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New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, right, fields a question at the closing news conference of the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on Friday, July 17, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, right, fields a question at the closing news conference of the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on Friday, July 17, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

The premiers meet: Sound, fury and not much significance Add to ...

News Flash: Canada’s provincial premiers are not the people who decide whether pipelines are built, notwithstanding the latest meeting of the grandly named Council of the Federation, their 40-page Canadian Energy Strategy and some sound and fury from at least one Western premier.

After all, the Constitution gives Ottawa the power to pass statutes about interprovincial undertakings, such as pipelines. On a subject like the Alberta-to-Atlantic Energy East project, the National Energy Board will be the chief decision-maker.

But even if provincial governments may not get the final word, the political reality is that they have an influence on what can get built, when and where. Which is why former Alberta premier Alison Redford several years ago started the process of pushing the provinces to come up with a common, realistic framework for assessing pipeline and other energy proposals. Half a decade later, the Canadian Energy Strategy agreed to by the premiers last Friday is the result. A reading of the document, unfortunately, calls for the skills of retired Kremlinologists. And after deciphering it, it turns out there’s not much there.

In the CES, the word “energy” is relentlessly used in preference to any specific word such as “oil,” with only a few exceptions. Likewise, “transmission” and “transportation” are frequently referred to, rather than railroads (as in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy) or proposed pipelines such as Energy East. There’s an acknowledgement that it’s in the interests of Canada to move its oil and gas both inside this country and also to other countries, but things get awfully vague beyond that.

Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan expressed his discontent. But how can one dissent from a document that adds up to very little?

And as for the other half of the energy file – the problem of greenhouse gases – the premiers were similarly unable to offer up anything concrete. The provinces each have their own carbon-reduction goals and plans. Some are ambitious; others are dragging their feet. In the absence of a federal policy, there is an opportunity to turn the various disparate provincial strategies into a common, national strategy, with shared or at least co-ordinated objectives, agreement on the costs to be imposed on polluters, and firm targets for pollution reduction. The premiers having failed to advance that discussion, the opportunity remains.

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