Energy, Emissions and Economy: Atlantic Canada's Unique Road

A panel discussion hosted by The Pearson Center in collaboration with Energy for a Secure Future

The recent panel discussion organized by the Pearson Center and Energy for a Secure Future (ESF) provided a spotlight on Newfoundland and Labrador's evolving energy landscape, with a municipal and Indigenous lens.  Moderated by ESF Chair, Shannon Joseph, the panel featured the Honourable Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; as well as ESF Advisory Council members Mayor Danny Breen of St. John's and Chief Mi'sel Joe, Saqamaw, and the recently-retired administrative chief of the Miawpukek First Nation. The panaelist presented an optimistic vision for the future of energy in Atlantic Canada, advocating for a collaborative approach combining the traditional oil and gas sectors with the rapidly developing low-emission energy industry in the region.

Opening the discussion, Minister Hutchings emphasized the oil and gas sector as a cornerstone of Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy, pointing out, "Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas is the heart of Newfoundland and Labrador's economy." A sentiment echoed by Mayor Breen, who added, “We're not turning off oil anytime soon (…) Newfoundland and Labrador have some of the best oil in the world.”

The panel also discussed other energy initiatives already underway in Newfoundland and Labrador, such as wind and hydroelectric projects, discussing challenges like infrastructure development and investment needs for these projects. Acknowledging the current and future roles of oil and gas, the panel highlighted the industry’s role in economic diversification following the cod fishery collapse, which not only saved the province’s economy but also significantly funded growth in the provinces’ tech, R&D, and small business sectors. The City of St-John’s, a key staging point for the offshore industry has been a key beneficiary of the diversification catalyzed by the offshore energy sector. The panelists expressed the hope that new types of energy projects, including offshore wind and local hydrogen production, will have this same diversifying effect.

Chief Mi'sel Joe stressed the importance of developing the pathway for Indigenous communities to benefit from new energy projects. He stressed the need for greater and earlier education and skills development on reserves to prepare Indigenous youth and community members to fully benefit from resource development in the province. The Miawpukek have been working with industry partners on the development of a liquefied natural gas project in Newfoundland and Labrador in which his nation would have an ownership stake.  

The conversation also turned to the challenge of high energy costs in Newfoundland and Labrador and the risk it poses to energy security for rural communities. This challenge was spoken to by Mayor Breen and Chief Mi’sel Joe and both underscored the urgent need for affordable and reliable energy solutions and the importance of collaborative efforts across orders of government, Indigenous peoples, and wider society.

As Mayor Breen put it, "We can't afford to work in silos anymore."

Chief Joe also noted, "Lack of communication will always be our worst enemy. It's going to take all of us pulling on the same rope to do that," called for unity and collective effort in meeting our energy goals.

Overall, the panelists expressed a strong commitment to ensuring that the shift to a low-emission economy in Newfoundland and Labrador is inclusive and advantageous for both Indigenous communities and the Atlantic provinces at large. The integration of oil, natural gas, and green energy not only marks a stride towards a sustainable future but also lays the groundwork for reconciliation and economic prosperity for Indigenous peoples.

We would like to thank all the panelists for lending their time and expertise to this essential conversation. It was also a great first collaboration with the Pearson Centre on a very timely conversation.