Authors: Trevor McLeod and Shafak Sajid
Canadians are embroiled in a fierce national debate about energy and the environment. As can be expected, western provinces with energy-intensive, trade-exposed economies find themselves in the middle of it all. Although the federal government has committed Canada to ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets, it has gone out of its way to reassure provinces it will respect provincial jurisdiction. The provinces have agreed to seek solutions in a pan-Canadian climate strategy.
Competing interests and different ideologies make useful co-operation easier said than done. The debate has exposed Canada’s regional fault lines but, this time, some of the biggest fissures exist within the western provinces themselves. While it fights amongst itself, the West is missing the opportunity to look out – to chart a path that reduces global emissions without simply shifting them elsewhere, and without compromising competitiveness. And, if the West is not proactive about proposing climate policies that are strategic and ambitious, it must also look out. Most of Canada’s emissions come from the West, and Ottawa will look to this region to make significant contributions to meeting its climate goals.
To succeed, the West should find a way to work together to advance common interests and design its own climate policies. This paper argues that western premiers should:
01 BURY THE HATCHET. They should follow the example set by premiers at WEOC and work together to advance western interests.
02 BE PROACTIVE TO AVOID SIMPLY MOVING EMISSIONS ELSEWHERE. The economies of our westernmost provinces are more energy-intensive and trade-exposed than those in other provinces. Since the West’s energy intensive industries compete internationally for market share, it makes little sense to treat their emissions the same as emissions that do not face international competition.
If costs increase for firms operating here and cost do not increase in competing jurisdictions, then the West risk simply shifting emissions and jobs to other places – a result that should satisfy no one. Yet, that does not mean western provinces should do nothing. Doing nothing will bring additional political pressure from a determined Ottawa. Rather, western provinces must take advantage of the opportunity to design systems that work for the West – systems focused on reducing global emissions while maintaining competitiveness.
03 PLAY BALL WITH OTTAWA TO MAKE A MAJOR PUSH TO REDUCE CONSUMER-SIDE EMISSIONS. Ottawa is keen to reduce emissions at home; it is focused on reducing emissions from electricity, transportation and buildings. Any plan to reduce emissions in these sectors must lean heavily on the West – where most of the emissions originate. Western premiers should encourage the federal government to focus its spending on projects with high emission reduction returns.
One of the projects that deserves serious consideration is an integrated western electricity grid. The idea is not new but its time may have come. British Columbia and Manitoba have abundant hydro resources. Alberta and Saskatchewan are heavily reliant on coal and natural gas to generate electricity. An integrated grid would generate significant emission reductions and the hydroelectricity would be a welcome replacement for coal in Saskatchewan and Alberta, from a reliability perspective. It may also prove to be the missing piece that gets oil to tidewater and growing Asian markets. The big question that needs more examination is how much this will cost and whether it is an efficient use of federal dollars aimed at reducing emissions.
These actions will position the West to act decisively to reduce emissions while maintaining a competitive advantage.