Montreal Gazette
December 4, 2014
Normand Mousseau

Opinion: The time is ripe for a common Eastern Canadian energy strategy

Maybe you missed it, but Jim Prentice, the new premier of Alberta, did not.

His rush to meet with Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard this week shows the transformative nature of the recent joint announcement by the Ontario and Quebec premiers of a series of agreements and common positions on energy and climate-change issues.

The premiers’ actions could signal a new era of cooperation among provinces in the design of energy policies that would address not only energy security, but also energy-related environment and climate-change questions.

The Ontario-Quebec November agreement represents a first step in developing a much needed provincially led Canadian Energy Strategy, which was supported by all premiers at their annual meeting in August. As shown in the Pacific Northwest and Scandinavia, such a common energy and climate-change strategy can deliver significant benefits to all participants when the right balance is found.

Given the diversity and geographic distribution of Canada’s energy resources, this balance will be hard to establish. However, Ontario and Quebec would do well to expand their discussions with provinces that share similar energy-systems profiles, particularly in Eastern Canada. Such an approach would provide opportunities to address challenges related to several shared issues, including climate change;energy efficiency, as well as renewable and low-impact energy; and energy transportation.

In the short term, the provinces should work to expand common policies and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; establish a strategic plan to further strengthen system interconnections and long-term electricity supply, including the use of existing hydroelectric storage capacity for developing renewable energy across the region; and develop a common approach to evaluating the risks and benefits associated with the interprovincial transportation of energy, including but not limited to, fossil fuels.

In the longer term, these provinces should also work to support energy efficiency with more stringent common standards, and effective use of price signals; strengthen the focus on sustainable transportation infrastructure and modes, including the role of the electrification of transportation; and develop and implement a common regulatory framework for evaluating the impacts and benefits of non-conventional hydrocarbon exploration and development.

Together, these steps could result in significant benefits for all of the participating provinces. They would better leverage the region’s significant renewable energy resources and thereby accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, facilitate exchanges among the different markets and encourage economic efficiency.

A common energy strategy for Eastern Canada would not prevent individual provinces from having their own energy and climate-change strategies and policies. Rather, it would provide an additional dimension that would allow the leveraging of provincial actions through regional cooperation.

We believe that the time is ripe for a real transformation of energy policy in Canada. Starting with an Eastern Canadian strategy appears to us the best and fastest way to prepare for a future that benefits all of Canada.

Norman Mousseau is a professor of physics at Université de Montréal and was co-chair of the Quebec Commission on Energy Issues that reported last spring. This article is also co-signed by: Miguel Anjos (Institut de l’énergie Trottier, Polytechnique Montréal); François Bouffard (McGill University and GERAD); Claudio A. Cañizares (University of Waterloo); Evariste Feurtey (Université du Québec à Rimouski); Jack Gibbons (Ontario Clean Air Alliance); L.D. Danny Harvey (University of Toronto); Roger Lanoue (Montreal); Wade Locke (Memorial University); Guy Marleau (Polytechnique Montréal); James Meadowcroft (Carleton University); Pierre-Olivier Pineau (chair in Energy Sector Management, HEC Montréal); Catherine Potvin (McGill University); Ian H. Rowlands (Waterloo University); Hugo Tremblay (Université de Montréal); Lorne Trottier (Trottier Family Foundation); Mark S. Winfield (York University); Johanne Whitmore (HEC Montréal) and Emmanuel Yiridoe (Dalhousie University).