* Premiers seal the deal on national energy strategy

Robert Benzie

ST. JOHN’S—After a “vigorous” debate, the nation’s premiers have finalized a Canadian Energy Strategy that tries to balance tackling climate change with safely getting fossil fuels to market.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told the Star in an interview here Friday at the Council of the Federation meeting.

Her comments came after the 13 provincial and territorial leaders unveiled the 35-page strategy that mentions “greenhouse gas” 24 times, “climate change” 20 times, “oil” 11 times, and “natural gas” and “pipelines” four times each.

“This is not an incremental move. This is a pretty major step forward,” said Wynne, noting it will promote “cleaner, greener” renewable energy while at the same time helping oil- and natural gas-producing provinces safely transport their products.

“A strong economy and strong environmental protection . . . are not mutually exclusive,” she said, predicting premiers from “the oil-producing provinces are going to take heat for this.”

Without any participation from Ottawa, the premiers spent three years trying to reach a consensus.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the oil industry’s biggest champion at the Council of the Federation, admitted he did not get everything he wanted in the strategy. “There’s some things that I was hoping to see in the energy strategy to a greater extent than perhaps had existed. One of them is around energy independence that speaks to right now even though Canada is home to roughly . . . the third greatest oil reserve on the planet, we import oil . . . because we haven’t been able to move it across the country or were able to,” said Wall, a pipeline proponent.

“So parts of Central Canada and Atlantic Canada have to import oil from other places, which just seems D-U-M-B dumb for any country that would have the oil reserves that we have,” he said.

But Wall, who had arrived in Newfoundland reminding equalization-receiving provinces that oil and gas wealth was bankrolling their transfer payments, admitted everyone put some water in their wine.

“We had a meeting and we had some pretty frank discussions and I guess that’s what’s changed. It was a vigorous discussion,” he said, emphasizing “oil — it’s not a four-letter word.”

Newly elected Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, attending her first summit of provincial and territorial leaders, said the recent Nexen pipeline rupture that has spilled 5 million litres of bitumen, sand and wastewater southeast Fort McMurray, Alta., underscores “the need to not only develop our energy resources responsibly and safely but to transport them responsibly and safely.”

“We are all committed to that objective,” said Notley, a New Democrat who brought a more measured tone on petroleum-related issues to the premiers’ conference than her Progressive Conservative predecessors had.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who along with Wynne and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is leading the way on curbing climate change through carbon pricing, fired back at environmentalists criticizing the strategy as being too favourable toward non-renewable resources.

“The first version of the strategy (in 2012) was very light on the environment and climate change,” said Couillard, stressing it is a greener document after this conference.

But Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall called the plan “a big step backwards.”

“By lending support to pipelines, the strategy will put Canada further out of step with the rest of the world where climate change is being treated as a serious matter. We in Canada need to come to grips with the fact that it’s practically impossible to grow the tarsands and reduce carbon pollution,” said Marshall.

Similarly, the David Suzuki Foundation issued a statement pointing out the Nexen leak is proof of the urgent need to wean off oil.

“If proposed pipelines are built, more bitumen will travel through remote and under-resourced areas, where clean-up possibilities will be limited,” the foundation said. “Canada’s premiers should see this as yet another opportunity to show leadership in transitioning from an outdated fossil fuel economy to a burgeoning clean-technology and renewable-energy future.”

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