Interview Transcript of CEA’s President and CEO Sergio Marchi on CBC Radio Whitehorse with Sandi Coleman, Host of “New Day”
June 20, 2018
Sandi Coleman: Energy is the talk of the town in Carcross today. This year’s Canadian Electricity Association Symposium is being held in that community, and it’s the first time the meetings are taking place in Northern Canada. The symposium is jointly hosted by Yukon Energy and ATCO Electric Yukon. Sergio Marchi is the president of the CEA and he joins me in the studio now ahead of today’s meetings. Good morning.
Sergio Marchi: Good morning.
Sandi Coleman: Tell us, what’s on the table today for this symposium?
Sergio Marchi: First of all, we’re very happy that, for the first time, our board is actually meeting in Canada’s North. We have a board meeting on Thursday, tomorrow. Today is a full-day symposium which will address the energy needs of Northern Canada. I think we’ve got a very impressive lineup. We’ll have our board executives from all the major utilities across the country. We’ll have two premiers, your own from Yukon and the neighboring NWT. We’ll have Peter Johnston, the grand chief, as well as a panel of Indigenous leaders and other stakeholders, including the minister of energy for Yukon, Minister Pillai. I think we’ve been able to bring together an impressive line of speakers. I’m looking forward not only to the discussions today but also to take away proposals and lessons that we can then use in our advocacy efforts, both with the federal government in Ottawa as well as provincial governments across the country.
Sandi Coleman: One of those conversations happening later this morning, as you mentioned, Grand Chief Johnston will be on hand talking about partnering with Indigenous peoples. What could some of those partnerships look like?
Sergio Marchi: I think it’s indispensable across the country when we talk about the great electricity projects, many of which are on Indigenous lands. But, last night in a meeting with a number of local energy leaders, it was clear how important it is for utilities to partner with Indigenous leaders who are creating biomass, solar, wind installations. We have Peter Kirby, the Indigenous leader in Atlin who created a hydro project to look after the town for Atlin. I think these are the kind of partnerships that we should be building on and extending the reach of our own utilities. That’s the theme of our symposium, actually. In terms of powering the future, we have to partner today in terms of energy development.
Sandi Coleman: What are some of the challenges that we see in Northern Canada in providing electricity to northern communities, even like where the symposium will be held today, in places like Carcross?
Sergio Marchi: I think the leading overarching challenge is that Canada electrified her cities. She then electrified the rural communities. I think we have yet to finish the job up in Northern Canada. We find that 65% of the energy needs are looked after by diesel, which can be very reliable but not exactly clean and healthy. As we march towards battling climate, I think that’s an important component. But what we also find is that northern citizens are paying, on average, 10 times more than us city folks in the south. That can’t continue. The North is isolated. It’s not linked to the grid. It has a relatively small population. It has a limited economic development base. So the federal role becomes absolutely indispensable in helping The North with the future, and I think it’s time to finish the job of nation-building to provide quality, first-class power for all.
Sandi Coleman: I see in the schedule for today, later on this afternoon there will actually be a panel discussion looking at some of these unique challenges and opportunities that The North presents. What is it that you hope to see come out of today’s symposium?
Sergio Marchi: I’m hoping first of all that we have a unity of purpose. We have representatives from all three territories. We were supposed to have the former premier of Nunavut, but we know the fate that befell him. But we’ve got are players right across The North. When I visited here last year in February, one of my concerns was for us to be unified. So, can we bring a unified message to the federal government about the northern future and needs for energy? Secondly, can we prioritize what those needs are? In other words, would we have a consensus notwithstanding the differences in how each territory gets power? Are there a number of common denominators?
Then, thirdly, can we be unified again in approaching the federal government. I’m going to be looking not only to have a good discussion, but I want this discussion to live longer than today and to reach the ears of our political leaders when we speak about The North. We’re looking at infrastructure. We’re looking at the Indigenous minister. We’re looking at Catherine McKenna. We’re looking at innovation, where Minister Bains will be our guest speaker this evening. And of course we’re looking to Jim Carr for his leadership, given his role of being the minister for natural resources.
Sandi Coleman: You just touched on it there. I was going to ask, what happens, as many people always wonder, after the symposium? A lot of the best practices, the discussions will be then taken to the federal government looking to move forward? Is that the Association’s role?
Sergio Marchi: Yes. Like any symposium, it’s always as good as the followup, I find, because it’s important to get the right people to have the right discussion, step one. But if you can’t take it to make a difference, to create change, then the question is, was it worth it? Our plan is to draft a report from all the things that we’ve heard today and put it in a way that is going to succinctly underline what
The North is looking for from its political leaders in these different mandates. The other thing that we’ll be doing hopefully, I say hopefully, is because tomorrow at our board meeting we have a draft statement on the energy needs for The North that we want to release after the board endorses it. So that’s a supplement to the symposium for today, and that will also be part and parcel because we make a number of proposals ourselves that will be released tomorrow. We’re trying to have a good discussion, but what we’re trying to do is then translate that into advocacy tools with which to hopefully move the file forward.
Sandi Coleman: I appreciate you coming in this morning, Sergio, and telling us about it.
Sergio Marchi: It was my pleasure.
Sandi Coleman: Sergio Marchi is the president of the Canadian Electricity Association, and that symposium is happening today in Carcross.