10 April 2012
CANADA - THE NEW ENERGY SUPERPOWER?
"A new age for Canada dawns -as an energy super power!"
That is how Canada’s PM Stephen Harper, is promoting his country in speeches to investors in recent months. To many
Canadians, having their country branded a superpower let alone an energy super power, comes as a surprise to many.
Normally, when one thinks of an energy superpower one usually thinks of Russia intimidating its European gas
customers or Saudi Arabia cutting its oil exports to increase oil prices. Past Experience suggests that Ottawa
can’t operate as an equal with its superpower to the south, instead it has to work with other interest groups in
the corridors of power in Washington, if it is to influence American decision making in its favour.
Canada has been a major supplier of energy in all its forms to its neighbour the US, in all its forms of energy
including electricity, for a long time. Today you will find power lines exporting electricity from Canada to its
neighbour in the south. For instance, Manhattan relies for much of its electricity from the power imported from
Canadian hydroelectricity plant, some 400 miles away at Niagara Falls, where the water thunders over the falls,
creating a noise that can be heard miles away. Other massive developments are the export of crude oil from the moon
like industrial landscapes of the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta’s frigid north, through a network of
transcontinental pipelines to refineries shrouded in perpetual petrochemical smog on the sunny Texan Gulf Coast,
that are used to provide much of the heating oil for the United States. These refineries have traditionally sourced
their crude oil from Venezuela and Mexico, but increasingly due to political vagaries and mismanagement of these
oil fields these refineries are increasingly looking to distant Canada for more reliable supplies.
In the cold wind swept Canadian Atlantic provinces, ambitions energy plans are a foot to further develop offshore
oil and gas fields. Already the refineries at New Brunswick supplies 45% of the US’s reformulated gasoline imports.
In addition, the region is building a massive new LNG import terminal together with proposals for a second nuclear
power station to supply energy to 50 million customers in the North Eastern United States.
Even though all these schemes strike one as impressive, giving the impression that there is a strong a powerful
federal government with the leadership to implement such schemes on a continental scale, in fact, the reality is
quite different. Energy policies tend to be mostly within the remit of corporations and provinces concerned.
The Canadian federal government has only some influence on many energy matters. Even for provincial governments
their power to formulate and implement energy policy is limited by various clauses in the original North American
Free Trade Treaty that the US, Mexico and Canada signed.
Instead, it would be better to describe Canada as an energy colony of the United States, since when policies that
have threatened the status quo, massive lobby efforts funded by American energy firms have been made at both
provincial and federal level to scupper such policies. Such as proposals as the construction of a pipeline to link
Canada’s western oil provinces with its refineries on the east coast or the failure of Washington to recognise
Canada’s sovereignty over Arctic waters.
Overall, it would have been better if PM Harper had said, Canada has too a more important part to play in America’s
ambitions to be more energy independent and tackle climate change.