Something strange has happened to Canada. We have forgotten that the modern country we take for granted was scratched and clawed out of often-inhospitable terrain by men and women who risked everything for a better life.
People and capital were assembled as a result of exploration and trade among citizens of many nations — including the First Nations. Our country is built on immigration, entrepreneurialism and resource development.
The Resource Industry Suppliers Association reflects that ongoing reality. Our more than 200 member companies across the country reflect the spirit that built modern Canada. Many got their start as entrepreneurial, locally based businesses run by people with dirt under their fingernails. Our membership base spans across the natural resource industry sectors and includes businesses and associations both large and small.
When resource projects create opportunities, their suppliers expand, one hard-won success at a time. They hire new people into good family-supporting jobs. When the energy sector contracts — as it is doing now — they have to make tough decisions to keep their companies alive, including laying off good people they have worked with for years.
Many such painful decisions have been made this year under the crushing weight of collapsing oil prices. The consequences are very real for thousands of families, and the extended implications will touch of millions of lives directly and indirectly. Canada is one of the world’s five largest producers of oil. Our oil exports contribute more than 20 per cent to Canada’s total annual merchandise exports. Resources are the foundation of our economy.
And yet, armchair critics insist on portraying the resource sector as an ideological concept rather than an economic and human reality. Perversely, some portray us as somehow villainous and alien, antithetical to the Canadian way of life rather than inseparable from it. As if we do not also care deeply about the environment, the very resource that is at the foundation of our members’ work.
They are wrong. The resource sector is not an abstract concept. It is us. All Canadians are the owners of our resources and the beneficiaries of our success.
Perhaps the most baffling example is the pipeline debate. Blocking the construction of pipelines is no different than blocking railways and roads that bring our lumber and grain to markets.
Opposing and delaying infrastructure that can get our collective national assets to higher-priced markets means leaving millions of dollars on the table every day. That money could build our country, provide education and health care, and strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable among us.
For example, Kinder Morgan, in an application to the National Energy Board, has estimated that their Trans Mountain Expansion Project would increase GDP by $18 billion during construction and the first 20 years of operation. It would result in higher netbacks to producers of more than $60 billion, and almost $20 billion in federal and provincial taxes and royalties. This will result mostly from closing the persistent price gap between Western Canadian Select and similar heavy grades of crude oil that trade at higher prices on world markets. The present disparity costs Canada up to $50 million a day.
The benefits of accessing better-priced global markets for Canadian oil are significant at any time. But they are even more important in an era of diminished oil prices. The economic viability of many current and potential projects is now on the line as oil prices continue to slide. When the price of a barrel of oil is flirting with the price of production, the discount on Canadian crude matters even more.
Whether or not we build pipeline assets like the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is not just an abstract ideological debate. They are real decisions with real consequences for real Canadians — all of us. It’s time stop resting on our laurels, stop second-guessing the DNA of our country, and recapture the nation-building spirit that made Canada great.