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The Hon. Pana  Merchant, B.A. Appointed to the Senate by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien, Senator Pana Merchant represents the province of Saskatchewan and the Senatorial Division of Saskatchewan. She has served in the Senate of Canada since December 12, 2002.

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Study on Current State and Future of Energy Sector

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Statement made on 26 October 2010 by Senator Grant Mitchell

Hon. Grant Mitchell:

Honourable senators, I will start by saying "ditto." That was an outstandingly good presentation on this report and on the website by my colleague Senator Angus. He has left me relatively little to say. I say that now; but I may say more than I expected by the end of my remarks.

I share the chairman's enthusiasm for both the work and the nature of our committee. Senator Angus has provided outstandingly great leadership. It is non-partisan. It is all party in the truest sense of the word. Everyone gets along and has contributed to the proceedings. It is a pleasure to work on this committee and to work with the members of the committee.

I do not want to duplicate too much of what Senator Angus has said. However, in summary, there is a need in Canada — and we have heard that from 11 groups and from others as well — to understand the demands for energy, both domestic and international, as they would affect our energy industry; the markets for energy, both domestic and international; and the questions of security of energy. It is important to see those questions within the parameters of a number of other overarching issues, for example, the matter of a smart east-west grid. Is that possible? There are the Smart meters, which we hear so much about; climate change, which Senator Angus mentioned in particular; and the question of conservation. Where does that fit? Regarding alternative energy, what are the costs? Are they practical for these kinds of energies? Is it better that we look at traditional energy and find ways to reduce the emissions, and so on?

That is what our nine months of deliberations have allowed us to conclude. We have specified and focused on what we want to achieve and do. We are ready and have background. We have a deep and broad competence in our committee to be able to do that effectively. In part, that has come from the fact that we have had outstandingly good witnesses. The witnesses have been of a high quality and are very motivated, as was mentioned earlier, because they want to be part of this effort. They see it as fundamentally important that we have a national Canadian energy strategy that answers the questions that have been emerging in each region across this country.

If I could be an Albertan for a moment here, I wish to say that this study is especially important for Albertans. There is duress internationally with regard to the oil sands. There are the questions of where will we sell those oil sands and our other energy reserves? How will we compete in a competitive world? How will that oil be refined? These are very important, significant questions to Albertans, and Albertans are in many ways are demanding a study of this nature. To reiterate, it is clear that the Senate is a place where that can be done. We have national perspective in addition to not being particularly biased in one way or another from an industry perspective, or from an NGO perspective, or from any other perspective, for that matter.

Honourable senators, the possibilities, prospects, opportunities and the promise of this study are outstanding. I can imagine that we will be presenting a final report to honourable senators in a year or in 14 months, which I hope will make honourable senators proud of the work of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Mitchell: I would now like to make a few comments about the website. You could just feel the excitement in Senator Angus when he started talking about the website. I share that excitement. In fact, my real regret in speaking after him is I wanted to be able to give out the address. I was then going to ask for a few moments so honourable senators could get their BlackBerrys out and check out the website [www.canadianenergyfuture.ca].

I want to emphasize one particular philosophical feature that we have captured in this website. Many websites, certainly the standard websites — and, I am not being critical here — for Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, are one way. It is all about telling people things. It is about reading Hansard, or some comment, or some blog, but there is no two-way communication. My experience over the years in politics is that you have to listen or it does not work. The more that we speak to witnesses and individuals, the more we find out above what we gather through the witness hearings process. We want to actually structure that communication in our travel arrangements so that we can hold round tables with individuals in the community and learn their sense of the needs, demands, pressures and fears they face with regard to heating their homes, driving their cars and trucks, running their businesses and those kinds of issues.

We have integrated those two sides: People can come and see what it is we want to tell them, and/or they can open up certain features of this website and can communicate to us. We can create a dialogue with them.

If someone wants to look at this report, it will be on the website. It can be clicked on. If someone wants to see a highlight from this report, it will be featured on the website. If someone wants to see transcripts from the committee hearings, they will be linked on this website. If someone wants to see the live webcast, they can go to this website and click on the webcast for committee hearings. If someone wants to get a voice clip of something that happened in the committee, then a person can go to this website and get a voice clip.

The other way is to ask questions and send comments. People will get responses. One can use a Facebook discussion forum and share Facebook and Twitter discussions. Therefore, we can answer questions through those kinds of elements. We can answer questions through a blog.

We could, in fact, take questions from the public and ask those questions directly in our committee hearings, and we may well be able to do that — perhaps not one on one, but perhaps we get a number of questions in the same area. We could bring them together and, on television and on the live webcast, we can ask them directly to the witnesses who might be particularly appropriate for that question and get an answer for the people who asked us that very question.

We have a blog where we will be able to answer questions. We will communication. For those who are fearful that anybody could just communicate and go on the website and cause us a problem, I want to say that is not true. We have a balanced system to ensure that what goes up will be reasonable and proper and will not cause anybody any problems.

I want to emphasize that this is, we think, the first website of its kind in the Parliament of Canada where there is actually this much dedication to two-way communication. As time goes on, we have a great program that makes it very inexpensive to create a website like this and one can actually multiply and create other websites from the same program. It is all good.

I want to thank the committee and Senator Angus once again, and thank all honourable senators for their support in getting us the funding to do this project.

Please click here to read the full text of this debate

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