By Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice says Canadians need to step up their efforts to maintain free and open energy markets for Canada’s oil, gas and electricity in the United States.
Prentice, who is now a vice-president at CIBC, is in Halifax Tuesday to discuss how Canada will fare in a North America that is on the verge of being energy independent.
“If we play our cards right, there will be profound opportunities for Atlantic Canada and for our country as a whole,” he told the Maritimes Energy Association in Halifax, according to a text of his speech.
But he said Canadians can’t take access to the U.S. market for granted.
Rather, Prentice warned that they should be vigilant about signs of protectionism coming in the form of low carbon fuel standards or regional requirements to use specific amounts of renewable energy.
“Canada must continue to fight for a continental energy marketplace that is free of national and sub-national impediments. Interventions by government, while well meaning, are nevertheless potentially damaging and counter-productive,” he said.
“Even green protectionism is protectionism nonetheless.”
If U.S. markets stay open to Canadian products, Prentice says the Canadian energy sector stands to profit handsomely, not just from oil and gas sales but also from hydro-electricity.
Prentice — who stepped down as environment minister in November, 2010 — has been a strong advocate of fully developing the energy potential of the Lower Churchill River so that Atlantic Canada can define itself as a major exporter of clean electricity.
He acknowledged that cheap and abundant natural gas in North America means volatility for Canadian oil and hydro-electricity exporters. But as heavy users of electricity look for ways to wean themselves off fossil fuels, Prentice believes the long-term potential for hydro is promising — as long as U.S. markets stay open.
In order to ensure that subnational energy requirements don’t get in Canada’s way, Prentice proposes setting up bi-national working groups “with real teeth” that would establish policies for both countries.