Powering the world: Canada's approach to energy resources

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

(Kayleigh Valentine / The McGill Policy Association)

With climate change posing a threat to our planet, finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint is more pressing than ever. A good place to look for strategies would be Canada’s energy policy seeing as the country’s investment in clean energy technology was over $3.3 billion by 2017. Canada’s use of energy sources, as well as different players in the energy market—both private and state-run—greatly impact energy exports and production.

Canadian energy harnesses a variety of technologies that range from forward-thinking to environmentally harmful. Hydropower, considered a clean fuel source, is a major influence in the Canadian energy market; it is the primary source of electricity in Canada, with dams supplying approximately 60 per cent of energy nationally. On an international scale, the country’s use of sustainable energy sources also carries clout; Canada is the third largest producer of hydropower globally. Utilizing natural resources to create renewable energy that does not run out or pollute the environment has proven to benefit both nature and the economy.

Despite a reliance on hydropower, Canada is still a leading exporter of other key energy sources such as oil and natural gas. These forms of energy are limited and are harmful to the environment. Nonetheless, they play a significant role in global energy consumption. Canada is the fourth largest exporter of crude oil and has immense reserves in oil sands. As for natural gas, there is enough in the country to satisfy consumer needs for the next 300 years. Another energy source which Canada is globally recognized for is uranium, which can be used to generate power. It is the second largest producer of uranium worldwide, and although uranium is nonrenewable, it is not a fossil fuel, and it has greater longevity than other fuel sources.

Canadian energy producers consist of a mix of private and public entities. Hydro-Quebec, the largest electricity generator in Canada, is a state-owned corporation. However, non-governmental energy corporations are also key players. Forbes listed Suncor Energy and Canadian Natural Resources, among other Canadian oil and gas operators, as companies with profits well into the billions of dollars.

Moreover, not all energy production is domestically distributed. Canada is an important player in the global energy market, placing as the sixth largest producer of energy and fifth largest net exporter of energy worldwide. Thus, exports are one of the most important issues in Canadian energy policy. Energy imports to Canada have been decreasing over time, largely due to the country’s abundance of natural resources and success in energy production, while exports to other countries are plentiful. For example, Hydro-Quebec’s exports reached record numbers in 2017.

Trade also plays a key role in Canadian energy policy. Canada’s energy policy focuses on three main principles: market orientation (to determine prices, supply, demand, and trade), respecting provincial roles and authority, and targeted intervention in markets if needed (to achieve specific policy goals). Several states, such as New York, Maine, and Vermont, are increasingly reliant on Canadian energy. Energy exports contribute enormously to the Canadian economy as Canadian energy goes beyond borders: energy exports totalled over $112 billion in 2017, making up 22 per cent of total Canadian goods exports. Of this amount, $97 billion was made on oil and gas exports, most of which went to the U.S. But trade does not just occur with the States: 145 countries were recipients of Canadian energy products in 2017. Although the U.S. took up a majority of Canada’s exported energy, Canada has achieved global influence in energy production and exports.

In short, a collection of acts, regulations, and agreements have shaped Canada’s energy policy. This comprehensive framework has enabled the country to have a well-rounded approach to energy production and utilization. Energy has been extremely beneficial to the Canadian economy, resulting in economic growth and success, and despite environmental concerns, the increasing reliance on hydropower is also a positive development for the sector.