Peter MacKay: Manitoba could become Europe’s not-so-secret weapon against Russia
The port of Churchill, Man., could supply our allies in Europe with Canadian energy to free them from reliance on the Russian oil that fuels Putin’s war machine
Peter MacKay, National Post
Mar 31, 2022
Known for many things, Manitoba is the longitudinal geographic centre of Canada. Perhaps more importantly, it could also become a force for good in the world’s fight against Russia’s authoritarian aggression against Ukraine. And it could fill a breach that has bedevilled premiers and prime ministers of all political stripes.
Manitoba could do this by providing a critical alternative to Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. By facilitating the export of ethically produced and reliable Canadian energy that would replace coal in many markets, the province could play a key role in Canada’s economic rebound while addressing frictions that have led to unprecedented levels of Western anger and alienation.
Much of Europe is stuck paying for Russian energy products, particularly oil and gas. Until a few weeks ago, the U.S. was importing Russian oil while at the same time supplying Ukraine with armaments. Reliance on Russian oil not only undermines our allies’ abilities to punish Vladimir Putin for his unconscionable aggression toward Ukraine and its people, but it also lines the pockets of Russia’s oligarchs and provides the resources to fund Putin’s war machine.
To combat Putin and other aggressive, kleptocratic regimes we must get serious about getting Europe off Russian energy as quickly as possible.
We must get serious about getting Europe off Russian energy
Canadian energy products provide a perfect solution. We are energy-rich, uphold high environmental, social and governance standards, and are seeking new markets for our products. Saskatchewan and Alberta have long searched for a means to reach tidewater ports on both coasts, and more ready access to the U.S., only to be blocked in most cases for political reasons.
Our most recent attempts to get our energy to global markets have been foiled or set back by a constellation of government ineptitude, provincial malfeasance, and regulatory gridlock. Significant progress on energy infrastructure seems to be something of a pipe dream so long as the governments in British Columbia, Quebec, Ottawa and Washington stick to their guns.
Enter Churchill, Man., as the possible solution to Canada’s energy export problems. Situated on Hudson Bay, it has a significant port that already has an oil-handling system. The Bay is sufficiently deep for large cargo vessels and has the potential to be a gateway to world markets.
Offering a safe and dependable route, Churchill could supply our allies in both the Indo-Pacific and Europe through Arctic routes. There are challenges, of course, ranging from building pipeline infrastructure and railroads through muskeg and melting permafrost, to contending with winter ice. But none of the challenges is insurmountable with modern engineering and environmental expertise.
Ice melts are earlier, meaning that Hudson Bay is ice-free for most of the year. During those months in which there is ice, the ice is not as thick as in the Arctic proper, making it easier for icebreakers to create year-round paths.
In terms of infrastructure, new railways and pipelines would be needed, as would roads, telecommunications infrastructure, a new terminal with an underwater pipeline (mono buoys) and emergency services infrastructure.
The financial and geo-political returns coming from private/public partnership justify a significant investment. This could represent a nation-building project that would bring together the energy-exporting provinces alongside Manitoba, First Nations communities (such as the communities that are already heavily invested in the Arctic Gateway group), and the federal government, all toward serving the needs of our international allies. The sensitivities in British Columbia and Quebec would be respected, thus reducing the risks of delays or blowback.
And, all this of this would revive the economy of Northern Manitoba and neighbouring provinces by creating good, long-term jobs and raising the quality of life for Northerners who are all too often forgotten by our political leaders.
All this of this would revive the economy of Northern Manitoba and neighbouring provinces
This is not an idea that would occur to the current Liberal government and activists, including the federal Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault. Rather than unify and invest in Canada, they spend their time virtue signalling. But it is past time that we stop thinking small and be the positive, visionary country that built a national railroad when it was thought to be impossible. We must pull together as a nation at this volatile time in world history and focus on efforts that bring solutions rather than wading further into the toxic quagmire of divisiveness that has been allowed to fester and paralyze our country.
This ambitious project would inspire Canadians and strengthen the bonds of federalism. We must make clear that getting products like Canadian LNG to international markets will reduce global emissions by offsetting dirtier producers like Russia and dirtier products such as coal.
This is not to suggest all other pipeline projects should be abandoned. This is to boost the export of energy from all coasts to many markets. It is arguably the biggest contribution Canada could make to the fight against climate change. To provide alternative and cleaner LNG to some of the world’s largest coal-fired energy consumers would be a massive Canadian commitment.
With a stronger economy we would be better placed to invest in research, development and green technologies. Much of the infrastructure created in Churchill could be used as Canada becomes a global leader in hydrogen, rare earth and uranium exports that will be necessary to power a transition away from fossil fuels through continued development of hydro, wind, solar, wave, nuclear, waste to energy, carbon capture and others. Traditional energy production is the key enabler to the new green economy and Canada truly has the potential to be a global leader.
Such a project will not be easy, nor will it be quick. We must once again find that resolve and political will of old that enabled our country to form and flourish against all odds.
Our allies in Europe and elsewhere can ill afford to wait. Now is the time for us to embrace a project that sustains our economic and environmental future while making the world a more peaceful place.
Peter MacKay is a former federal Minister of Justice, External Affairs and National Defence.