Ontario energy isolationism tops Quebec separatism – Martin Regg Cohn (Toronto Star – July 31, 2014)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Quebec is awash with cheap power. Ontario is burdened by rising electricity prices. Time to talk.

Quebec is awash with cheap power as yet more hydro dams come on stream. Ontario is burdened by rising electricity prices and an aging fleet of nuclear reactors. Time to talk?

Kathleen Wynne and her Quebec counterpart, Philippe Couillard, will connect by telephone in mid-August ahead of a premiers’ summit in P.E.I. later that month. Electricity and a national energy strategy are on the agenda.

Conceptually, co-operation seems a good fit. Politically, however, it’s a high-wire balancing act fraught with interprovincial tensions.

Ontario has historically sought energy self-sufficiency, anchored in nuclear power. Quebec has sold its electricity to the highest bidder south of the border. For decades, it seemed as if Quebec was practicing electricity separatism, while Ontario indulged in energy isolationism.

Now, energy conservationists in both provinces are lobbying their governments with a sense of urgency. They hope to dissuade Ontario from committing to the costly refurbishment of its nuclear reactors when cheaper hydroelectricity can be bought from Quebec.

In a joint report, the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and Quebec’s Équiterre argued that a long-term interprovincial deal is there to be had if both sides can find the political will to overcome entrenched interests at home.

The nuclear lobby is determined to protect tens of thousands of jobs tied to the design, sale and deployment of reactors. Publicly owned OPG (Ontario Power Generation), a descendant of the old Ontario Hydro, is also dependent on nuclear power for its future.

It’s not just jobs, but an industrial mindset.

Historically, Ontario’s industrial strategy was premised on cheap nuclear power to attract foreign manufacturers and resource producers. If electricity was part of the province’s comparative advantage, how could it possibly rely on its traditional competitor in Quebec to keep rates low?

But the three legs of Ontario’s economic stool have shifted over the decades.

The nuclear industry is bogged down — beset by rising costs for radioactive waste, plagued by unpredictable refurbishment costs after a history of budget overruns, and frustrated by an inability to sell new CANDU reactors at home or abroad.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2014/07/30/ontario_energy_isolationism_tops_quebec_separatism_cohn.html