On Thursday, March 21, industrial representatives, academics, military officials and government figures came together in the Securing Canada’s Energy Future conference to mark the beginning of a new series of round table talks that will take place in the coming weeks. The NATO Council of Canada (NCC) organized the conference in order to “initiate discussion regarding Canada’s role in the energy sector in light of ever changing global trends”, said NCC President Julie Lindhout in her opening remarks.
Several key themes stood out as they were re-visited throughout the day, cutting across the subtopics of scheduled panels. The most important one being the new dynamics of the global energy markets and the transformation of the United States from being an import-oriented country to an export-oriented one in regards to energy. Furthermore, there was a lot of emphasis put on the need for Canada to adopt a long-term national energy strategy. Many participants highlighted the urgency for the Canadian leaders to have a united perspective at home, which would enable them to collectively organize strategic moves abroad in the areas of both energy security and arctic sovereignty.
The day started off with a keynote address by David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. He emphasized the Federal Government’s commitment to responsible energy development, framing the high dependability of energy stability as Canada’s competitive edge. According to Anderson the Federal energy vision is designed in such a way that it comprises of economic growth, safety and environmental responsibility. However, the economic sustainability of this strategy was contested in a second keynote address by Dr. Maureen Crandall, professor of Economics at the National Defence University in Washington DC. Dr. Crandall argued that the global dynamics are changing. Non-OECD countries’ demand for energy is likely to double the current OECD demand by 2040, while at the same time the U.S. is increasing its oil production in Texas and North Dakota. This means that U.S. oil imports from Canada will most likely face a significant decrease in the next decade. Canada will have to adapt to these new realities.
The second part of the day was allocated to panel discussions. The first panel focused on sustainable development and environmental impact mitigation, while the second addressed energy security and Canada’s market presence. In the first panel the main speakers were Prof. Steven Bernstein from the University of Toronto and Brigadier-General Guy Hammel, the commander of Joint Task Force North (JTFN). Professor Bernstein called for an industry-sponsored dialogue that brings the Federal Government to the table and re-opens the policy window to discuss carbon taxing. Brigadier-General Hammel emphasized that cultivating close partnerships with Inuit, Northwestern and Yukon communities is key to an effective JTFN strategy that ensures the safety, security and defence needs of Canada.
The second panel started with Prof. Anna Lanoszka from the University of Windsor. She drew attention to the lack of international regulations that guide energy production. Furthermore, she warned against the activities of state owned enterprises in China and Russia, which do not play according to the rules of the free market while showing monopoly-like behaviour. The second speaker was Madelaine Drohan, Canada’s correspondent to The Economist. Drohan complemented Professor Lanoszka’s focus on international regulations with her expertise in national energy policies, and underlined the need for the Canada to adopt a long-term national energy strategy. Drohan encouraged the Federal Government to hold broad consultations and create a holistic plan that not only reflects on how energy fits within the national economic strategy, but also considers a plan B for when Canada runs out of resources. The last speaker of the panel Prof. Monica Gattinger from the University of Ottawa expanded the argument made by Drohan. She argued that any energy policy today needs to address four crucial areas, namely: market, security, environment and social expectations. Moreover, specifically regarding North American energy policies and the rapid rise in unconventional oil production in the US, Professor Gattinger presented the need to change the historical flow of energy in North America from North-South to East-West and reach out to markets overseas.
The last part of the conference consisted of discussion tables. Organised into groups, the participants were provided with a set of questions that aimed to steer discussion and pick up on the themes that surfaced during the panel discussions earlier on. Over the course of an hour the conversations covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from cap-and-trade, Keystone XL and Northwest Passage to China’s high profile investments in energy assets around the world since 2009. All in all, it was a very productive day. Much was discussed but most of the participants must have left the conference with more questions than answers. Therefore the upcoming roundtables are not likely to face any shortage in productive discussion.