Compared to the US system, Canadian politics may seem arcane, tame, and convoluted. But in 2008, they'll be worth the effort to follow. Energy issues and policy north of the US border are heating up in intriguing ways, with potentially significant effects throughout North America.
Here's a quick roundup of what's happening, and what to watch:
In July 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper began touting Canada as an emerging "energy superpower." In June 2007, he refined this national branding to "green energy superpower." However, this campaign is meeting increasing skepticism and criticism inside and outside of Canada.
The Harper administration aggressively supports Canadian energy development of all kinds. That said, Canada still does not have an official energy policy. Urgency is building. This year, lobbying, planning, legislative activity, and protests aimed at passing a Canadian energy policy are likely to be a big story - and a big controversy.
- Oilweek magazine recently published a great overview of the current energy policy struggle and players.
- Natural Resources Canada (federal agency), Energy policy branch: John Lowe, exec. dir., 613-995-2821.
- Canada West Foundation: Policy and lobbying group proposing energy policy measures. Press: Gary Slywchuk, 403-264-9535 x349.
On Feb. 2, the Council of Canadians citizens' group held a national day of action on energy. A variety of protests involving the symbol of a mitten sent the message to Parliament that "Canada's lack of an energy policy is like sending someone out in the cold with only one mitten."Release. Press: Meera Karunananthan, 613-233-4487 x234.
STICKY MESS: THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS
Right now the biggest, most lucrative, and most controversial piece of Canada's energy pie is decidedly not "green" - the large deposits of gooey bitumen known as the Alberta Oil Sands (aka Tar Sands), "molasses-like viscous oil that will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons" (Alberta government oil sands information).
Extracting crude oil from these deposits requires vast amounts of energy and water, and potentially large amounts of waste material. Developers are required to "restore mining sites to at least the equivalent of their previous biological productivity, which involves revegetation and drainage restoration," but it remains to be seen whether that's feasible. Process overview.
The Oil Sands are in three major areas beneath northeast Alberta totaling about 140,200 km2 (just over 54,000 square miles) - larger than the state of FL. Maps of proposed projects.
- Alberta Energy (provincial govt. agency) press: Jim Law, 780-427-6267.
This past week, the Toronto Globe and Mail published "Shifting Sands" - an outstanding in-depth eight-day multimedia series exploring the political, economic, and environmental complexities and controversies surrounding the Oil Sands. Make this your first stop for catching up on this unfolding flashpoint story. And if you have time, explore the reader comments on each installment of the series - a fascinating glimpse into the diversity of Canadian and global views on the Oil Sands.
Canada signed the 2002 Kyoto Protocol and released an initial action plan reflecting the Kyoto goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. But the federal elections of 2006 brought in a conservative administration, which in April 2007 announced a revised action plan that misses the Kyoto goals by about a decade.
- Environment Canada release. Press: 819-934-8008.
- CBC coverage of the latest plan.
- David Suzuki Foundation, Canada climate change info. Press: Sarah Marchildon, 604-732-4228 x237. Analysts: Pierre Sadik (613-594-5845) or Dale Marshall (613-594-8839).
One of the most controversial aspects of Canada's current climate action plan is using carbon capture and storage (CCS, aka carbon sequestration) as a way to cut CO2 emissions.
On Jan. 31, 2008, the national and Alberta provincial governments released their final report on this strategy, Canada's Fossil Energy Future: The Way Forward on Carbon Capture and Storage. Release. Natural Resources Canada press: Louise Girouard, 613-996-2007. Alberta Energy press: 780-422-3667. Coverage: Green Car Congress.
This strategy is highly controversial. A leading critic, the Pembina Institute, issued its own assessment of CCS in Sept. 2007. Feb. 1, 2008, statement on the govt. report. Press: Marlo Raynolds (403-607-9427) and Dan Woynillowicz (403-538-7782).
It's possible that a change of administration might sway Canadian energy and climate change issues and policy. The 2007 Canada Elections Act fixed federal elections at every four years (unless Parliament loses confidence in the administration). This means the next Canadian federal elections should be held Oct. 19, 2009.