Keystone debate pushes Canada’s energy policy in new direction – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – November 22, 2011)

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The United States’ administration treated the Keystone XL pipeline as a political inconvenience. Environmental organizations painted it as the tipping point between a future based on fossil fuels and one based on green energy. The oil industry wanted it to support its growth agenda.

Now it’s Canada’s turn to decide what Keystone XL stands for. Most likely, it will be about putting Canada first. Whether that suits any of the above is secondary.

Jim Prentice, the former senior federal Cabinet minister, said Keystone XL’s regulatory review process and its ultimate deferral by U.S. President Barack Obama were a transformational moment for the country on the necessity to open new markets for its biggest export commodity, oil.

The transformation has been so deep he contends it has pushed Canadian energy policy in a new direction.

Eighteen months ago, it would have been controversial for Canada to suggest its future was anything other than as a dependable supplier to the United States. Today, even Americans don’t say that and Canada has been driven into the international energy market place.

“What has happened over the course of the Keystone debate is that it has galvanized Canadians into a consensus that we must have West Coast access because we can’t have a single customer if we are going to fulfill our potential as an energy producer and exporter,” Mr. Prentice, now vice-chairman of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said in an interview Monday ahead of a speech in Edmonton.

There is a compelling reason for Canadians to support the vision: They are in the midst of an energy infrastructure super-cycle that can insulate them from the global economic turmoil facing almost everyone else, Mr. Prentice told the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

From hydro projects in Labrador, to the oil sands in Alberta, to liquefied natural gas terminals on the West Coast, CIBC estimates there are 28 current and proposed energy projects across the country with the potential to create one million jobs in the next 20 years.

With government recession-induced spending winding down, energy infrastructure projects will become the new channel of investment and job creation.

“This allows Canada to chart quite a different economic course than countries in the European Union or even the U.S.,” he said. “No one else is bringing on energy projects on the pace and scale of Canada.”

It’s a vision the environmental movement won’t like. Already, it has targeted the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline between Alberta and Kitimat on the B.C. coast, which like Keystone XL will enable oil sands growth, for its next campaign.

Mr. Prentice said the movement will not find in Canada the accommodating politics it found in the U.S.

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