential costs of an environmental accident should the Northern Gateway Pipeline be approved. We also know that the U.S. government is dragging its feet on approvals for the Keystone pipeline from Alberta to Taxas refineries.
And the thrust of both of those realities could potentially forge a public debate that would give a full airing to Mulcair's proposal, in the academic, environment and investment communities, as well as the federal and provincial capitals where politics in conjunction with the media coverage, will eventually coalesce around a national decision based on the disclosure and study of the merits.
And that exercise, in itself, would serve the country in bringing sound and visionary minds to bear on a national question that is not going away, in spite of Mr. Ivison's attempt to ridicule it in its incubator.
John Ivison: Thomas Mulcair offers Alberta an updated version of a bad idea
By John Ivison, National Post, November 14, 2012
Tom Mulcair cast himself as a latter-day Sir John A. Macdonald when he talked in Calgary about his vision of Western Canada oil being shipped by pipeline to central and eastern provinces to be processed and then sold domestically.
It would be a nation-building project on a par with railway construction in the 1800s, “a win-win situation,” he said.
But the net effect of supplying Eastern consumers with cheaper Western oil would be closer to a less celebrated federal initiative — Pierre Trudeau’s late and unlamented National Energy Program.
Mr. Mulcair was not specific and it’s not clear how much government intervention in the process he is proposing. But if he is talking about landlocking Canadian oil and supporting the domestic refining industry with discounted Western crude, it starts to look very much like a back-door transfer from one group of Canadians to another.
The New Democratic Party leader said he is not opposed to exporting Canadian oil, as long as the country’s own energy needs are taken care of first.
Ottawa’s command and control of the oil industry didn’t end so well last time out: Albertans still blame the federal government for a 40% drop in house prices in Calgary and Edmonton, and a bankruptcy rate that rose 150%.
Given the entrenched opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would export oil sands’ crude from British Columbia’s Pacific coast, the idea of a west-east pipeline has gained currency.
Some of the infrastructure already exists and there are proposals to pipe Western crude as far east as Saint John, N.B. Enbridge Inc. has applied to reverse the flow of its pipeline between Ontario and Montreal to facilitate the movement of Alberta crude to the East.
This is an entirely viable Plan B, if the Northern Gateway fails to win the necessary support. From Saint John, the oil could be exported to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast or even processed locally.
The Irving Oil refinery there already processes imported oil, which costs $22 a barrel more than the price producers get in the West. Lower input costs would make the refinery industry in central and eastern Canada more competitive, according to industry exports like Roger McKnight, senior petroleum analyst at En-Pro International.

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