A proposed pipeline project that has caused a political rift between British Columbia and Alberta underscores the need for a better process to discuss energy issues in Canada, participants will hear at a conference in Vancouver.
Dylan Jones, president of the Canada West Foundation and a keynote speaker at the BC Chamber Energy Summit in Vancouver on Wednesday, said Canadians need to stop fighting over individual projects, such as the Enbridge Gateway proposal, and start talking about the bigger issue of how the country is going to get its oil and gas to world markets.
But that's not happening, he said, because the sole focus is on a limited regulatory process, involving hearings before the National Energy Board, which does not allow for the public, politicians and corporate interests to get involved in a broader discussion.
"We need to have a mechanism to have the right kind of dialogue in this country," said Mr. Jones, who is concerned that the clash between B.C. and Alberta over the Enbridge plan is damaging to the Canadian economy.
The pipeline, now under review by the NEB, has blown up into a major controversy in the West, with B.C. Premier Christy Clark laying down a series of demands which could kill the project.
The project would see bitumen piped from Alberta's oil sands to Kitimat on the West Coast, where it would be loaded aboard large tankers for export through the sensitive Great Bear Rainforest.
Mr. Jones said the project, which would lead to billions of dollars of investments and create 22,000 long-term jobs in B.C., is too important to be swept aside without a bigger discussion.
"There's no question that you need to have a thoughtful technical review," he said of the NEB hearings. "You are not going to get to the best possible safe pipeline and the best possible marine shipping route without that. … [But] the problem is that that process isn't designed to address the strategic discussion."
Mr. Jones said the provinces should be working together to establish an energy corridor that would allow oil and gas exports to reach world markets in the best way possible.
"There's absolutely no question that when you think about the employment and other benefits that would be generated for Canada, for Alberta, for B.C., from selling our oil at higher price, it's of huge strategic significance," he said. "Does that mean the right route is a pipeline to Kitimat, and then tankers out of Kitimat? I'm suggesting that's the wrong way to have the conversation."
Mr. Jones said if it is accepted that Canada needs to get its products to world markets, "then the question becomes, what are the safest ports from an ease-of-access and safety standpoint? What are the best corridors? We have to be able to have a conversation about corridors, not about projects."
He said establishing energy corridors would allow industry to respond more quickly to market demands, and could end the project-by-project battles that are occurring.
"Essentially we need to be able to take advantage of price differential much faster. So one of the values of a corridor approach is ideally you resolve the issues up front with the corridor, [and] then individual projects can proceed much more quickly," he said.
The BC Chamber Energy Summit will feature about a dozen speakers and panelists, including Robert Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for Canadian Building Trades; Chief Albert Gerow of the Burns Lake Band; and Janet Holder, a vice-president with Enbridge Inc.
"The event is not a promotion of any particular project," said Robin Adair, conference co-ordinator for the BC Chamber. "The intention behind it is to get information out to the business community and the wider public from various perspectives on the issue, so people can make an informed decision."