Bolstered by the new partnership with her Quebec counterpart, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is eyeing Quebec’s abundant hydro power to light up Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire development and reinvigorate talks for a national energy strategy.
She and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, both rookie premiers with majority mandates, recently forged a central Canadian alliance to co-operate on issues and bring prosperity back to their provinces.
Beginning on Aug. 26, all of the premiers will meet at the Council of the Federation in Prince Edward Island, and she and Mr. Couillard hope to come to the table with a “shared position” on a Canadian energy strategy. Under the previous separatist government – Mr. Couillard defeated Parti Québécois premier Pauline Marois in the spring provincial election – Quebec refused to participate in a Canada-wide strategy.
“It’s a different situation when there’s a strong federalist premier in Quebec,” Ms. Wynne said in an interview.
In addition, their new alliance calls for potentially increasing electricity trade between the two provinces. Northern Ontario is in dire need of infrastructure to help develop the Ring of Fire, which could provide thousands of jobs to the province and about $60-billion to its economy, according to the provincial government’s estimates.
“I am open to practical solutions,” Ms. Wynne said in the interview. “If we can find a way to get a great deal for Ontarians by increasing our capacity, by increasing our partnership with Quebec, then we’ll look at that.”
A 2009 trade and co-operation agreement between the two provinces envisaged increasing trade in electricity – Ontario now buys some electricity from Quebec, but Ms. Wynne wants to build on that.
“As the Ring of Fire is developed – I am not going to pre-empt the discussion that might go on, but I am certainly open to using that trade agreement to open up possibilities on the energy front,” she said, noting that Quebec has “terrific geography and water.”
“They are blessed with that terrific hydro power,” she added. “There is a border between Quebec and Ontario but it’s not a border that is impermeable. It is one that we should find a way to … really use to both Quebec and Ontario’s advantage.”
The two premiers announced the new alliance in Quebec City last Thursday. It was the first time they had met in person.
At the news conference following their meeting, Mr. Couillard talked about increasing sales of his province’s hydro to Ontario. “Ontario uses Quebec energy.… we want not only to maintain but to build on these exchanges,” he said.
The two politicians clearly hit it off. In their private meeting, according to one Ontario official, they talked about their shared love of the outdoors – he’s an avid fisherman and she likes to canoe. They also have a shared view on what should be included in a national energy strategy, which has been a regular topic at the summer premiers’ meetings.
“Both Premier Couillard and I agree we need to have a Canadian energy strategy. I think that is very helpful … because that hasn’t been the position for the last couple of years,” she said, referring to the previous Quebec government’s position. She added, however, that she and Mr. Couillard want to make sure it contains enough of a “balanced emphasis” to address the different concerns in all parts of the country.
“Transport of fuel is one, but climate change and innovation in terms of green renewable energy is something that we need to come to some agreement on,” she said. “It’s not about thwarting another province’s approach. It’s about integrating those approaches and having a national position.”
However, discussions about an energy strategy will be hampered by the fact that the premiers from Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, two energy powerhouses, are only interim leaders. As well, New Brunswick’s David Alward is in the midst of an election campaign and will be attending the conference for just one day.
Host Premier Robert Ghiz said in an interview that “there is definitely a new dynamic around the table from last year, especially looking at the change that took place in Quebec, which I think has been great for Canada.” But he is not expecting any immediate breakthroughs – rather, he is looking longer-term.
“We’re waiting on a new premier in Alberta and a new premier in Newfoundland and Labrador, and they are the two largest oil-producing provinces in our country. While Mr. Couillard being there and his new approach, I think, is going to be enlightening, there is still going to be more work for us to do.”
By the end of September, Mr. Ghiz said “we’re going to have every premier in place, hopefully for a little while now so I think you’re going to see a lot of progress … made over the next six months to a year.”