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Tara Weber

BNN Bloomberg Western Bureau Chief


As we head into a new year, the federal Liberals are clearly hoping for a fresh start with the West.

Since October’s election that saw Justin Trudeau’s government lose all of its seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Ottawa has appointed a new deputy prime minister to consult with the unrepresented provinces and has been continually reiterating its commitment to getting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built. 

But after ongoing pipeline delays as well as the introduction of Bills C-48 and C-69, many in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are wary of Ottawa’s policies and the impact they have on the energy sector. So it begs the question: What can the government actually do to regain Western Canada’s confidence in the coming year?

Unsurprisingly, top of mind for many is to see the long-delayed Trans Mountain expansion pipeline built. The controversial project would increase the amount of Alberta oil flowing to international markets by almost three-fold – to 890,000 barrels a day – boosting oil producers’ confidence in their ability to move their product and reducing Canada’s dependence on the United States. But even with recent progress in construction, ongoing opposition means the pipeline’s completion won’t be an easy feat.

“The one thing that unites everyone is the Trans Mountain pipeline, but there's no way Trudeau can put a timeline on the project,” Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview. “Even if all the legal hurdles are removed, there could still be civil disobedience. What do you do if there are people lying across the pipe?” 

“I think they need to focus on the cooperation, not the confrontation,” he added.

Pipeline delays aside, there’s some feeling that the federal government hasn’t given enough recognition to the importance of Canada’s energy sector and the advances in innovations and technologies that have been made in the industry.

“[Trudeau] needs to celebrate that Canada produces the most carefully-regulated, environmentally-sensitive energy of any country on the planet,” George Brookman, chairman and CEO of West Canadian Digital Imaging, told BNN Bloomberg in an email.

“He needs to get over his attitude that big oil companies are the enemy, because if he wants to see renewable energy developed, it will be the big energy companies that will do it.”

"The PM wants to leave a legacy on the environment. The problem is not with the objective, the problem is with the specifics of how to get there," added Colleen Collins, vice president of the Canada West Foundation. "Western Canada’s confidence could be regained by the prime minister first acknowledging that Canadian oil and gas can be part of the climate change solution – both by decreasing its own emissions footprint, ideally to net zero, and as an exporter of clean technology solutions and the greenest LNG in the world."

"The current climate agenda’s impact is to diminish or even eliminate the wealth created by oil and gas because of poorly-designed policy that will not only hurt our economy and our ability to fund the services Canadians expect, but will also fail to achieve climate objectives.”

Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, says the energy expertise developed in Canada should be raised up as an example and used to support the production of low-emission energy around the world.

He said Canada could engage the G7, G20, and other international bodies to establish amendments to the Paris Agreement that reward actions to reduce global emissions, such as small increases in Canada to produce and ship cleaner gas abroad. He added that Ottawa should fast-track LNG facilities and infrastructure to support conversion from coal to natural gas as an “urgent international matter.”

In addition, Dewald said the federal government could provide incentives and investment to further advancing Canadian exploration and production to be net-zero with regard to greenhouse gases.

“Be proud and open about providing expert support for other nations so they can learn best practices for clean extraction of fossil fuels,” he said. “Let Canadians know that we are good at this and the prime minister is proud of that expertise.”

Former GMP FirstEnergy deputy chairman Jim Davidson took Dewald’s sentiment a step further.

“If [the federal government] wants to demonstrate to us that they're listening and want to have an adult conversation about the length of time a transition would realistically take, they have to repopulate the Prime Minister's Office,” Davidson said in a phone interview.

“My hope would be that the current administration spends more of its intellectual energy on the economy and less on the environment. Not to the detriment to the environment, but understanding that there's a necessary balance.”                                                                                                                                                                           

Dewald agrees the answer lies in the middle, and is urging Ottawa to work more collaboratively with provincial governments and energy producers to attract sustainable financing.

“Who wants to invest in a place with so much infighting? We need to know our government is behind our province – we need more love,” he said.

“The most important thing for Prime Minister Trudeau to do is to articulate and own a vision for sustainable energy development in Canada.”