Op-ed

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Canada and Trump have common ground in energy

by Colin Robertson

The Hill Times
November 16, 2016

Energy will be a top issue in Canada-US relations in a Trump administration. We need to reach out now—to the Trump transition team, Congress and state governments—to find common ground, and identify the points of convergence.

On energy, Donald Trump promises in his ‘America First Energy Plan’ to rescind President Obama’s executive orders on climate, including the Climate Action Plan, and to encourage Trans Canada to renew the Keystone XL pipeline permit application.

Mr. Trump also promises to save the coal industry, lift moratoriums on energy development, revoke restrictions on new drilling technology, cancel the Paris Climate Agreement, and ensure any new regulation is “good for the American worker.”

While there are obvious areas of disagreement with the Trump administration around climate change, especially the promise to rescind the Paris Agreement, we need to find areas where we can work together. 

Canada is currently the biggest foreign supplier of energy to the U.S. In 2015, we provided 10 per cent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S., 43 per cent of its crude oil imports, 30 per cent of the uranium used in its nuclear-fueled plants, and two per cent of U.S. electricity consumption. Canadian energy is safe, secure and reliable.

Canada’s energy industry is increasingly about innovation and the application of technology. Operational excellence and environmental performance are completely compatible, observed General Electric CEO Elyse Allan last week while accepting the Energy Council of Canada’s ‘Person of the Year’ Award. Allan, like most Canadian energy industry CEOs, believes that Canada can achieve energy superpower status through its leadership on innovation.

‘Clean’ coal may be a dream today, but with investment in research and development, it may become a reality, and we have an incentive to figure it out. Canada’s billions of tonnes of coal reserves represent potentially more energy than all of our oil, natural gas and oil sands resources.

The University of Alberta is home to the Canadian Centre for Clean Coal/Carbon and Mineral Processing Technologies, and collaborative research with a Trump Department of Energy would seem an obvious opportunity. 

We should work with like-minded states as well. California is already a partner in a cap-and-trade system with B.C., Quebec, and Ontario, through the Western Climate Initiative.

Mr. Trump has promised, as one of his first legislative actions, a 10-year, trillion-dollar American Energy and Infrastructure Act that will leverage public-private partnerships and private investments. The American Society of Civil Engineers has identified U.S. $3.6 trillion worth of pressing projects in America, all of which promise considerable bang for our bucks in terms of jobs and improved competitiveness. The list of projects includes repairing bridges, airports, dams and levees, seaports and waterways, mass transit, and freight rail, as well as energy pipelines and the electrical grid, most of which we share with the U.S..

There are obvious opportunities in the Trump plan to complement Canadian government infrastructure programs, and so advance North American competitiveness.

Sustaining an integrated North American approach to clean energy, conservation, and climate mitigation will also serve our own economic objectives. Royal Bank of Canada CEO Dave McKay recently observed that Canadians are polarized about resource development, “when we should be focused on how cleanly we can produce it, how safely we can transport it, and how wisely we can consume it.” 

Canadian leadership, federal, provincial and municipal, needs to recognize and inform Canadians, that when responsibly harvested, our energy resources, including oil and gas, are our national inheritance. Telling the Canadian story means using the tools of social media with facts and science-based evidence. Elements in the Canadian story-line would include:

· fossil fuels and big hydro projects will be part of our energy mix for decades to come;

· the role that the oil sands, pipelines and big hydro projects play in North American energy independence;

· the innovative work of Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance in reducing the oil industry’s land and carbon footprint and water usage—technology that has application globally;

· responsible energy development accords, developed through compromise and consensus (but consensus is not unanimity), that work for indigenous people and environmentalists, and contribute to jobs and prosperity; and

· Canada’s approach to carbon pricing (tax, levy, or cap-and-trade) and how this fits into our international climate change obligations.

There is a tendency in some quarters to assume the worst about a Trump administration, and weep about what might have been. This is a mistake. There will be differences, and we should be identifying the potential conflicts and figuring out how to manage them.

Where we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable. We also need to remember that, Olympic hockey finals aside, on almost every issue with the U.S. we can identify American partners. In advancing Canadian positions, our success rate rises proportionately with the ability to make them congruent with American positions.

Canadian leadership should pro-actively take the initiative with the Trump transition team, and identity the opportunities for cooperation on energy and infrastructure. If we get this right, mutual confidence will make it easier on the trade file. When the new Congress meets on January 3, 2017, and when the Trump administration takes office on January 20, we need to be ready for action.

Colin Robertson is a senior advisor to Dentons LLP, a former Canadian diplomat, and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Image: Cumulative Environmental Management Association

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