CPC leadership candidates are energy fossils

Platforms are about restoring glory of oil and gas, not helping Canada become a leader in the new global energy system based on low-carbon electricity, biofuels

The Conservative Party of Canada will have a new leader this afternoon. Canadian hoping for fresh, innovative energy policies will be disappointed regardless of who wins. As Canada stands on the precipice of a disruptive decade for the global energy system, and by extension, the Canadian economy, the CPC candidates’ platforms aren’t much more than a list of the oil and gas industry’s demands.

The four candidates – Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, Derek Sloan, and Leslyn Lewis – all support the Canadian hydrocarbon sector. In fact, for the first three, energy equals oil and gas, which is table stakes for the CPC base.

Lewis, a Toronto lawyer who wrote her PhD. dissertation on green energy in Africa, is the exception, but polls have her in third place, far below MPs MacKay and O’Toole. She’s interesting mostly because of the vitriolic response she evokes from the far-right wing of the party. Hydrocarbon hawk Dan McTeague, a former MP and head of astroturf organization Canadians for Affordable Energy, calls her a “green candidate” and accuses her of “generous support for the ‘oil is dead’ crowd.”

No wonder she’s polling in the mid-teens.

MacKay and O’Toole are more orthodox conservatives, which is to say they make minor concessions to emissions reductions while claiming that the “world will still be using oil and natural gas for a long time” and that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is hell-bent on killing the Canadian industry. Climate policy doesn’t deviate from the much-criticized CPC plan unveiled by former leader Andrew Scheer during the 2019 federal election.

The biggest problem with the two frontrunners’ energy planks is how out of touch they are with global energy trends.

For example, electrifying some oil and gas production with wind power or small modular nuclear reactors, as O’Toole, is a good idea but hardly novel. Trudeau signed an agreement last year with John Horgan’s NDP government that commits federal funding for electrification of West Coast LNG and NE BC gas operations. Even Kenney is on board with some electrification.

Kenney’s fingerprints are all over O’Toole’s energy platform. This isn’t surprising since the Alberta premier has already endorsed the Ontario MP. In fact, the platform reflects Kenney’s energy policy evolution since he became UCP leader three years ago: staunch defence of oil, gas, and pipelines, then dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by the federal government and the more progressive Alberta business executives, but determined to do no more than the minimum.

MacKay is downright regressive, parroting Kenney on the usual hot button issues – repealing C-48 and C-69, ethical oil, Trudeau hates pipelines, respect for provincial autonomy, greater access to global markets, etc. – without the few warm and cuddly bits O’Toole bolted on to his platform. The former Conservative cabinet minister’s energy platform appears to have been written by press releases of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Derek Sloan, darling of the uber far-right, socially conservative wing of the party, limited his energy policies to three paragraphs. As you might have surmised, they’re as modern as his stands on abortion and gun rights.

So, what’s missing from the candidates’ platforms? The answer to that question is another one: Where is the global energy system headed? The answer we’re looking for is electricity generated by low-carbon technologies like wind and solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and yes, perhaps even more nuclear.

The global economy is slowly being electrified. British Columbia and Quebec are already planning to electrify much of their economies by 2050. And where electricity doesn’t work, alternate fuels like hydrogen will do the trick. But it’s very clear now that coal, oil, and natural gas will slowly be pushed out of the market over the course of the 21st century.

Unfortunately, hydrogen doesn’t appear once in the platforms of MacKay and O’Toole. The same goes for electric vehicle adoption, EV manufacturing (passenger or commercial), battery storage, power grid modernization, expansion of hydroelectric, digital technologies like artificial intelligence that are re-engineering energy business models, and a host of other energy challenges and opportunities that are being mitigated or seized by other countries with advanced economies.

Why is there no support for Bitumen Beyond Combustion, the Alberta Innovates’ research program to convert bitumen into carbon fibre and other non-combustion products? The provincial agency estimates that commercial production could be just five to seven years away. Turning a barrel of bitumen into a composite material would create three to four times the value of refining it into fuel. That represents tens of billions of dollars more for the Alberta economy.

Canada is already languishing behind the United States, Europe, and Asia in pivoting to the electrified, low-carbon future. The Trudeau government is making efforts in this direction but Canada is hardly a leader.

Where is the bold conservative politician with a vision to propel Canada to the forefront of the energy transition with a suite of market-oriented policies? Where is the CPC leader-wannabe who understands the need to support energy startups and help existing Canadian companies navigant the turbulent times ahead?

Energy vision, leadership, and narrative count for a lot. Canada already doesn’t have enough and judging by the leadership candidates on offer, the CPC won’t be improving that situation any time soon.

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