We believe the key to a better future is listening to and understanding the perspectives of others. This week, we asked Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan, and previous The Walrus Talks Energy speaker, to share his thoughts on energy development.
We thank Ken for taking the time to answer our questions. The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect those of Suncor.
You’ve said in the past that Canada has won the energy lottery. What do you mean by that?
Canada is one of the most richly endowed nations in the world. Unlike most other fortunate countries, which might have one major source of energy, Canada has all of the main opportunities: conventional oil and gas, oil sands, shale gas, hydroelectric energy and even considerable capacity for unconventional sources of energy (solar, wind, biomass). This should be the foundation for both energy security domestically and a robust economy on a long-term basis. We need to embrace the potential of Canada’s energy resources and build a future that takes into account our needs, concerns about the environment and real economic opportunities.
What needs to change if we are to take full advantage of Canada’s endowment of energy resource?
First, we need to stop fighting about in such an aggressive fashion. Canada has prospered over many generations from the systematic development of its natural resources. Resources made this country what it is, economically, socially and politically. In some instances in the past, we did this poorly and we have paid a long-term price for poor planning. We have the scientific knowledge, the business acumen and the political ability to develop a national approach to energy development
(and resource development generally) that accommodates environmental concerns, Aboriginal aspirations, economic potential, and the needs of governments for revenue streams.
I am not a big fan of a large and complex national energy strategy, for Canada does not do these multi-lateral, complex political negotiations particularly well. Let’s present our energy plans in the full light of the day. Let’s make it clear what the returns will be (jobs, business opportunities, tax revenue and national prosperity) and let us be equally clear about the costs and risks, particularly
on the environmental side. Canada should be a world-leader in environmental
mitigation/remediation (and we do much better than the critics would have it), energy safety (we have significant deficiencies here, largely because of a lack of clarity about responsibilities), and the use of technologies to maximize returns and minimize negative consequences (again, Canada does very well in this regard).
How can energy companies help Canada make the most of its energy resources?
Canada’s energy companies are a diverse group, ranging from junior firms seeking to move into the sector to Canada-based companies with long histories in the country, to foreign- owned corporations seeking to maintain a presence in one of the world’s most politically secure, socially responsible and well-managed energy environments.
At present, the energy companies have taken a responsive approach to their national presence, using “soft” advertising to highlight environmental responsibility, job creation and social engagement. The “soft” approach is useful and it sandpapers the rough edges of the national image of energy companies in Canada. This said, the energy industry in Canada remains very opaque to most Canadians. Most Canadians know the names of only a few of the actors, they have little direct experience with the energy sector (energy tourism is not high on the country’s list of attractions!), and are left with images created, in the main, by critics of energy development.
I personally believe that the energy sector has to be more proactive in describing the shape and comprehensive nature of the energy industry in Canada. The lines between renewable and non-renewable energy need to be erased, as do those between conventional and non-conventional sources. Energy firms need to highlight more of their technological achievements – people get genuinely excited about the incredible accomplishments underground and in the processing areas – and provide a more comprehensive portrait of how much of the country’s current prosperity is based on energy production.
Making statements about jobs, tax revenues and general economic impact in response to criticisms or as part of promotional strategy tied to the development of a new project is not, in my estimation, the right way to go. Canada needs to embrace its energy past, energy present and energy future.