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Business leaders cite need for national energy strategy

The Globe and Mail
Shawn Mccarthy

The federal government is facing new calls from the country’s business leaders to forge a national energy strategy that would include a carbon tax, clearer rules on foreign investment and a climate agreement with the U.S. that would protect the country’s oil sands and other energy producers.

To take full advantage of Canada’s enormous resources, Ottawa, the provinces and industry need to be “pulling in the same direction” with effective policies that ensure the country attracts the capital needed to develop and market the energy sources, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives says in a study to be released Monday.

“The private sector is ready and willing to do its part, but our industries need a road map that provides clarity and predictability so that they are able to contribute innovative and lasting solutions,” said Hal Kvisle, former chief executive officer at TransCanada Corp. and co-chairman of the council’s task force on energy, the environment and climate change.

Among its key recommendations is that the Harper government should pursue a national carbon price – a levy on each tonne of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels that would be paid by all consumers, from large industrial users to households and motorists. British Columbia has adopted one version of a carbon tax, and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion proposed one in the 2008 federal election but was aggressively attacked by the Conservatives for doing so.

The CEO council task force argues a national carbon price – which would be set fairly low initially – is preferable to patchwork of provincial policies that are being adopted, and argues the revenue raised could be used to reduce other taxes and support the development of new technologies.

The task force also wants Ottawa to provide clearer rules for foreign takeovers, something the government is promising in the wake of its decision to reject BHP Billiton Ltd.’s hostile bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. “Clarity in this area of policy is essential, as the energy sector is likely to be the critical testing ground,” says the report, which was written before the Potash decision was announced.

The chief executives’ group is just the latest to urge Ottawa and the provinces to negotiate an energy strategy that would encourage development while moving forward with co-ordinated action on climate change. The idea has been widely endorsed by executives in Alberta’s oil sector and the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation, as well as by many environmental groups who clearly have a very different vision of what such a strategy would look like.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shown no enthusiasm for wading into an area that largely falls under provincial jurisdiction, or attempting to corral 10 provincial government, three territories and a range of differing corporate interests into agreeing on a common national approach on energy and environment.

Failure to do so, however, could slow Canada’s development of increasingly remote and high-cost fossil fuels, as well as fledgling renewable and alternative energy sources, the CEO council report says.

It argues that Ottawa should aggressively pursue a new pact with the U.S. and, if necessary, play the China card to bring the Americans to the table.

“We can remind our neighbours that Canada has other markets interested in our oil exports,” the report said. “This is not to say that we should threaten, but neither should we be shy about pointing out the obvious advantages of further cementing the continental energy and trade relationship.”

The United States is pursuing a number of troubling measures that would have a negative impact on Canadian energy producers, including a low-carbon fuel standard that was adopted by California and targets the oil sands as “dirty oil.” A number of states are now pursuing their own low-carbon fuel standards.

The Harper government has pursued a strategy of harmonizing its climate change approach with that if the United States, a decision that council applauds. But the U.S. policy remains mired in uncertainty, which has only heightened with the Republican victory in gaining control of the House of Representatives in last week’s elections.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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