The National Energy Program was implemented by the federal Liberal government in 1980 partly in response to skyrocketing oil prices. When the Conservatives came to power in 1984, they dismantled the divisive plan. Although the program did accomplish some of its goals, reducing foreign ownership of the oil industry as well as our dependence on oil, its most lasting legacy was to entrench a great divide between the oil-rich west and the federal government.
Since then, no one has dared to even mention the idea of an energy strategy for Canada. Canada is now one of the only developed nations without a coordinated energy plan. That doesn't bode well for us in light of the numerous energy challenges we face. We have no countrywide energy transmission system, and many communities, including four of our capital cities, are not connected to the continental energy grid. Some provinces have stronger ties to U.S. energy systems than to those of neighbouring provinces, and jurisdiction over energy matters is tangled up between the federal and provincial governments.
Canada is rich in resources, technology, and an educated and skilled population. But if we continue to rely too heavily on products such as coal and oil to fuel our energy systems and our economy, we risk being left behind in the emerging clean-energy economy. Our current use of fossil fuels pollutes the air, water, and land, which affects all Canadians. It also contributes to climate change, which threatens all life on the planet. And although we have substantial reserves of oil, coal, and uranium, some resources are becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous to extract, and they won't last forever.
We need solutions. We can't let the failures of the past scare us from planning for the future. On the contrary, we must learn from the past to create an energy plan that benefits all Canadians. And if the federal government doesn't have the stomach for it, it's up to all of us to take the lead.
To get the process going, the David Suzuki Foundation has joined with the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the philanthropic Trottier Family Foundation to explore the possibilities. The Trottier Energy Futures Project will engage a wide range of Canadians over the next five years, from energy experts to citizens, to analyze our current and potential energy sources, systems, and needs and develop a sustainable energy plan for Canada.
A partnership between environmentalists and engineers may appear unusual, but we believe it has great potential. It will require us to base solutions on the best and most objective scientific information available, to identify solutions that can reduce the environmental impacts of our energy systems without jeopardizing the social and economic well-being of Canadians. Our central goal is to identify energy strategies for Canada that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, and to make Canada a global role model in sustainable energy generation. And we know that to identify solutions that will work for the entire country, we will also need the participation of Canadians from all walks of life.
Every means of generating useful energy can be controversial, and all have some environmental impact. Extracting fossil fuels can be destructive to wilderness and agricultural lands, and burning them releases air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is slow and expensive to develop and comes with issues such as radioactive waste, the possibility of leaks, and the potential to increase the spread of nuclear weapons, as well as the impacts of uranium mining. Hydro, large- and small-scale, affects rivers and wildlife habitats. Wind power is opposed by people who worry about property values, noise, and possible harm to birds and bats. And while solar energy may itself be benign, those solar panels don't come out of thin air.
So, although we don't have the option of building a no-impact energy system, we certainly can identify ways for Canada to do what is required in the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change, while providing the most benefits for Canadians with the fewest environmental, social, and economic costs.
It won't be easy, but if we all pitch in, we can create a bright energy future for Canada.