Bridging Divides in Calgary

The Max Bell School of Public Policy co-organized a pan-Canadian conversation on what it means to develop good policy at the energy-environment nexus.

Earlier this week, McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy headed west to the hometown of the foundation which gave the school its name. The Max Bell School was in Calgary for an event co-hosted with Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission and the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. On June 6, 2018, over 180 people filled the Crystal Ballroom at the Fairmount Palliser for Bridging Divides: In Search of Sound Public Policies on Energy and Environment. This event brought together policy experts, academics, environmentalists, lawyers, former politicians, and members of the business community to discuss public policies that are good for both the economy and the environment.

“Like most public policy issues, this one has loads of complexity and I am going to come back to that word a few times, complexity. There are many types of complexity in the discussion you will hear about today," said Chris Ragan, Director of McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, before introducing David Dodge, Senior Advisor at Bennett Jones and former Governor of the Bank of Canada, who gave the keynote address for this breakfast event.


David Dodge’s keynote focused on how best to achieve the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to improve Canadians’ standard of living. He also outlined how carbon pricing and the construction of pipelines are part of a coherent package for both Canada's economic growth and the meeting of its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

"It is very important to combine carbon pricing policy with policies to gain the maximum economic rent on the sale of our hydrocarbon products to foreigners, including the sale of bitumen from the oil sands, while global demand for oil is robust and is still growing. That is what is very important to do, in order to pay the cost of achieving that long run benefit of avoiding catastrophic climate change," said Dodge. 

Panel on Public Policies that Work for the Economy and the Environment

Following David Dodge’s keynote, the following panelists took the stage for a conversation on Public Policies that Work for the Economy and the Environment:

  • Jean Charest, Partner at McCarthy Tetrault and former Premier of Quebec; 
  • Ed Whittingham, Whit & Ham and former Executive Director of Pembina Institute; 
  • Steve Williams, President and CEO of Suncor Energy;
  • and Jennifer Winter, Energy and Environment Policy Area Director at University of Calgary's School of Public Policy

This panel was moderated by Chris Ragan and covered the science of climate change and the complexity of carbon pricing among other topics. It also included a mention of Jean Charest’s difficulties in convincing his father to vote for him and a Star Wars Reference from Ed Whittingham, who stressed the challenges of trying to address the environment responsibly while being a politician. 

“If you're a politician, it must feel like you are Han, Leah, and Luke, in the trash compactor of the Death Star as the walls are being pushed in,” stated Whittingham. 

Panel on Good Public Policies for Canada

The second panel of the morning focused on Good Public Policies for Canada. Pierre-Gerlier Forest, Director of the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, took up the role of moderator and led the conversation featuring:

  • Stephen Cornish, CEO of David Suzuki Foundation; 
  • Carol Anne Hilton, CEO of Transformation International;
  • Preston Manning, Founder of the Manning Centre and Former Leader of the Official Opposition;
  • and Carissima Mathen, Vice-Dean and Full Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa.

The panelists discussed the need for a shared vision on energy and environment, the difficulties in reconciling conflicting interests, Indigenous rights, and constitutional complexities.

"We have now come to a stage, where when we are looking at climate change and where we are going, if we heard this morning that half us wouldn't be hear if it were not for oil, what we are starting to see the science tell us, is that half of us and half of the species in the world will not be here, if we only remain fixed on oil. So at the end of the day, we are still not trying to get to the same vision or not trying to adapt or change into something else," said Cornish. 

During his closing remarks, Pierre-Gerlier Forest compared the balancing act of the Federal government on energy and environment to trying to ride two horses at the same time. “What happens if you don’t have the same pace or the same direction? You have two choices; you fall or you pick one horse against the other. This is probably where we are at this moment, unless there are more conversations of this sort,“ concluded Pierre-Gerlier Forest.

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