Now that Alberta wants one, will Canada get a national energy policy at last?

Nov 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

Alberta Premier Alison Redford brings oil sands pitch to Economic Club of Canada in Toronto, November 16, 2011. Darren Calabrese/National Post.

It is more than 30 years since the ill-fated National Energy Program (NEP) in Canada began — and more than 25 years since it ended. So even the few in the most populous province who have bumped into the recent Vancouver Sun article headlined “Alberta premier tries to build bridges with Ontario on energy policy … ‘We need to put all old antagonisms behind us’,” may not remember the Western-Eastern bad old days in the first half of the 1980s.

It may also be true enough in some respects that, as the current Wikipedia entry on the subject urges, “it is plausible the NEP had a negative effect in Alberta” — above and beyond the broader  “worldwide recession” of the early 1980s, which (long before our current malaise) “would turn out to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

Ralph Klein, Mayor of Calgary and then Premier of Alberta in an earlier era: “Let those eastern bastards freeze in the dark.”

Back in Old Ontario, however, at least many greying heads who still do remember those bad old days still see the virulent rejection of the NEP out west, and especially in oil-and-gas-rich Alberta, as a sign that any kind of “national energy policy” in Canada from coast to coast to coast was (and still is?) a practical impossibility. We “eastern bastards” just have to fend for ourselves on this front. Our western brothers and sisters are only really interested in the much bigger American market down south. (Which, to be fair, is also where most of the automobiles made in Ontario were going by the early 1980s — contrary to another ancient regionalist mythology about Central Canadian depredations in the wider confederation of the far north.)

So … it is no doubt encouraging that, at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto this past Wednesday,  Alberta Premier Alison Redford “received a standing ovation both as she entered the ballroom and finished her speech from an audience that included former Liberal prime minister John Turner and former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice of Calgary, now a senior executive at CIBC.”  And it was another good sign when “lawyer Robert Prichard — the former president of the University of Toronto” called Ms. Redford’s speech “the most thoughtful and cogent explanation of Alberta’s position and the need for a national approach on environment and energy that I’ve heard in a generation.”

Former media executive and University of Toronto president Robert Prichard : Premier Redford’s Economic Club talk was “the most thoughtful and cogent explanation of Alberta’s position” in a generation.

At the same time, “University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman, who studies provincial politics” in Ontario (and originally hails from Manitoba) was also onto something, in our view, when he expressed some scepticism about what may or may not be some new national energy policy dispensation, on either side of the bad old Alberta-Ontario divide. We have already voiced our own scepticism on such matters a few months ago on this site, in a somewhat rambling note entitled “Ontario’s oil security .. a looming issue (almost) no one is talking about in the October 6 election campaign?

To make a long story as short as we can (for the moment), it is still all too easy for too many Old Ontario observers to remember the “old antagonisms” that Premier Redford now wants to put “behind us” — in the wake of President Obama’s disappointing postponement of any firm decision on the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta to Texas, until after the 2012 US election.

Alberta energy policy analyst Peter Tertzakian — among whose many achievements has been an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the USA.

If we really are going to get behind some new “national approach on environment and energy,” many in this part of the country are going to want to hear a bit more from the very interesting energy policy analyst who was raised in Edmonton and now lives in Calgary, and who explained to the Globe and Mail this past summer that “Oil trade leaves Eastern Canada vulnerable …As a result of the current pipeline configuration, western Canadian oil companies are receiving deeply discounted prices for their crude in the Midwest US market, while refiners in Ontario and Quebec are paying top international prices … Peter Tertzakian …  chief economist with Calgary-based ARC Financial Corp … estimates Canada is paying $4.6-billion more a year for crude than it would if western Canadian oil was piped across the country.”

And every time we see someone like Tom Flanagan on CBC TV, wildly casting aspersions on the Canadian patriotism of anyone who does not blindly fall into line behind the narrow regional economic interests of the Alberta (and maybe, a little, Saskatchewan?) oil patch, on the Keystone Pipeline issue and all that, we just roll our eyes, over and over again — and remember the last time we read such articles as “Ontario pays price in jobs as loonie rises on tide of oil.”

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  1. […] Ontarians were pretty negative about the Albertans, because it was popular in Alberta to say “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark“, at the time of Trudeau’s National Energy Program. They decided to give me a break, […]

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