Jim Prentice, the vice-chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and a former Conservative cabinet minister, is to be commended for his speech on Thursday in Calgary. He emphasized the necessity for Canada to export oil and gas to China and the rest of East Asia. But he also criticized the federal government for not having yet substantively engaged with the aboriginal communities who live and work near the potential routes for the westward movement of those same energy products.
The speech at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy was billed as The U.S. Presidential Election: Implications for Continental Energy and Asian Market Alternatives, but Mr. Prentice was clear that the election is a secondary point in Canadian energy policy. The vital fact is that the United States will become – is already becoming – much less dependent on imported energy. He warned Canadians against the folly of counting on “only one buyer.”
In particular, he praised Patrick Daniel, the CEO of Enbridge Inc. as the “one major public figure” who for years has been “consistently pushing for an Asian market for Canadian oil gas.”
On the other hand, Mr. Prentice, who was a minister of the federal Crown less than two years ago, said that the Crown in right of Canada has so far not acted upon its obligation to meaningfully consult, and try to accommodate, the first nations that would be affected by Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project – which is a legal duty, according to the Supreme Court of Canada.
He did not allude to some ill-considered, shrill remarks by federal cabinet ministers objecting to non-Canadian NGOs that oppose Northern Gateway.
It will be difficult to balance the need to export energy to Asia with the protection of the environment. The waters to the west of what would be the end of the pipeline, through which tankers would pass, are often dangerously rough.
Coastal First Nations, a grouping of the aboriginal communities most directly concerned, is not dogmatic. It objects strongly to the passage through their territories of bitumen and other crude oils, but not to liquefied natural gas or refined petroleum.
Mr. Prentice did not sketch out a solution to these dilemmas – which is not something to be demanded from a bank executive – but he provided a compelling statement of the goals to be harmonized.
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