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How Secure is Canada's Energy Infrastructure?


Love it or hate it, the classified "Wiki"-leaked cables have inspired a good deal of public debate. One cable that drew particularly significant attention related to various physical assets located in Canada, and elsewhere, deemed "critical" to the United States. While the term “critical infrastructure” generally incorporates various sectors, including transportation, finance, and health care, when concerns related to national security or terrorism arise, the sector at the forefront of everyone’s mind is energy. Perhaps this is because the sector incorporates nuclear power plants and other high-visibility targets, or perhaps it is because the sector underpins all other critical infrastructure. Regardless of the reason, all eyes typically gravitate toward the safety and security of our energy infrastructure, and owing to continental integration and interdependence, the American one as well.

The question that arose as a result of this newly leaked information was whether or not the United States should be concerned about the physical protection measures and response capabilities in place in Canada to secure the assets deemed critical to their national security. The answer I gave in a recentinterview with the Globe and Mail, put simply, was no. However, this comment is subject to certain nuances – particularly that while we are doing an adequate job of securing critical assets, we can do a whole lot better.

The main problem currently facing the overall security of Canadian energy infrastructure is a lack of proactive, forward-thinking, and timely government leadership, combined with reticence on the part of industry to share crucial information related to its asset vulnerabilities. This is compounded by the fact that there is a dichotomy presented between the goals of security personnel and of those in industry. Security spending, which is essentially allocating cost of future risk, has a negative effect on businesses’ bottom line. As such, security spending within industry can sometimes seem an unnecessary luxury.

The central government response is found in the National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure and its corresponding Action Plan. In essence, the purpose is to strengthen resiliency of critical infrastructure. To do this, the strategic objectives contemplated in the National Strategy are to build partnerships with industry, implement an “all hazards” approach to preparedness, and advance the timely sharing and protection of information among partners.

While the National Strategy is a welcome addition to the security landscape, the lingering question is, why was this not done before? It has been almost 10 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, which dramatically reshaped the paradigm of Canadian national security. As an informed observer, I would think we should be well past the planning stage or the "strategic objective" stage, and have much of this in place. Security is not a luxury, and neither is time.

In terms of forward thinking, a governmental response aimed at making the increased cost of security more palatable for business could be another branch of a multipronged approach. The government could think about tax incentives for business, potentially allowing for more favourable capital depreciation cost deductions from corporate tax for security expenses. Alternatively, government could consider amendments to various insurance statutes allowing underwriters greater latitude in dealing with companies that have implemented significant or advanced security protocols and procedures.

I am not worried that al-Qaida is going to attack the Bruce nuclear plant any time soon, but I do think that our government can do better. Ultimately, effective governmental leadership is essential for adequately securing Canadian critical infrastructure. While the recent National Strategy and Action Plan are welcome additions, actions speak louder than words.


(Originally appeared in The Mark.) 


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