Canada’s chattering classes – who are often more accustomed to playing the sadly ineffectual dovish role – are rushing to prove their outrage over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demonstrate their resolve to make Putin pay. However, these are often the same people who opposed Canadian gas pipelines that could help fellow NATO countries.
The Ukraine conflict reminds Manitobans – indeed all Canadians – that access to stable and affordable energy has important foreign policy importance. The good news is Manitoba and other Western provinces can help address the problem.
European countries are limited in their options when it comes to forcing the Putin regime to re-think its invasion of a sovereign country. Many of them are dependent on natural gas imports from Russia and although they would love to leverage that, they simply cannot. Last week, Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck stated he would be opposed to banning energy imports from Russia because of justifiable concerns over raising energy prices in his own country and the implications for their economy. The problem, of course, is they lack access to energy imports to make up for the shortfall. About 55 per cent of Germany’s natural gas and 35 per cent of its oil comes from Russia.
Enter Canada. Manitobans would be very familiar with the litany of oil and gas pipelines that have been obstructed or killed over the last several years, largely due to a policy environment that is hostile to the responsible development of energy resources. Both the Canadian and the American governments (the latter under the new president’s administration) have been too beholden to environmentalist interests and climate change hysteria to allow for the building of new international pipelines.
For instance, the crafters of the federal C-69 law thought it more important to ensure new energy projects in Canada met gender impact studies than ensuring we were not importing more oil to eastern Canada from regimes that show blatant disrespect for women’s equality. But I digress.
Had these trans-Atlantic Canadian pipelines been operational now, Canada could have secured gas imports to European countries (the NATO countries that Russia opposes) to provide them with more needed leverage to make the Putin Regime feel the sting of economic pain.
Manitoba could be part of providing this leverage to Europe. Last May, a consortium of developers proposed the Neestanan utility corridor project. This proposal was for a pipeline that would run from Alberta to a new Port Nelson seaport on Hudson Bay. The pipeline would then at the same time create a westward path for Manitoba’s surplus hydroelectric energy to reach the grids in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The proposal also involved unprecedented Indigenous project involvement including engaging with First Nation communities along the route. That is great, given the transformational impact energy deals can have on Indigenous communities. Just ask Haisla Nation in British Columbia given its involvement with Coastal GasLink. Indigenous groups are increasingly partnering with energy companies on market terms and that is a net positive.
The exact status of this corridor project is not clear, but it shows what is possible. Manitoba and the Indigenous communities within Manitoba need to push the federal government along to promote these kinds of collaborations.
The next step is for Canada’s government and chattering classes to change their anti-energy tune now in time to help our European allies for the next foreign policy crisis.
Joseph Quesnel is a senior research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. www.fcpp.org