At a late February meeting in Halifax, the Winnipeg Consensus Group (WCG) pulled together over 60 participants from think tanks, ENGOs, industry and government to discuss how to maintain momentum for a Canadian energy strategy.

Many of the participants had been present at previous WCG meetings in Winnipeg (2011) and Banff (2010), and thus the Halifax gathering provided an opportunity to assess progress to date, and additional progress that might come out of the Forum of the Federation and Ministerial meetings slated for Halifax and Charlottetown, respectively, this August and September.

The Halifax participants agreed that a good deal of progress had been made over the past three years, that the notion of a Canadian energy strategy had moved from the distant margins of national conversation to the very centre. However, they also agreed that more work has to be done in order to maintain momentum in the face of reluctant government buy-in, particularly on the part of the federal government. To this end, more has to be done to broaden the geographical reach of the conversation, and to expand the range of participants to include municipalities, First Nations and a wider array of energy industries.

Here, the Halifax group recognized the need to proceed along two fronts, the first of which is an intergovernmental strategy focused on the upcoming meetings of premiers and energy ministers. At the same time, there was support for a non-governmental strategy that would, in effect, hold the feet of governments to the fire and prevent the development of a Canadian energy strategy becoming lost in the swamp of intergovernmental relations. How the second strategy might be financed, and how the two strategies might be integrated, were largely unanswered as the meeting closed.

Conference participants also had the chance to review informally the detailed policy work that has been done by the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) and the carbon pricing subcommittee initially organized through the WCG. Appreciation of EPIC’s work was combined with the awareness that EPIC plans to disband by the end of the summer, creating some uncertainty as to how the EPIC hole might be filled, or indeed if there will be a hole to fill. Work by the carbon pricing group reinforced the conclusion reached at the Banff and Winnipeg meeting that carbon pricing must be a component of a Canadian energy strategy, that it is an indispensable part of the connective tissue between the energy and climate policy files.

Finally, there was some discussion at the Halifax meeting about whether a Canadian energy strategy is best conceived as an end in itself, or as a means to other ends that, to this point, have not been clearly articulated. There was some concern that the storyline for Canadians needed further development, and that Canadians were being approached too much as consumers and too little as citizens.

In summary, the Halifax meeting demonstrated that interest in a Canadian energy strategy is alive and well, and that the country has become increasingly engaged in the energy conversation if not fully convinced about the need for a Canadian energy strategy. In short, a lot has been accomplished, but now is not the time to lay down our arms and declare victory.

– By Roger Gibbins, President & CEO