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Edward Greenspon: Six pragmatic solutions to get the energy transition back on track

Commentary

Peter Lougheed called it. He warned 16 years ago that the federal and Alberta governments were careening toward a historic showdown 10 times worse than the National Energy Program.

The long-serving Alberta premier said a clash was inevitable between of the federal right to protect the environment and the provincial right to develop natural resources, and it would likely go to the Supreme Court. “My surmise is that—and this is strong stuff—national unity will be threatened if the court upholds federal environmental legislation and it causes major damage to the Alberta oil sands and our economy.”

Fast forward to today. Major court decisions on carbon pricing and environmental assessment, the draft Clean Electricity Regulation, a proposed emissions cap on oil and gas, and an inconsistent carbon pricing scheme are exacerbating federal-provincial and regional tensions at a time when the energy transition needs to be taking off.

Clearly, it’s time to recalibrate. But what does that look like?

For the past four years, the Public Policy Forum has been spearheading discussions among dozens of people in the climate and energy space seeking pragmatic policies that can ward off the existential threat of global warming while doing the least social and economic harm. Not beautiful designs on paper, but practical and implementable net-zero solutions that can hold up over decades.

Executing a policy-induced energy transition in a federated and democratic nation requires maintaining a growing economy, ensuring energy affordability and reliability, and prioritizing Indigenous reconciliation and national unity. As we are seeing with the revolt against a carbon price still just 40 percent to its target, carrying the people gets difficult once they start feeling the pinch in their pocketbook.

Here are a few principles we’ve learned along the way that might help policymakers to get back on track.

1. Embrace a binary energy transition

The energy transition is well underway and will last several decades. We need to pursue two simultaneous tracks—decarbonizing incumbent energy systems while developing a new, more technological system. There is no on-off switch. One without the other risks having supply fall out of sync with demand, exposing people to confidence-sapping price spikes and supply disruptions.

2. Don’t fix the Impact Assessment Act; fix impact assessment

The Supreme Court has handed policymakers the crisis they need to rationalize outmoded project approval processes. Canada faces a colossal building job to decarbonize the current system, double or triple electricity supply, and get critical minerals out of the ground. It currently takes a decade to get a transmission line built and 15 years for a mine, but global warming isn’t waiting. We need to get into a hurry-up offence. Jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, and the United States are reforming their processes, including placing time limits on lawsuits, creating inter-departmental and inter-governmental project champions, and allowing exceptions in endangered species cases.

3. Calm the federalism waters

While the federal government has the lead on climate policy, provinces are the primary agents of an energy transition. And, as the carbon carveout conflagration shows, each jurisdiction is unique (some have fossil fuels; some have grids cleaner than Finland and Sweden and some grids are dirtier than Russia or China), yet also sensitive to uneven treatment. Creating a more consensual federalism involves hard but vital work. In Alberta’s case, it will require either shelving or “bi-lateralizing” the proposed national-unity busting cap on oil and gas emissions. That still leaves Ottawa’s economy-wide carbon price to do its work. Alberta could help by putting its existing oilsands emissions cap on a clear downward track. On the Clean Electricity Regulation, an attainable accommodation is there for the taking—assuming the protagonists genuinely want one and a unilateral cap doesn’t poison the well.

4. Make the energy transition a reconciliation moment

Indigenous communities—not all, but many—are clamouring for energy development as a mainstay of economic sovereignty. As prospective equity holders, they are frustrated by the same delays as everyone else. They have the added challenge of limited access to capital on competitive terms. Reconciliation demands that governments help out with loan guarantees and other mechanisms to promote Indigenous ownership.

5. Keep it simple

What were Atlantic Canadians rebelling against? Was it the carbon tax or the Clean Fuel Regulation—or can anyone tell the difference? The monumental challenge of explaining climate action is made that much harder by policy sprawl. According to the last budget, Canada operates 14 different programs, tax credits funds, and pricing and regulatory schemes—with a possible emissions cap in the offing. There is a Canada Growth Fund, a Net Accelerator Fund, a Strategic Innovation Fund, a Low Carbon Economy Fund, a Clean Fuels Fund. Rightly or wrongly, citizens and investors understand the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act and its roster of tax credits.

6. Get cracking

Two budgets ago, the federal government committed itself to carbon capture tax credits. Last budget, it added a slate of further measures in response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. They remain on the drawing boards while the U.S. has pressed ahead. To carry out a real, not theoretical, energy transition and ward off the worst effects of climate change means investors need policy, as well as regulation, to move at the speed of climate urgency. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien liked to say that there’s nothing more nervous than a million dollars. Capital always has alternatives.

The apprehensions and anxieties of citizens and consumers too often get short shrift in climate planning. People are not pawns to be moved around the board for the greater good. They are knights, bishops, and rooks—with moves of their own. A quarter-century energy transition that fails to obsess every day with how to carry the maximum number of people in all parts of the country will lack the resilience to pull off the project of the century.

This article was originally published at the Public Policy Forum.

Israel must ‘hit back as hard as it can’: David Frum on the Israel-Hamas conflict, 100 days in

Commentary

It has now been 100 days since the surprise terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas. Since October 7th, Israel has launched a military operation into Gaza that remains ongoing, and risks of wider regional escalation grow.

The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer spoke with leading author, journalist, and thinker David Frum on October 7th to get his immediate reaction to the unfolding events. Here, they return to their conversation to discuss the state of the ongoing conflict, how the world’s response has evolved since the initial attack, and what we can expect to happen over the next 100 days.

SEAN SPEER: When we exchanged the day of Hamas’s attack, you said that Israel’s allies should permit it to execute a military campaign to essentially neutralize Hamas as a threat. After 100 days, how would you assess the response from the United States, Europe, and others? Are they following your advice?

DAVID FRUM: The Biden administration has shown magnificent solidarity with Israel. In the past, the U.S. always imposed strict time limits upon Israeli responses to Palestinian terrorist atrocities. This time, the Biden administration has allowed Israel the scope and time it needed, providing important assistance along the way. Unfortunately, Congress—and especially the Republican majority in the House of Representatives—has not shown the same solidarity. House Republicans have blockaded a defence supplemental that would have provided aid to Ukraine and Israel, plus $14 billion for border security. Some are blockading under the influence of Donald Trump’s pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine animus. Others are just playing crass politics.

The attitude of the European Union and the United Kingdom has been nearly equally impressive. High German officials have visited Israel and pledged their support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Fabricated anti-Israel TikTok propaganda videos may influence some young people. Mercifully, they exert much less influence upon major democratic governments.

The bad news is the problem of security against violent attacks and intimidation by antisemitic mobs and individuals inside Western countries. In the U.S., U.K., and EU, this threat is real, worsening, and—to date—poorly policed.

SEAN SPEER: What do you think about Canada’s response over the past 100 days? To what extent is Canada offside its key allies in terms of supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and what do you think explains that divergence?

DAVID FRUM: Canada under the leadership of Justin Trudeau has steered a middle course between doing the right thing and kowtowing to terrorists. The government of Canada has condemned both terrorism against Israel and Israel’s self-defence against terrorism.

When Canadian Jewish populations are harassed or fire-bombed or shot at, the government seems incapable of straightforward statements of solidarity with those who have been harassed, fire-bombed, and shot at. The first priority of Canadian police forces is not to serve and protect populations but to minimize trouble and inconvenience for themselves.

The government’s stated motive is to oppose both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Ironically, the unwillingness to act against bad acts by anti-Israel actors is actually stoking anti-Muslim feeling. Recent polls show that the number of Canadians who regard Islam as a bad influence on Canadian society has jumped over the past 24 months, as many Canadians blame all Muslims for the outrageous actions of a very few.

This government’s real motive appears, as usual, to be panicky dread of bad poll numbers—and appeasement of its NDP coalition partners who could at any time bring this prime minister’s career to an end.

SEAN SPEER: At this stage, how do you think Israel should define success for its military campaign? And do you worry at all that there is a gap growing between how Israel defines it and how the U.S. and other allies define it?

DAVID FRUM: May I object to this concept of “defining success” as applied to existential fights like those of Israel against Hamas and Ukraine against Russia? The concept is not always useless. When the United States and partners strike the Iranian-backed pirates in the Red Sea, then in that case the concept makes sense. Did the piracy stop? Success. Did it continue? Failure.

But when a democratic society is attacked by an aggressor bent on mass destruction, it just has to fight back as best it can. Israel cannot restore life to its murdered citizens, cannot uninflect the trauma of victims of sexual violence. There’s no “success” available here. All it can do is hit back as hard as it can, as long as it can, to restore deterrence as best it can.

SEAN SPEER: What in your mind are the broad contours of a post-conflict plan for Gaza? What is the role of Israel, the Arab states, and the broader international community? How do we create the conditions for greater prosperity and security in Gaza?

DAVID FRUM: I have proposed ideas on Twitter, but here I want to sound a different note in response to the final sentence of this question. Asking what “we” can do in Gaza is exactly the question that has brought the region and the world to this tragic impasse. What are the Gazans going to do? How are they going to shift from a project of hate and destruction to a project of nation-building and reconciliation with neighbours? Maybe it’s time to cease treating Gazans as the world’s special-education class and to put the onus for self-improvement upon the Gazans themselves?

SEAN SPEER: What should we look for over the next 100 days to judge the progress towards a sustainable resolution to the conflict and a path forward for Israelis and Palestinians?

DAVID FRUM: Milestones ahead: Release or liberation of Israeli hostages. Death or exile of the hostage-takers. Cessation of aggression not only against Israel from Gaza and Hezbollah-held Lebanon but also against world shipping by Iranian proxies. Accelerating flows of humanitarian aid to civilian populations in Gaza.

Beyond those immediate items, it is past time to resume reinvigorating better governance inside the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank—and then restoring PA police authority inside Gaza. Any final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians has been set back a long time by Hamas’s horrifying aggression. But in the end, Israel and the PA have to be partners in building better lives for all the people who live in the ancient land so sacred to three great religions.