Chairman's Desk

Our energy security and global standing would benefit from some good old-fashioned pragmatism

There is a growing groundswell of support for Canada to play a larger role in international security by providing our allies with energy supplies. While many correctly see this as both an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the world and as a means to increase our international standing, we must be realistic about what shape that support could feasibly take.

Sadly, after years of underinvestment and political complacency, both our foreign policy credentials and our ability to export Canadian energy have suffered. In practical terms, this means that calls for Canada to step in to displace Europe’s reliance on Russian energy — while politically potent — are misplaced and counterproductive.

We cannot export anywhere near the quantity of energy that Europe needs. The infrastructure required to do so doesn’t exist, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. Instead, we should be pragmatic and look closer south to make a difference.

Most of the five million barrels of oil we produce daily are sold to the United States; we can’t really send more elsewhere. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has moved to modestly increase our U.S. exports by the end of the year, conveying that getting more further afield isn’t happening anytime soon — especially not as the government doubles down on its climate agenda.

And while we are the world’s fourth-biggest producer of natural gas, again, we have no logistical capacity to get it to Europe. So, the government has also increased these exports to the U.S., but ultimately the Americans must ship our resources across the Atlantic.

Our energy industry has long argued that Canada’s near nonparticipation in the global market for liquefied natural gas (LNG) would cost us significantly. Given that EU countries still rely on Russia for 40 per cent of their gas imports, those warnings were tragically prophetic.

Yes, ours is a government committed to a necessary transition away from carbon, but it also claims to be a government committed to our allies and to Canada’s unique role on the world stage. The desire to reduce fossil fuel dependence need not cripple Canada’s ability to help our allies when it matters most.

Vladimir Putin has permanently reshaped energy politics, and if we don’t do our part — by stepping into the LNG market, by increasing our exports to the U.S., by making smart investments now — Canada will dramatically reduce its stature in the new global landscape.

Tumultuous times require pragmatism. The U.S. administration shares our government’s long-term vision for a low-carbon future, but right now they are desperately searching for ways to alleviate high prices at the pumps and wean the world off Russian energy. President Joe Biden has moved to withdraw the largest-ever amount from America’s emergency oil reserves, making our moderately increased exports seem pathetic.

He’s also been forced to turn to oil-rich autocrats like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, who in turn have him quite literally over a barrel. As Premier Jason Kenney chimed in that “Alberta oil is better than dictator oil,” he looked to remind Biden of our energy sector’s commitments to responsible development.

But here is the challenge. The Liberal government is unlikely to risk suggesting that the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Putin will supersede their climate goals. And that means they are unlikely to do enough.

Those conflicting interests require principled compromise. America remains our strongest ally, and this is a critical moment for us to prove our mettle to them and the world. Fine, we cannot supply Europe with energy, but helping where we can will earn Canada a serious role in global security and the energy transition to come.

That means building on carbon capture technology investments together — both government and the private sector. If we are to influence the world toward a cleaner future, we need a seat at the table. And as bombs fall on a European ally and we pledge to do everything we can, now is the time to take it.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on April 3, 2022.

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