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Canadian energy policy needs everyone at the table

A worker holds a cup of crude oil to be tested at the Cenovus Foster Creek SAGD oil sands operations near Cold Lake, Alberta, July 9, 2012.

TODD KOROL/Reuters

It is time for Canada to adopt a national energy strategy that takes into account the interests of government, business, environmentalists and first nations. That's the key message of a new Senate report on the energy sector, and one that should be heeded.

The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources issued a document last week that makes cogent recommendations for ways to keep Canada in the energy forefront – a position the country must maintain if our economy is to prosper. While the report makes many specific suggestions – such as maintaining support for the nuclear industry, fostering renewables, boosting natural gas and encouraging energy efficiency and conservation – the underlying message is that a co-ordinated approach is key and that all stakeholders must be at the table.

That recommendation came at just the right time, as provincial premiers and territorial leaders head into a meeting of the Council of the Federation this week, where the issue should be front and centre. It also coincided with a bridge-building mission that Alberta Premier Alison Redford made to Toronto last week, where she and Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty talked about her pan-Canadian energy strategy. It was a sharp contrast to the earlier war of words between the two provinces, where Mr. McGuinty said weak economic performance in Ontario was partly the result of a high dollar fuelled by Alberta's energy boom. Not only was the energy hatchet buried, but Ms. Redford expressed optimism that "we as premiers can make some decisions in collaboration that can benefit all of us."

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Most premiers appear to be ready to work much more closely together on an energy strategy, a very positive development as long as Ottawa and other interested parties are also at the table. That need was the thrust of the Senate report, which emphasized that collaboration in planning our energy future is what really matters. The Senators also insist that the federal government has a catalytic role to play in bringing all the players together and building a consensus – a level of leadership that it has not yet shown very clearly.

Ottawa will certainly need to be involved if one of the Senate report's visions comes to pass: a drive to expand pipeline capacity to allow significant amounts of Western crude to flow to Eastern Canada, where most oil is now imported. While it is not absolutely clear that it is economically viable to undertake that kind of project, it should be done "in the spirit of nation building," the Senators say. Indeed, it is the type of long-term energy endeavor that will require a national vision, much collaboration among the private sector and governments and a demonstration of leadership in Ottawa.

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