The forgotten election issue—Canada’s energy security

Canadians are being bombarded withelection promises regarding just about everything, except the most importantissue facing our nation-energy security.  

In the wake of Katrina and spiking oilprices, it seems that the doomsday prophesies of the peak oil crisis are playing out as power struggles over the most fundamental pillar of the American Empire-fossilfuels.

So why aren’t Canadian politicianstalking about our national energy security when these issues are highlighted influorescent by current events.

There is alittle known fact that underlies growing concerns of decreasing domesticsupplies of oil and gas. This little tidbit is found in Article 605 of NAFTA,which has Canada locked intoexporting current levels of oil and gas to the U.S. even if weface domestic shortages.

With peaking (or peaked?) supplies ofboth of gas and oil, (yes even with the tar sands), Canadamust look at both securing domestic supplies for its own uses and conservingenergy. To accomplish either, Canada must firstregain control over energy supply and usage. Perhaps we should follow theexamples of our NAFTA partners.

Gordon Laxer of ParklandInstitute points out in a recent Globe and Mail Op-Ed, that Canadais the only one of the NAFTA signatories without an energy security strategy.

Both Canadaand Mexicoexport substantial amounts of crude oil to the US,whereas flows in the other direction are minor or nil. The Mexicans ensuredtheir own sovereignty by exempting themselves from NAFTA’s energyproportionality provisions in times of shortage. Unfortunately, Canadian tradenegotiators have voluntarily bound Canadato the short end of the stick, or should it be siphon?

Because of NAFTA’s proportionalityrules (Article 605), Canadais locked into exporting 70% of our oil and 56% of our gas to the U.S.,even if these supplies are dwindling on our side of the border. NAFTA ‘s rulesmay appease the short-term interests of exporting corporations and producingprovinces, but it puts Canadain an incredibly vulnerable position.

With such embarrassing behaviorfrom our trade negotiators, maybe it’s time for Canadians to be consideringjust how cold our winters are going to get, despite global warming, if Canadadoesn’t stand up to defend itself in relation to its southern neighbor.

So what are the parties saying?Well…virtually nothing.  

The Liberalssing Kyoto praises, andhave promised public transit and wind power. Yet buoyed by the windfallprofits of its corporate supporters, Mr. Martin’s Liberals have been cheeringon all the export driven oil and gas mega projects it can find. Notsurprisingly, Mr. Martin and the Liberals never mention supply security fearingthe legacy of Trudeau’s reviled National Energy Strategy.  Meanwhile, Ralph Klein and his Albertacronies set de facto Canadian energy policy.  

TheConservatives also avoid mentioning supply security, perhaps because their coreAlberta supporters aregetting rich on Alberta and Ottawa’scurrent export driven policies. Instead they offer tax credits for transit users,funds for environmental cleanup, and a review (more likely the gutting) of Kyoto.

The BlocQubcois, while silent on supply security issues, has been aggressivelypromoting alternatives. They favour Kyoto, promotepolluters pay, support wind power, and taxing oil profits.

The NDP has suggestedusing oil as leverage against the U.S. softwoodlumber, regardless of NAFTA while emphasizing the potential jobs created frommoving toward renewables.

While Mr. Layton’swell intentioned but nave suggestion on energy retaliation (slapping royaltieson energy exports in compensation for the softwood lumber losses), added morewood to the not-so-fiery debate, it accidentally shed much needed light on NAFTA’sproportionality clause.

Consumption is going up (gas usehas increased by 11% and oil by 13% since 1997); while production is dropping (Canadahas reached peak on gas production and is close to peaking in oil). Thesetrends, combined with the “export first, domestic second” rules of NAFTA, leaveCanadasusceptible to supply crunches… especially if a disruption limits globalsupply.

Based on their statements to date, ourpolitical leaders seem to have no plans to keep us from freezing in the dark.

So where does that leave Canadaand its citizens?  

Well, Gordon Laxer suggests thatwe start by gaining control of our own energy supply. Either we demand aMexican-like energy exemption, or walk away from NAFTA all together. Seeingthat this trade agreement- negotiated by the Conservatives and nursed by theLiberals- was breached by the USin the softwood battle, perhaps a unilateral exit is plausible. However, the corporatefriendly Liberals and pro-U.S. Conservative’s are unlikely to have the spine toeven consider this.  

Laxer also suggests the DinningPrinciple (making sure that all Canadians are taken care of before we export surplus),slowing down the frenetic pace of the tar sands (a very wise choice as weexplore more sustainable alternatives), and raising royalties to account forthe true value of nature’s non-renewable capital (which means, according to NAFTA,that any higher charged price for exports must be the same price chargeddomestically).

Most of all, Canadaneeds its leaders to have some guts. We can’t just keep pointing the fingerexpecting others to take care of us. If we are going to talk about sovereignty,we should start with energy security. If walking away from NAFTA isn’t palatable(now?) , then we should be vigorously exploring the feasibility of a moresustainable, self-sufficient energy framework while weaning ourselves off ofenergy intensive lifestyles (and paying for the true value of natural andsocial capital).

There is no better time to beasking about the true intentions of our politicians, seeing that a federalelection is just around the corner.

And for that matter, it’s abouttime that we demand discussions about the security of our own energy supplies.This should be the foundation of any deliberations on further integratingCanada-US relations.

So as we gear up to head to thepolling stations on January 23, perhaps increased conservation and more energysecurity should be at the forefront of our thoughts.

Who do we really feel earns thisconfidence vote?

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