Imagine if the federal government laid out a long-term plan for energy development and steadfastly stuck to it — even if someone, somewhere, subsequently discovered a sacred tree standing in its way. The cheering from the Alberta oilpatch might be heard as far away as Ottawa.
Because what all business really needs from any government is a sense of certainty. To know whether to invest or move elsewhere. Even if you don’t like the rules, at least you know the game’s not going to change.
When you don’t get such consistency, people and companies either freeze or do indeed move on — often out of frustration more than simple economic necessity.
We saw this here in Calgary eight years ago, when the incoming Trudeau government made so many grandiose, yet vague statements about curbing carbon emissions, while simultaneously axing transnational pipeline projects.
Major international energy companies that had set up shop to piggyback on heavy oil development in northern Alberta fled en masse. Incidentally, city hall still hasn’t reconciled the resulting drop in rate revenue, courtesy of those emptied-out downtown offices.
To continue the fiction that Ottawa could ever be so decisive, imagine the feds asking for time to fine-tune this future, written-in-stone energy plan. Sure, we’d say. How long? One year? Two years? Maybe even three?
After all, this is our nation’s future we’re talking about, as energy is by far the major contributor to Canada’s economy, no matter what Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault might tell you.
And Ottawa’s reply in this fantasy scenario? We don’t need that long. Just give us six months.
Well, six months is all the Alberta government is asking for from all those outfits turning our province into the hands-down leader in renewable energy development — 75 per cent of new solar and wind power projects in Canada were started here last year.
Though this might confuse those green crusaders who see our province wedded to oil and gas with all the stubbornness of a Maple Leafs fan who plans his holidays around the Stanley Cup final, it really isn’t that surprising.
This is as deregulated an economy as you can find in Canada. We have tons of engineering expertise, while the sun shines and wind blows with equal abandon in this part of the Prairies. Plus, Albertans love rolling the dice.
Not surprisingly, this latest stampede has teething troubles, which is why the province is taking a six-month timeout to get to grips with what’s happening in this renewable energy boom, placing a temporary moratorium on any new such generation proposals.
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This immediately stirred up an environmental hornet’s nest: Alberta yet again is cast as the bad guy who doesn’t care about the need to move from a carbon-based economy. The fact our province leads the country in doing exactly that doesn’t matter. When you’re the piñata, all you can do is grow a thicker skin.
Of course, most of the actual shovels-in-the-ground work is occurring in rural Alberta, far from the head offices of these would-be industry leaders. Country folk have walked this road many times before, with oil, gas and timber companies running roughshod over local sensibilities. Calgarians don’t have to worry about massive windmills built in our backyards, so what’s the problem?
Regardless, we’re halfway through this pause period and, despite the usual sky-is-falling rhetoric, the major players in this latest Alberta boom haven’t fled in frustration.
That’s because this remains next-year country, a place where big dreams and hard work might pay off and, if they don’t the first time around, just pick yourself up and give it another try.
Once you understand that you don’t leave. At least so long as Ottawa doesn’t arrive and spoil the party.
Chris Nelson is a regular Herald columnist.