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September 19, 2022

OPINION: Canada’s reputation at risk as we abandon our allies in their hour of need

I am worried for the future of Canada. Specifically, about our brand and reputation as a reliable and dependable country — one that could always be counted on by our allies to do the right thing. Even if the right thing wasn’t easy.  

Historically, that’s what we always were. We were there when the world needed us in conflict, whether in world wars or peacekeeping missions ranging from Rwanda to Afghanistan. We were leaders in international diplomacy, championing a global system of rules-based trade. And we would always help our allies in times of crisis, emergency or need. It’s one of the reasons a Canadian flag on a traveller’s backpack can often mean so much.  

I worry that this reputation is quickly fading. 

The world needs us right now, but in different ways. Canada is helping. We are providing materiel and supplies to Ukraine. But there are larger implications of this conflict where Canada can help. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is only the latest crisis undermining global energy and food supplies, driving prices higher and forcing millions into poverty. The consequences have meant that energy and food supplies are unstable and expensive. Whether this is through a reduction in natural gas flows to Europe or the shortages of ammonia and nitrogen that create fertilizers.  

Many nations are now rationing their food production for exclusively domestic use, reducing exports and global food supply. To conserve scarce energy supplies, the EU is working to enforce everything from mandating building temperatures to turning off illumination of monuments and shop windows. Coal-fired power generation is coming back on stream. Many in the U.K. are facing an excruciating choice between “eating or heating” this winter. 

It is against this set of realities that the world is asking for our help. We are a nation that could help feed the world and provide low-carbon energy solutions. But unfortunately, we are on a path to be of little to no use to the world in its time of need. 

The German chancellor was in Canada weeks ago signing a green-hydrogen agreement. Yes, that is a future fuel that will help. But he also asked for Canada’s liquified natural gas. Canada’s abundant supply of natural gas is, frankly, gold right now in the eyes of the EU. Our response through the federal government was that there was no business case.  

Now, I will admit that we cannot immediately supply the EU or the world with LNG. We simply don’t have the export capacity because government policy has made investment in that capacity very difficult and uncompetitive. Sadly, there has been a lack of belief that Canada can, and should, proudly export our energy products to the world.  

But I would hope that in a time of global need, Canada would find a way. That we would expedite approvals for the many projects envisioned for the West Coast. While the direct path to the EU is on the East Coast,  and we should explore East Coast export capacity, the reality is Canada supplying more LNG to the global market is of help. If Canada can ship to Asia, that enables supply from the Persian Gulf or the U.S. to be redirected to the EU. 

I would respectfully suggest that it is not up to government to determine if something has a business case or not. They are historically terrible arbiters of such things. Rather, it should be up to the private sector and capital markets to determine a business case. I work with the chief executives of many large energy companies, and I can tell you there are those willing to try, and further, if we make it a national priority, we could already be talking about increasing LNG exports in terms of 24 months, not decades. 

Neither should governments be concerned about stranded assets. That risk and cost will be borne by companies and investors. If companies, shareholders and capital feel there is a business case for investment, it is the job of government to create the necessary conditions to ensure that Canada is a competitive and attractive place to invest while protecting the public good and our exceptional environment.  

One needs no greater evidence that companies and capital are prepared to invest in LNG than the fact that German utilities are now signing 20-year supply contracts for U.S. and Australian LNG. It seems that there is in fact a business case for LNG investment. Except in Canada, apparently, even though there is tremendous interest among international and domestic firms in investing in, and developing, LNG export capacity in this country, as evidenced by at least a half-dozen proposals and concepts for projects.

The world has come to our shores and asked us for help. And we have said no. This will not go unnoticed among other nations in desperate need of energy or food. This singular act I fear will cascade into a shift of the brand that is Canada. Will other countries bother asking for Canada’s help with food, energy, peacekeepers or anything else in their time of need? We are a great nation, but our reputation rides on our amazing people, our beautiful landscapes and our abundant resources. If we close doors to parts of that brand, what does that do to our reputation and role in the world? When the world knocks next time, if they do, what will we say? 

As appeared in the Calgary Herald.

Adam Legge is President of the Business Council of Alberta.

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