Speaking in New Mexico on Thursday, Mitt Romney announced an energy plan that promised energy independence -- not for the United States only -- but also for Canada and Mexico.
"I'm going to establish an energy partnership with Canada and Mexico," he said. "We need to work together with these guys, work collaboratively. And we need a fast-track process to make sure that infrastructure projects are approved. And particularly, we're going to get that Keystone Pipeline built as one of those first infrastructure projects that take advantage of their resources.'
In the past, American talk of "continental energy strategies" provoked furious reactions in Canada. The prospect of continental energy sharing was a major argument against the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement back in the 1980s. And now the issue is being raised again, and the reaction from Canada is ... quiet.
I see two reasons for this change of view among Canadians.
The first is a great sustained rise in national self-confidence. Canada has enjoyed a long run of national success, not only economic, but also social and political. The days when Canadians feared that they must inevitably be outmaneuvered in any negotiation with the Americans, that Canadian businesses would always be outcompeted, that Canadian sovereignty would be subverted by American power-plays -- those days have been left behind. Canadians are ceasing to mentally insert the word "junior" whenever they hear an American pronounce the word "partner."
The second, and maybe more important, reason is that the rising importance of the oil sands has altered the way many Canadians think about resources.
An earlier generation imagined resources as if they were some kind of legacy in a Victorian novel: inherited wealth that, once frittered away, would be lost forever. The vast scale of the oil sands, and the advanced technology necessary to put them to use, has inspired a different vision of resources. The extracted oil from the oil sands is the work of human beings, the product of knowledge and massive capital investment. The old distinction between primary extractive industries and new high-tech industries is fading away. The oil industry is high-tech, you could even say the very highest tech of all.
The oil produced in this new way is not remotely a legacy that human beings only happened to tap into. It is a creation of human skill and ingenuity, a creation on a planetary scale. The investment necessary to develop the resource must be global, and so must the sales necessary to repay the investment. Exporting oil from the oil sands does not dissipate a rare and irreplaceable treasure; exporting oil from the oil sands is essential to making the oil sands available in the first place.
When an American politician talks of the joint development of this resource, Canadians do not wince -- especially as Americans are developing at the same time a fabulous new natural gas resource of their own, using the fracking technologies pioneered in Canada, by Canadians.
Investment and know-how are flowing south from the oil sands to the gas boom in North Dakota and along the Appalachian mountains. Canadian companies are active players in the new industry -- and a source of self-confidence for Canadian citizens and voters.
A generation ago, Canadians heard talk of continental energy as an American plot to relieve American scarcities at Canadian expense. But as the continent moves into a new era of energy abundance -- based on new technologies that promise new jobs and higher standards of living on both sides of the border -- Canadians no longer wince at continentalist talk. If anything, the surest way for an American president to get on the wrong side of Canadian opinion is to try and draw a line along the border to keep Canadian oil out.
It's a new energy world out there -- and it is enabling a new Canadian spirit.
This blog is cross-published at the National Post.