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Jean Charest on the world’s new energy environment and his vision of Canada’s emerging opportunities as an energy nation

Jean Charest is best known across Canada as a cabinet minister and party leader for the federal Conservatives and, as a Liberal, premier of Quebec. Energy and sustainability have been hallmarks of his career in public life. Now, a partner with the law firm McCarthy Tetrault, he continues to be a globally recognized expert on the issues of energy, the environment and policy-making in support of a sustainable future.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

How would you describe the state of the energy strategy debate in Canada today? Where do we stand?

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]I think we’re entering a new era for energy policy. There’s been a breakthrough between the provinces and a new willingness to work together. That wasn’t the case until recently. There were a number of reasons. Among them, there was the aftermath of the National Energy Program for western Canada, and Quebec’s reticence to participate in any national energy policy over concerns that energy policy would be a way for the federal government to intervene in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

But that’s changed, especially when Alison Redford, the former premier of Alberta, came on board. She was instrumental in convincing her colleagues that they had to do better with regard to a national energy strategy. I signed on to the idea, and in Quebec, we said we were willing to work on this if there’s respect for provincial jurisdiction and if the federal government’s involvement is on invitation. I think everyone is on that page now.

What makes our current situation more compelling is that the world has changed. There’s been the rise of shale gas and changes in Europe and Asia. We have a moving global environment in which Canada has some role to play. And we’ve all come to the conclusion that we have to get better at figuring out what that is.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

You mention First Nations as a priority. How do we improve engagement with First Nations, both on energy projects and energy strategy?

There isn’t a very structured approach from government and First Nations at this time. It isn’t something we’ve worked on and said here’s the model of what should be done. We’re doing a lot of things right in certain places. And there are a lot of things we’re not doing right. It merits attention so we can bring more effort and more coordination to what we’re doing. We need to establish a baseline for what our relationship with First Nations should be.

Some of my comments here are based on my experience with Plan Nord, the economic development policy I introduced when I was premier of Quebec. We worked very hard with the First Nations on that policy. And we had success with the Cree, and the Inuit and with the Innu. With other groups, there was less success. It depends on the leadership with the First Nations.

That shows the issue of how we structure our relationships with First Nations is begging for attention. And what we know from our experience speaks to the fact that we have to do a lot more upstream. Any project that is going to work requires real efforts early and upstream with First Nations before a project is on the ground. Any other approach doesn’t work.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”400″ crop=”true” lightbox=”true” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”right” margin_bottom=”10″ desc=” THE CANADIAN PRESS/JACQUES BOISSINOT”][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

You’re involved with Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a group of policy-minded economists representing a range of political viewpoints. What role can these kinds of cross-partisan organizations play in our thinking about energy?

They play a very important role. I’ve been impressed with how well the Ecofiscal Commission has been received. I think it has to do with timing.

Two things are happening. First, people are more understanding and accepting of the idea that there has to be a price on carbon. The world is moving in that direction and we are moving in that direction. Second, governments are having to straighten out their fiscal frameworks and figure out how they are going to get money. It creates an opportunity, a convergence, of two issues that need to be considered jointly. If we are going to look at how we draw money, how we tax, how we are going to do things more efficiently, it creates an extraordinary opportunity for making new choices that are going to be much more based on good environmental choices. There’s a lot of forward momentum on these issues, and that momentum includes Ecofiscal.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

The goals of economic prosperity and environmental sustainability are often portrayed in conflict. Is this a false dichotomy?

It is, very much. All of our experience has taught us that if you make a close examination of your processes to fabricate, you can do more than reduce your environmental footprint. You can also become more effective and efficient. Being attentive to these issues means more innovation and more efficiency.

Any economy in the world that is not paying attention to basic environmental concerns is an economy that has some problems. China is a good example. We’re all impressed with what’s happening in China, but you can’t see the sun in Beijing. The Chinese know this and they know it’s a huge issue. It’s just common sense. The people are going to ask their governments to fix this. And when they fix it, they are going to find that they are a lot more efficient, a lot more effective.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

Let’s come back to Canada to conclude. What is your vision for Canada and what role can energy strategy play in that vision?

Let me start with something a little negative: Canada, I feel, isn’t ambitious enough as a country. We should be more ambitious. We should be more ambitious in relation to trade, in terms of how much we can accomplish and how much of a role we can play. We should be more ambitious in regard to what we can offer the rest of the world in terms of soft diplomacy. And I think we should be more ambitious in the projects we can do together.

For example, I’d like to see a fast train between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and the rest of the country. I’d love to see us accomplish some of these projects for pipelines across the country. I believe in these pipeline projects. I think they are right for environmental reasons. I think they are right for security reasons. I think they are right because economically they make sense.

I also believe we should reduce our footprint for carbon. I don’t think there’s a contradiction. I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I’d like us to be more ambitious as a country, and energy can play a huge part of that. We owe it to each other to figure out what’s happening in the rest of the world. At the same time, we need to understand what we have, and what do we have to do together to get this right, with respect to the environment, with respect to First Nations, with respect to communities. We can do this, so let’s get on with it.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]—Cooper Langford[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-4/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″]Read more stories from the Summer 2015 issue of Energy Exchange magazine[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]