ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Several of Canada’s premiers say they’re hopeful a Canadian Energy Strategy can be reached Friday despite regional differences on vocal display at their yearly meeting.
Paul Davis, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, said the provincial and territorial leaders made strides Thursday but need more time.
“I’m very optimistic about the discussions we’ve had today,” he told reporters after the first full day of the Council of the Federation gathering in St. John’s, N.L.
Agreement on a national plan to guide future energy projects while also protecting the environment has been on the premiers’ agenda since 2012.
A related vision statement says the strategy should be “consistent with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” as it “contributes to continued economic growth and prosperity for all Canadians.”
How to strike that balance was the subject of some inter-provincial friction Thursday.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall did not mince words as he arrived for the meeting. In an open jab at Ontario and Quebec, he expressed concern that some resources are increasingly viewed as a liability in parts of the country.
“This energy strategy mentions oil, but it’s almost in passing,” he said of an early draft of a document the premiers had said they would hammer out before this summer’s meeting.
“It’s almost like we’ve become embarrassed that we have this energy asset and we ought not to be because on the strength of developing that asset, we have funded innumerable social programs. We have created strong economies.”
Wall said there’s growing frustration in the West, where the energy industry creates jobs and helps fund equalization transfers from the federal government to less-wealthy provinces.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose NDP government has said it will strike a new course on environmental protection, stressed the need for balance.
“I think that many of the premiers have come together to have mature and productive discussions that will meet the interests of all Canadians, both in terms of promoting jobs and economic prosperity as well as respecting everybody’s concerns about environmental responsibility.”
Notley went farther in an interview with the CBC, saying her role at such meetings is “not about showboating or fun political statements.”
That prompted an emailed statement that Wall’s spokeswoman sent unsolicited to media: “Premier Wall says that if standing up for your industry and your province is showboating, take me to the bridge.”
All premiers are free to express their opinions, Davis said when asked if Wall’s outspokenness was stalling progress.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil called Wall a “great partner” and said it’s important for all provinces to take a national view on how to best move resources across Canada and to international buyers.
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said much is riding on a national plan that would set guidelines for new projects, such as the proposed Energy East pipeline.
“Energy’s an important part of our Canadian economy,” he said. “It’s an important part of the New Brunswick economy and we need it to be helping us, we need it to be growing if we’re going to create jobs and grow the economy from coast to coast to coast.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Canada has a responsibility to act on climate change if it’s to look credible on the world stage.
“Energy in Canada is not only oil and gas, it’s also renewables — particularly hydroelectricity, in our case,” he said. “Balance has to be found.
“Our province, with Ontario and B.C., are particularly advanced on that.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne insisted the leaders are playing nicely behind the scenes and have “a very, very good shot” at reaching a deal Friday.
“Whatever gets said in the lead-up to these decisions, whatever the positions are … we work to find a way to come to a shared position,” she told reporters. “That’s what the meetings are about, that’s why it’s important to have Canada’s premiers meet together because then we can move the agenda forward.”
Wynne said she understands the value of the energy sector, but added “we’re running out of time” to deal with climate change.