Left out of the Loop
RBC execs hoped to avoid questions about their fossil fuel financing at this week’s shareholder meeting. They didn’t. If you want to know how their shareholders voted on the eight proposals put forward this year, you can find out here.
Indigenous Peoples are sacrificing to save salmon along the Yukon River and pushing governments on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to help.
And “renewable” natural gas is on the rise — but what’s in a name?
This week, I wrote about some East Coast energy drama that unfolded in the wake of federal budget day. Newfoundland and Labrador found itself out of the loop when Ottawa announced investment plans for a big regional power grid project, sparking debate in the province and inflaming old tensions with Quebec. While the brewing conflict may be tucked away in one corner of the country, the feds have more power lines to build and political relationships to untangle if Canada is going to achieve a reliable, net-zero national grid — and by 2035, no less.
Before I get into that, though, I want to share some exciting news: my teammate Max Fawcett is officially joining me in newsletter land. Max launched the first edition of his newsletter on Thursday. Sign up here to get sharp, passionate commentary on the biggest stories of the week every Thursday from one of Canada's most influential columnists.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a great weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
Ottawa dove headfirst into the world of clean electricity in its latest budget — nearly one of every $8 in new government spending will go toward building a net-zero grid. The bulk of that will come from tax credits instead of actual investments. But one thing the feds did sink money into is upgrading a regional power grid — and the move may have landed them squarely in the middle of an energy feud between two provinces.
Those upgrades are part of the Atlantic Loop, a plan to connect power grids in Canada’s eastern provinces and help Nova Scotia and New Brunswick quit using coal for electricity. The line item in last month’s budget only named those two provinces and Quebec; missing from the list was Newfoundland and Labrador, whose hydroelectric dams were thought to be a key part of the planned power transformation. The province was included in initial discussions and even pictured on an early map of the loop, so the fact it was omitted from the equation on budget day came as a surprise.
This did not go unnoticed. In Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature, Opposition Leader David Brazil brought up my colleague John Woodside’s reporting Tuesday, asking the premier why he was “allowing (the province) to be ignored?”
Premier Andrew Furey maintained the province still has a part to play in the project, telling his colleagues: “There is no loop without Newfoundland and Labrador.”
What’s more, Newfoundland and Labrador has long been at odds with Quebec over a lopsided hydropower deal that favours the neighbouring province. Being left out of the loop on budget day was yet another blow.
Furey insisted other Maritime premiers want the province to be involved in the regional grid, too, and “don't want to be on bended knee to Hydro-Québec, either.”
All of this power grid drama hints at a bigger challenge on the horizon: how does Ottawa ensure the clean energy transition is fair to all and prevent it from being hijacked by political power plays like we’re seeing in Atlantic Canada?
The federal government has pledged to build a net-zero power grid by 2035. Even though 82 per cent of our electricity already comes from non-emitting sources — think solar, wind, nuclear and hydro (which isn’t, to be fair, entirely non-emitting) — this is a monumental feat for a couple reasons.
First, we need more power. All of the electric vehicles, heat pumps and gas-free stoves we’re purchasing to be more planet-friendly translate into more demand for electricity. If Canada wants to reduce pollution in the atmosphere, utilities across the country need to make sure they have enough renewable energy to keep up with our growing need for power.
Second, we need more ways to get that electricity where it needs to go. There are plenty of transmission lines that can send power south to the United States — but very few that actually cross provincial lines. We need new transmission infrastructure, but it’s expensive, time-consuming and requires co-operation from a variety of governments. Provinces are pressuring Ottawa to pay up for many of these upgrades, but the tension unfolding on the East Coast hints at how those investments can give a competitive edge to whoever has the better infrastructure.
Provinces with renewable energy to spare can help Canada reach its net-zero grid goal and also make money selling power to other markets. If their transmission lines can’t move enough electricity, though, they’ll wind up on the sidelines while others cash in on the rise of renewables.
That’s exactly the worry in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has long been dwarfed by its neighbour. It’s a small-time player in the energy world, partly thanks to the state of its transmission lines. Quebec, meanwhile, is a hydro giant, selling power to several U.S. states and eyeing more opportunities to send its cheap electricity south of the border. Ottawa needs both parties — and every other province in Atlantic Canada — on board to build a regional power grid that works. And as 2035 draws closer, it’ll need to get every other provincial, territorial and Indigenous government on board, too.
Good News Dept.
On Tuesday, The Salmon People — a podcast co-produced by Canada’s National Observer and managing podcast producer Sandra Bartlett — was named a Webby Honoree for the 27th Annual Webby Awards. The next day, we found out the podcast is also nominated for the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s prestigious Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism. We’re incredibly proud of Sandra, the podcast and the story it tells of a 30-year battle to save Canada’s wild salmon.
If you haven’t already, check out The Salmon People on our website, Apple and Spotify.
More CNO reads
“How dare you dismiss this?” Indigenous leaders and climate activists arrived at RBC’s shareholder meeting Wednesday hoping to speak with bank executives face to face. They were instead directed to another room to ask questions via livestream, John Woodside reports.
“We can smell the salmon in the river when they're running, but we cannot go out and fish.” Indigenous Peoples along the Yukon River are sacrificing their salmon fishing in hopes of saving the endangered creature, Rochelle Baker reports. They want fisheries on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to do the same.
The Greens take a hit in P.E.I. After becoming the first Greens to hold an official Opposition in 2019, the number of Green MLAs in P.E.I. fell from eight to two on Monday, but the party still managed to draw a good chunk of the popular vote, Cloe Logan reports.
A lean, mean greenwash-fighting machine. That’s what a coalition of environmental and health groups want to see Canada’s federal competition law become, Natasha Bulowski reports.
“Refugees are dying because of this agreement.” Immigrant advocates and refugees are demanding the Canadian government end a controversial policy aimed at asylum seekers in the U.S. and Canada and ensure permanent status for all undocumented refugees, Abdul Matin Sarfraz reports.
The Liberals are losing the carbon tax communication war. The federal government took the easy way out in explaining the carbon tax to voters — and is currently paying the price, writes columnist Max Fawcett.