Canada needs unified energy policy: industry chiefs

Justin Solomon | CNBC

It's not just arguments over Keystone XL and the tar sands that are holding Canada's global energy reputation back — it's provincialism.

Gathering at CNBC's EnergyFuture brainstorm in Toronto on Wednesday, leaders in Canada's energy sector sent a renewed call for a unified national energy policy.

"For Canada to compete in the past, we had a natural market next door," Shell Canada's country chair and president Lorraine Mitchelmore told attendees. "For Canada to compete in the future, we have to become global, and therefore we have to become one country. To become a global player, you need a framework in which to do that."

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Previous attempts at a national policy have failed due to the vastly different challenges and opportunities Canada's provinces face.

"The challenge is that Canada, very much like Europe, is a federation," Mitchelmore said. "It's a federation of provinces that actually have jurisdiction over natural resources. It's a real challenge."

Bob Oliver, CEO of Pollution Probe, challenged the Canadian industry to a grand "shot to the moon", built around this single national strategy.

"Regional prosperity builds right across the country when we commit to doing things together," he told the room. "That's basically it. We can achieve more as a unified collection of regions than we can as a bunch of regions pulling in their own directions."

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Dr Eva Busza, VP knowledge and research at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, called for "the creation of an innovation ecosystem around services, efficiency and technology in the energy sector."

At the core of this ecosystem would be an innovation fund, utilising profits from fossil fuels to inject into renewable technologies.

Scott Nelson, CEO of Titanium Corporation Inc, a company specialising in improving the environmental footprint of oil sands extraction, told CNBC that Canada needed to learn from the innovation-based energy policies of European countries.

"We've relied on the wonderful US market," he said. "We love them, they're there but they're not going to grow that much in the future. We can be innovative, but fundamentally it's our natural resources, and we have to make them attractive to the rest of the world."

Catherine Cobden, representing the Canadian Bioenergy Association and the Forest Products Association of Canada, saw such a strategy as key to "an awakening in the need to decarbonise our economy." She suggested that the country needed to take the "very Canadian" option of exploiting all the options.

"The governments of Canada, the sectors and the cities, need to come together to leverage our strength," she said. "We are a powerhouse in oil, natural gas, forestry, biomass, let's not forget nuclear, renewables, hydro and agriculture."

Cobden was careful to point out that the strategy needed to be centered on innovation.

"It's not about a lack of willingness to innovate," she told CNBC on the sidelines. "That is happening. But we have not attracted the investment to Canada in the crazy innovative space. I think it is the lack of a fulsome strategy that incorporates all of our strengths."

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