Now that Stephen Harper has consolidated his power, he has the means to tackle the most important issue facing this expansive nation – energy security.
With its roots deep in Alberta, the Harper government is uniquely positioned to handle this problem.
It shouldn’t dally.
This is something that’s going to affect us all in the near future, and it’s not going to be pretty.
The price of a barrel of oil has just dipped below $100 for the first time in months. That’s still high. And high oil prices are good news for the tarsands, which is actually economical at such prices. But it’s horrible news for the rest of us.
The fact that oil hit anywhere near $100 in the lingering shadow of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression should give everyone pause. It means cheap oil is, basically, gone.
Just five years ago, $100 oil was unimaginable. Today, even in a sluggish, staggering global economy, it’s normal.
What happens when the economies of the G20 fully recover their legs and start growing again?
Oil demand will soar. Prices of food, fuel and, well, virtually all goods we consume will mirror their ascent.
And $100 oil is going to look cheap.
Now, consider that economists often say it takes the equivalent of 1,500 litres of fuel to feed each individual in North America. That means when oil prices rise, it affects your grocery bill in a big way.
It also curbs transportation.
Today, even filling an economy car can make you wince. What happens when oil is routinely $150 a barrel? Or $200?
At that price, gas will run you about 2.25 a litre. A Toyota Matrix will cost about $135 to fill up. An SUV, about $180. How is that going to affect your commute? Or that hockey tournament in Haines Junction?
It’s coming. And it’s not that far off – some still believe it could happen this year, or very early next year.
In 2005, the mean price of a barrel of oil was just $54. In 2008, not coincidentally at the time of the big crash, it was $95. Last year, $76 – driven down by the sluggish world economy.
This year, it’s way up again – despite this week’s drop in oil prices, it’s still about $100.
But the implications go well beyond your tab at the gas bar.
The other point to consider is that, as oil prices ramp up, fragile economies, recently glued back together with stimulus cash, shatter again – they can’t afford to pay for the long, fuel-dependent supply lines created by the global economy.
Steel, electronics and bananas shipped around the world are going to get way more expensive.
When that happens, demand will drop. And resource prices along with it.
We saw that this week, with commodity prices crashing. Why?
Widespread fear, high energy and raw material prices are undermining the global recovery, according to Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.
This isn’t pie-in-the-sky doomsaying. This is reality.
The higher price of transport, heating oil and food is going to drive up inflation, create more unemployment and will degrade living standards.
Yeah, it’s gloomy.
But it isn’t some mystery. The warning signs are everywhere.
Personally, you can prepare for it – lower debt, trade in the truck and buy a smaller, fuel-efficient house closer to town.
The nation can take measures to lessen the impact as well.
The problem is, such things are currently not on the Harper government’s radar, which has been singularly focused on crime, jails and fighter jets.
But now that it has control of Parliament, it can ignore the mindless wedge issues and tackle real problems.
Few things will be more important than ensuring cheap, affordable transportation in an enormous nation during a time of skyrocketing oil prices.
And there isn’t much time – this is already a problem. And it’s only going to grow.
Canadians are going to feel the distance even within their cities. Everyone’s world is going to seem a little larger.
There is plenty for Ottawa to do, from stimulating alternative energy projects and residential and commercial energy efficiency programs, to encouraging more rail and public transit projects in our cities.
It might even look to Alberta’s example and create a national heritage fund from the nation’s oil wealth. Such a fund would help Canada adjust to an era when crude is a lot scarcer, and exponentially more expensive.
As a party with overwhelming support in Alberta, the Conservatives are uniquely positioned to take such action.
It now has the mandate – a guaranteed four years.
Energy security is going to become the No. 1 issue for Canadians in the life of this government.
It is arguably already upon us.
The only question is whether the Harper government has the vision to tackle it. (Richard Mostyn)