Friday, November 23, 2012

"Provincial intransigence" threatens national energy plan

A few of the premiers have rethought their opposition to Redford’s scheme. Others don’t want Alberta’s crumbs.

Their intransigence is costing Canadian the chance to make the best of a bad situation. (From "Alberta's national energy strategy looks good in hindhsight:Goar," by Carol Goar, Toronto Star, November 22, 2012, below)
Sometimes, and too often, this country seems unwilling to be a country.
For decades, interprovincial trade, including access to needed workers from one region when work was available in another, was a faint glimmer, compared to the north-south bountiful trade with the U.S. In politics, there is a saying, "follow the money" and discover what's going on.
Simply put, there is more money, more people and more opportunity in trading with the U.S., from a business perspective. However, from a national perspective, there is a need to think differently about the country, from too many perspectives.
Provincial permiers now meet, without the Prime Minister, who, according to former aid, Tom Flanagan appearing yesterday on CBC's Power and Politics, "does not like being the whipping boy of the premiers when they don't get their way." The brother of the retiring Ontario Premier, David McGuinty Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre, has dropped a proverbial regional, parochial bomb in Ottawa
by telling the Alberta members of the House of Commons to go back to Alberta.
Sun Media has just yesterday dug up some similar comments by Justin Trudeau, when, in a french-language interview in Quebec in 2010, he noticed that the Alberta view of Canada was not as good as the traditional view of Quebec prime minsters, including, naturally, his father, Pierre Trudeau. And, in the middle of a by-election in Calgary Centre, where the Liberal candidate is running a potentially successful campaign, neither of these comments is making his run any easier.
The younger Trudeau has already appeared in Alberta several times in his own quest for the Liberal leadership mantle, apologizing for his father's National Energy Plan of the 1970's as a mistake, in hopes of building some bridges between his own province, Quebec and Alberta, bridges that have never been more than the rope kind, and never lasting for more than the length of a leisurely dinner at the Windsor Arms Hotel, (as between Alberta and Ontario Premiers recently).
Quebec has just elected a sovereignist government under Premier Pauline Marois, whose political agenda includes some form of referendum to separate, if she can find a nano-second window for a favourable vote. The Maritime Provinces have collecctively and historically been the "poor" provinces, historically supported with transfer payments from Alberta and Ontario, the energy and manufacturing hobs of the country.
But that is changing and Ms Goar continues to argue for a national energy strategy that would benefit the whole country economically, but more importantly, would provide a metaphor for keeping the length and breadth of the country in clear view.
Canada is a country of regional variety, as former Prime Minister Joe Clark would say, a community of communities, with intrenched regional values, cultural habits and rituals and very little awareness of or regard for the rest of the country.
We do not have a national education office, department or minister, since health and education are strictly provincial powers, under the constitution. We do not have a national approach to very many policies, as, for example, health care, where now the federal government is strictly writing the cheque and the provinces are individually operating the systems, as they see fit, without national standards, expectations, benchmarks or even shared treatment modalities. We do not have a National Institute of Health, as the U.S. does, and with "provincial rights" trumping the national interest, federal politicians are much more able to and likely to plum the micro-mining of niche voting blocks, for their re-election, without anything more than "economic security and jobs" as a national vision and campaign slogan, without ever having to demonstrate their national success in achieving reasonable, transparent goals, in that single file.
"Provincial intransigence" is just another way of saying "the country isn't working as an integrated unity, not that every province and region has to do everything the same way, but there is such a thing as national priorities, and if the provincial premiers and the federal government are not interested in even talking about such a subject, there is little to no chance of a national energy approach which would benefit all regions of the country, demonstrate a degree of collaboration and co-operation and provide a national model of co-existence that is slightly more in depth than a common loonie, and a post office.
We are in danger of losing sight of a national treasure, "the entity called Canada," with an all-out attack by Ottawa, for budgetary cutting purposes, on the CBC, one of the few institutions, outside of the Supreme Court, that takes stitching the various component regions, and cultures and histories into something resembling what used to be an effective federal-provincial state
Alberta’s national energy strategy looks good in hindsight: Goar

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star, November 22, 2012
Canada’s premiers gave Alison Redford the cold shoulder when she proposed a national energy strategy 10 months ago. They saw no value in an alliance in which Alberta was the big player and they were all bit players. Some wanted nothing to do with the West’s “dirty oil.”
No one was more dismissive than Dalton McGuinty. “If I had my preference as to whether we have a rapidly growing oil and gas sector in the West or a lower dollar benefitting Ontario, I’ll tell you where I’d stand — with the lower dollar,” the premier said curtly.
A few months later, McGuinty’s innate courtesy prevailed. He hosted a two-hour working dinner for Redford at Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel and emerged to say the two were back on a friendly footing. “We have found a lot of common ground,” he said. “Among other things we are determined to ensure that Ontarians understand that they have a vested interest in the continuing growth and prosperity of Alberta.”
But it was too late to save Redford’s vision of a cross-Canada energy framework in which each region capitalized on its strengths — oil and gas, hydro, renewable power, refining capacity, manufacturing of high-tech equipment — and steered business to its neighbours. Too many obstacles had loomed, too much ill will had accumulated.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Alberta premier’s proposal looks more prescient than presumptuous.
Redford understood the boom-and-bust economy of the oilpatch better than her peers (and Prime Minister Stephen Harper). She knew the good times won’t last forever. She wanted to prepare for the day when the royalty revenues stopped pouring into her province’s coffers and Canada could no longer rely on its status as an “energy superpower” to guarantee unlimited economic growth.
The day hasn’t arrived, but Alberta’s prospects have dimmed. Demand for oil has fallen because of the global economic contraction, reducing both the price and the province’s royalty revenues. It is no longer clear when — or even whether — the United States will approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The odds of the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia ever getting built are extremely long. Several major oil companies have cancelled planned investments in the oilsands. And the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicts that the U.S. — which absorbs most of Canada’s oil exports — will be the world’s largest energy producer by 2020.
The impact of these forces is already being felt in Edmonton and Ottawa. Revenues have declined and deficit reduction timetables have been stretched out. Both governments are staring at the possibility that Alberta’s bitumen will remain landlocked.
Seen in this context, Redford’s national energy strategy — designed to sell Alberta’s oil in Canada — is a sensible backup plan.
But her province wouldn’t be the only beneficiary, as she tried to convince her peers in February:
• A steady inflow of western oil — which would be less expensive than imported petroleum — would make refineries in central and eastern Canada more competitive, inducing them to ramp up production and create jobs. A trans-Canada pipeline already exists (although the east-to-west flow would have to be reversed). New Brunswick Premier David Alward has endorsed the idea.
• Western oil producers, who already spend billions of dollars on equipment manufactured in Ontario, would need new and upgraded mining technology, experts to diagnose and fix problems, more trucks, tires, pumps, gauges and valves. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Ontario will reap an additional 10,000 oilsands-related jobs every year until 2035.
• The oilsands industry would look to every region for help in cleaning up its environmental record.
• And until the rest of the economy pulls out its four-year malaise, Alberta would supply a disproportionate share of the nation’s revenues.
A few of the premiers have rethought their opposition to Redford’s scheme. Others don’t want Alberta’s crumbs.
Their intransigence is costing Canadian the chance to make the best of a bad situation

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