Somewhere in the last year, the global conversation on climate change has shifted to one on clean energy. The precise moment this occured may have been Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech in January 2010. The words “climate change” received only one mention in the speech. But there were seven references to “clean energy.” On such an occasion an American president’s words are carefully chosen, and the shift in emphasis and tone was unmistakable.

What does clean energy mean? For the purposes of this month’s cover thematic, it means developing Canada’s immense energy resources in an environmentally sustainable manner. This includes the oil sands.

First, Velma McColl, our lead writer on the environment and energy, takes us from Copenhagen to Cancún, and notes “what a difference a year makes.” And how, from the chaos of Copenhagen, where heads of government only added to the confusion and consternation, the COP16 conference in Cancún dialed it down. Thanks largely to skillful management by the host Mexicans, all but one of the 194 countries present agreed to steps going forward. “The progress in Cancún,” she notes, “was only made possible by the wakeup call of Copenhagen.”

Bruce Carson, Director of the School of Energy and the Environment at the University of Calgary, checks in with an extensive look at the Canadian oil sands, which already account for 55 percent of Canada’s oil production of some 2.5 million barrels per day. With established reserves of 170 billion barrels, the prospects for Canada’s oil industry are bright. As Carson notes, all of Canada stands to share in Alberta’s good fortune. The environmental impacts are obvious, on everything from water use to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But it’s also a fact, as Todd Hirsch points out in his column, that the coal-fired US energy industry is responsible for 64 times as many GHG emissions as the Canadian oil sands.

Kevin Lynch examines the issue of US energy security from a Canadian perspective. As he notes, “each day the US imports 2 million barrels of Canadian oil, more than it does from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.”

But while Canada has an abundance of resources, what we lack most is an energy strategy, and one that is environmentally sustainable. David Emerson, the former industry and trade minister, makes this point from his perspective as chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada.

From the vantage of the business community, Linda Hasenfratz and Hal Kvisle, respectively CEO of Linamar Corporation and former CEO of the TransCanada Corporation, also make the case that Canada “needs a focused national strategy” so that it can “achieve its potential as an energy and environmental powerhouse.”

There will be no solution to global warming without the participation of the US, and Colin Robertson has a timely assessment of how climate change and clean energy have become gridlocked in Washington. Due to the severe economic downturn in the US since 2008, clean energy has also plunged as a priority for Americans, pretty much to the bottom of the list.

Finally, Donald Barry of the University of Calgary offers a 10-point list of do’s and don’ts for industry in engaging with environmental activists in general and critics of the oil sands in particular.

The inner workings of government
Keep track of who’s doing what to get federal policy made. In The Functionary.
The Functionary
Our newsletter about the public service. Nominated for a Digital Publishing Award.

Taken together, these articles reflect a shifting debate in this country, led largely by a diverse set of voices outside government. The IRPP joined 10 think tanks in Winnipeg in late 2009 to expand the policy dialogue on Canada’s historically intransigent energy issues. This issue of Policy Options marks the deeper engagement across the political spectrum, in anticipation of the next round of dialogues in Winnipeg this spring and the federal and provincial energy ministers’ meeting in July.

Elsewhere this month, Jeremy Kinsman weighs in on the truth and consequences of the WikiLeaks affair. Himself the author of thousands of cables during his career as a Canadian ambassador, he says the leaked cables “provide an extraordinary composite snapshot.”

In The Provinces, Jim Feehan of Memorial University looks at the sudden and unexpected departure of Danny Williams as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, and offers a first draft of the history of his time in office, when Newfoundland and Labrador became a have-province. In The Federation, Robin Sears examines the present cast of federal and provincial players, and concludes they stand on the shoulders of giants.

Adam Chapnick looks back at Canada’s failed bid for a UN Security Council seat last fall, and asks 10 pertinent questions about what went wrong.

Daniel Cohn and his York University colleagues, Lorne Foster and Ian Greene, look at expenditure reviews in government and how they can sometimes affect public safety. George Wyatt and Karen Black examine the issue of reimbursing “off-label” drugs; that is, when patients are reimbursed for drugs not approved by Health Canada.

From Queen’s University, Tom Courchene and John Allan fire back at Charles E. McClure’s response in our October 2010 issue to their March 2008 article making a case for a carbon-added tax.

And finally from Saskatchewan, Gregory Marchildon offers an appreciation of Al Johnson, a top public servant there who became part of “the Saskatchewan Mafia” in Ottawa.

Photo: Shutterstock

L. Ian MacDonald
L. Ian MacDonald is a former editor-in-chief of Policy Options (2002-12) and is currently an editor and publisher of Policy Magazine.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License