Work together, Canada, to clean up energy MESS – by Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail – May 31, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Canada’s energy policy is a MESS, and rare is the government that has sorted it out. MESS is an acronym coined by Prof. Monica Gattinger, a political scientist interested in energy policy at the University of Ottawa. Each letter of MESS stands for an important element of any energy strategy: markets, environment, security and social acceptability (or licence).

Governments invariably stress one or perhaps two parts of MESS, and pay less attention to the others. Increasingly, it’s clear that all of most of the four parts of MESS have to be pursued simultaneously. If not, either nothing happens, or happens only with great difficulty, as Canadians are seeing with energy projects at home.

The oil industry and its political boosters, such as those in Edmonton and Ottawa, start from M, market. No market, no production, no transportation, no jobs, no revenues. Market forces are their favourite paradigm.

For decades, it was assumed M would be always easy to locate. Oil and gas pumped in Canada would be snapped up by the United States. More recently, Asia was added as a sure-fire market. Within North America, the same was true for hydro. Build capacity and the Americans will buy. The market would prevail.

When M was considered a sure bet, thinking about the environment and social licence came along as afterthoughts. Yes, yes, market-oriented promoters said, these were important, but not as important as the critical question of M, securing markets and getting product to them.

That’s why TD Bank deputy chair and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna was lamenting recently about all the lost national income from delays in building pipelines to get Canadian bitumen to market. He’s not the only one. Federal ministers echo this warning almost every time they open their mouths on energy policy. So, of course, do oil and pipeline executives.

Some tension will likely always exist between markets and the need to get product there, and environment and social licence, the other parts of Prof. Gattinger’s MESS. But whether the oil producers and their spokespeople in industry and governments like it or not, the other parts of MESS are increasingly becoming as important as markets. If markets, environment and social licence don’t line up, delays and frustration will ensue.

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