National energy strategy is all talk – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – April 16, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

After nearly a decade of calls for a national energy strategy by a cacophony of interest groups with different priorities, the idea seems to have drifted to the sidelines. Even Alberta, which recently led the charge, has recalibrated its views and efforts to a more realistic level.

In short, Alison Redford’s government is pursuing engagement on energy — i.e. conversations — with other provinces rather than a Canadian Energy Strategy in the traditional sense — a pact that requires consensus from all interested parties.

Ken Hughes, Alberta’s energy minister, said the approach is working — and the proof is in initiatives such as the conversion of TransCanada Corp.’s natural gas Mainline to bring Alberta oil sands oil to Eastern Canada.

“That didn’t come out of the blue,” Mr. Hughes said in an interview. “That proposal … came from TransCanada, but in the context of many conversations and much work between the government of Alberta and the government of New Brunswick, much engagement initiated by Premier Redford with [Quebec Premier Pauline] Marois, and much engagement at the official level with the province of Quebec.”

A sure sign that the project has potential for takeoff came in early April, when Calgary-based TransCanada started seeking commitments from shippers to move up to 850,000 barrels of oil a day as far as the Atlantic coast.

Mr. Hughes also highlighted the Port of Churchill’s efforts to become an export point for Canadian oil, and Manitoba’s search for new markets for its hydro, as outcomes of recent conversations on energy between the provinces.

“It’s easier to get things done on a province-to-province, bilateral or multilateral discussion basis, than trying to make it too big and too complicated or trying to get everyone to sign-off on one thing,” Mr. Hughes said.

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The push for a traditional national energy strategy — a key theme in Premier Redford’s Tory leadership and election campaigns — started skidding in July when British Columbia Premier Christy Clark backed out during a meeting of the Council of the Federation in Charlottetown over a yet-to-be resolved dispute with Alberta on the costs and benefits of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Without B.C., which as the home of proposed oil export pipelines and liquefied natural gas projects holds the keys to the major energy projects in Canada today, it’s hard to imagine a common Canadian plan on energy.

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