Thursday, July 26, 2007

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper putting American energy needs first; Canadian public excluded from SPP negotiations

Canada: Energy pussycat

Stephen Harper likes to describe Canada as an "energy superpower." It's a catchy claim, but a ridiculous one.

Surely an "energy superpower" would be a country that, at the very least, is assertive in taking care of its own energy needs.

Not Canada. Indeed, Canada has been almost negligent in this regard, having surrendered an astonishing degree of control over our energy to the United States in the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since then, Canada has been more energy pussycat than superpower.

Now, 14 years later, Canada's energy is once again on the table, this time as a key part of a deal called the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) being negotiated between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The SPP negotiations have been underway since 2005 – with heavy input from business – but the process has completely excluded the public.

This pattern will be repeated next month when George W. Bush arrives in Montebello, Que., for an SPP summit with Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The leaders will get advice from an SPP council of business leaders but the public won't be allowed anywhere near the meeting – as the citizen group Council of Canadians discovered when it was blocked from booking a hall for a public meeting six kilometres from the summit.

One of the goals of the SPP negotiations is achieving "North American energy security." This boils down to ensuring that the U.S. – which has inadequate reserves to meet its voracious consumption – will have guaranteed access to Canada's reserves.

This may sound like a win-win proposition. The U.S. gets access to our energy and we get rich selling it to them. But what happens if there's an energy shortage?

A recent report by the International Energy Agency predicted an oil shortage within five years as worldwide supplies fail to keep pace with growing demand.

Canada has already compromised its ability to protect Canadians during a shortage by signing NAFTA, which prohibits us from cutting back energy exports to the U.S.

Now Ottawa seems poised to move us further down this road by committing Canada to the goal of "North American" – rather than Canadian – "energy security." This gives American needs the same weight as Canadian needs, even though it's primarily our energy that's being shared.

Canada doesn't have enough energy to supply both countries. With the U.S. devouring our once-ample reserves at a ferocious rate in recent years, we now have less than a 10-year supply of conventional oil, and less than nine years of proven natural gas reserves.

Yes, we have the massive oil sands, but developing them poses huge environmental problems.

Political economist Gordon Laxer discovered the inadequacy of Ottawa's planning when he recently asked the National Energy Board (NEB) about the security of our energy supply. He received an email back: "Unfortunately, the NEB has not undertaken any studies on security of supply."

In a speech in London last summer, Harper captured headlines with his boast about Canada being an "energy superpower." More significant, yet ignored, was his endorsement of the goal of "continental energy security," and his rejection of "self-serving, monopolistic political strategies" – that is, strategies that put Canadian energy needs first.

Some might consider putting Canadian needs first to be the job of the Canadian prime minister.

But apparently not Harper. And yet he'll be the one in charge of protecting our interests in Montebello next month when Bush pushes for an even deeper Canadian commitment to satisfying America's insatiable energy appetite.


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