How to end the conflict created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is top of mind. Most of the world, including Canada, wants this nasty war resolved in Ukraine’s favour.
To do this, steps need to be taken to limit Russian aggression, short of the direct military engagement that could lead to an all-out multinational, possibly nuclear war.
Thus far, Canada and other nations have applied tariffs, sanctions and limitations on Russian goods, services, finances and leaders – to limited effect.
Canada could have taken steps that would have seriously limited Russia while significantly advancing and assisting Ukraine and the European countries that support it. They would also be beneficial to the Canadian economy. These steps are energy-related.
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International sales of oil and natural gas are pillars of the Russian economy, major sources of foreign exchange and big contributors to Russian political and military power. The pivotal position of these energy exports derives from how dependent Ukraine and other European countries, including Germany, have become on them.
Russian gas has become essential not only for providing heat through a northern winter but also for the power that European industries and individuals need to keep nations functioning. By merely threatening to reduce, let alone turn off, the supply of gas, Russia can and does generate fear and foreboding among its energy customers.
One good rule to ensure the continuance and success of any business or nation is to have more than one supplier of your essential needs. And if you’re unfortunate enough only to have one supplier, make sure that it’s not as capricious and vindictive as Russia.
Canada could become an alternative or additional supplier of natural gas to Europe.
Around the turn of the century, northern British Columbia was bursting with plans and possibilities to extract natural gas, liquefy it and ship it to the world. Investors were making plans, infrastructure needs were outlined, potential customers were identified, and First Nations were considering the jobs and other prospects.
It all came to naught. Perhaps it was due to fear that any negative environmental impacts couldn’t be successfully managed. Maybe it was the unpredictability of the impact of land claims.
Red tape and the slowness and uncertainty of government decision-making may also have been factors.
As a result, needed infrastructure such as liquefaction plants, pipelines and port facilities weren’t put into place, leaving much of Canada’s energy stranded. Not only do we have limited ability to get our energy to tidewater and thus to the world, we also need more access to our primary customer, the United States.
Even more amazing is our lack of ability to move energy within Canada.
We have no easy means to move oil and gas from Western Canada, where it’s produced, to Eastern and Central Canada, where it’s needed. As a result, many Canadian population centres have become dependent on imported energy.
The irony is that such energy has often come from Russia, and now there are sanctions against those imports.
Some say oil and gas and all carbon-based energy is unclean and we shouldn’t enable or facilitate its use in any way.
Reducing carbon-based energy is a good thing, but such a move is only viable once we have efficient and effective clean alternatives in place. We’re not there yet.
If peace is to be re-established in Europe and democracy is upheld in Ukraine, that continent still needs a reliable supply of energy now – one that comes without a Russian gun to the head.
Alas, Canada isn’t in a position to offer that. Hopefully, other countries will.
In the meantime, we need to develop our industries such as energy and our infrastructures such as pipelines and ports before the next crisis strikes.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. For interview requests, click here.
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