Politics and Tidal Energy in the Bay of Fundy

Tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy is a history that is far more complex than simply the technological struggle of humanity to harness the potential energy that can be drawn from these very unique tidal conditions. Aside from the obvious technological struggle, there has been a very interesting political situation that has played out throughout the years. The Political struggle exists primarily between the federal government and the provincial governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia

The key issue: Jurisdiction

The key political issue that faces tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy is who has the political jurisdiction over this area. In Canada, the federal government and the provinces divide many different political responsibilities.  This division of control is where the political quagmire exists. The provinces are solely responsible for energy production, which would lead one to assume that tidal energy should be a provincial issue. However, the federal government has responsibility over the impacts of energy production, fisheries, and any trade between provinces that crosses provincial boundaries. This means that while Nova Scotia can choose to explore tidal power generation in the Bay of Fundy, as soon as their plans involve the environment, fish, or trading with other provinces, it then becomes a federal issue which the federal government needs to approve of. This may seem very clear and straight forward, but don’t worry, the governments did find a way to make it even clearer!

To complicate matters, the Bay of Fundy is in a political grey zone that has existed since Confederation. Typically, the provinces are responsible for an area of water that extends 3 miles offshore, and the federal government has jurisdiction over the rest. Since the Bay of Fundy is more than 60 miles wide at the mouth of the bay, this should leave a clear jurisdiction, right? Not exactly. Once again, politics is determined to keep people scratching their heads! The jurisdictional boundaries have not been settled in the Bay of Fundy since Confederation and have deliberately been left in a state of political limbo ever since. This state has necessitated the creation of joint committees that are comprised of representatives from both the Provincial and Federal governments to decide on issues regarding the Bay of Fundy.

The roles that Federal and Provincial Governments play

As discussed earlier, the key issues of jurisdiction are the roles that each government has and what boundaries are associated with each level. Here I will try to expand on the particular roles of the Federal and Provincial governments with respect to tidal energy. The provincial government is responsible for the management and sale of public lands belonging to the province, the incorporation of companies, and the ability to govern the use of its natural resources. These factors give the province jurisdiction over tidal energy creation, but there are other circumstances that give it right back to the feds. The federal government’s roles with respect to tidal energy stem from the federal jurisdictions over navigation, shipping, sea coast and inland fisheries, and over the works connecting provinces; beyond the boundaries of one province; within a province but to the advantage of Canada or more than one province. Tidal energy can have an impact on shipping and navigation because putting something that typically measures around 20 metres in tall will undoubtedly have some ramifications on shipping and navigation, this risk will only increase in shallower waters. Also putting something of this size into an aquatic environment will obviously have some effect on the ecosystem itself. Tidal energy generation could also be sold to other provinces or could adversely affect them which would necessitate federal involvement.

Energy itself is a sensitive political issue, given how it can require input from both the federal level and the provincial, which has led to the federal government sponsoring it from a relatively safe distance through subsidization and legislation. Since 1952, the federal government has invested over $8 Billion dollars into research and development for nuclear energy. The federal government spent $40.4 Billion dollars on energy production from fossil fuels between 1970 and 1999.

Federal energy spending

However, the Federal Government is not very willing to enter into a jurisdictional battle with the provinces of Nova Scotia or New Brunswick over who has political control over tidal energy generation in the Bay of Fundy. Likewise, the provinces do not want the feds breathing down their necks either, so in essence they have mutually agreed to cooperate amongst each other. They achieve this certain level of cooperation by ensuring that they do not act without the other. They form joint committees to address any necessary issues that might arise from their intersecting political boundary lines.


Cleveland, Cutler. The Encyclopedia of Earth. “Bay of Fundy”. (14/10/2009) http://www.eoearth.org/article/Bay_of_Fundy (27/03/2013)

Daborn, Graham. “Tidal Power.” Lecture, Acadia University, Wolfville, NS, March 15, 2013 – http://acorn.acadiau.ca/mod/resource/view.php?inpopup=true&id=273671

Natural Resources Canada. “Nuclear Energy in Canada – Overview”. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/media-room/news-release/2009-05/2124 (27/03/2013)

Office of the Auditor General. “2000 May report of the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development”. http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/att_c003xe03_e_11106.html (27/03/2012)

Privy Council Office. “The Constitutional Distribution of Legislative Powers”. http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/aia/index.asp?lang=eng&page=federal&sub=legis&doc=legis-eng.htm (27/03/2013)

Tournmille, Harry. Emerging Energy. “Atlantis unveils AK1000 – World’s largest, most powerful tidal power turbine” (16/08/2012).  http://www.energyboom.com/emerging/atlantis-unveils-ak1000-worlds-largest-most-powerful-tidal-power-turbine (27/03/2013)

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