In the 1950s, Canada was at a crossroads. The economy and the prosperity of Canadians were becoming severely constrained by a lack of access to cheap transportation to trade our goods to the world.
A solution – though hotly debated – was at hand: Harness the great St. Lawrence River and give Eastern Canada and North America’s heartland a conduit to hungry markets in Europe. Against loud opposition, the St. Lawrence Seaway was born.
That was 1959.
Since then, according to reports, 260,000 vessels have travelled up and down the channel, moving 2.3 billion tonnes of goods totaling $350 billion. The seaway supports 75,000 jobs in Canada and another 150,000 in the U.S. Commerce on the system generates $4.3 billion in personal income per year.
Fast forward to 2011. Fellow Canadians, we are at a crossroads again.
Our nation’s most valuable resource is oil. The energy industry has become our largest industry.
That industry is in very real danger of being constrained by one major structural weakness – our most important product has only one buyer. Nearly 100 per cent of the oil Canada exports is destined for the U.S.
Throughout history, our proximity to the world’s largest energy consumer has given us a unique advantage – one all our competitors would love to have. We export about two million barrels per day to the U.S., making us America’s biggest supplier. The U.S. is, and will remain, Canada’s most important market and closest trading partner.
But Canada’s energy relationship with the U.S. can more accurately be described as dependent, not interdependent. The U.S. has many suppliers of oil. We have only one buyer for ours. That is not a comfortable place to be.
What’s even more concerning is that U.S. demand for oil is declining. That imbalance has forced Canadian oil producers to sell their product at a huge discount.
And that imbalance threatens to get worse.
That means fewer dollars in taxes oil companies pay governments. That means fewer royalties. That means less funding for social programs we’ve come to rely on. One energy expert has calculated that our landlocked oil is costing our governments $10 million in lost taxes and royalties every single day.
It also means fewer jobs.
Make no mistake – a declining energy sector will affect each and every Canadian. But, as was the case in the 1950s, there is a solution to protect our most valuable resource and our largest industry.
Northern Gateway is a $5.5 billion pipeline and marine terminal that would connect Canada to the most voracious energy markets in the world: Asia. It is a smart, strategic, and sustainable way for Canada to safeguard its economy and maintain the standard of living we cherish.
We intend to build a pipeline and marine terminal that is among the safest and most sustainable anywhere. Other nations have done so, and we can, too.
But not after intense regulatory scrutiny – an assessment regime that is the strictest and most robust on the planet. We’ve committed to full participation in the regulatory process we’re currently in. It’s a tough but healthy exercise and one all Canadians should be proud of.
Our critics would love to see our project rejected, our vast oil supply remain landlocked and our energy sector eventually wither and die. But the appetite for energy in Asia will not be denied, and other nations will step up to fill the void if we don’t.
And who would they be? Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq and Iran are the likeliest suppliers.
Do those nations have the environmental and labour standards we do? Do their corporations operate as ethically as ours? Will energy-sector wealth in those nations support social programs and charities, train employees, and contribute to culture and education to the extent that ours does?
Ask yourselves, would the world be worse, or indeed, better off if Canada were called upon to bring Canadian oil to markets around the planet?
In the 1950s, leaders with courage and foresight forged ahead against waves of criticism and fear mongering to build the St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s now considered a technological marvel and a milestone in our history.
Just as the St. Lawrence Seaway was a nation-building project in the 1950s, so too is Northern Gateway today.
The crossroads lie right before us … which route we take is Canada’s choice to make.
For more details on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, visit www.northerngateway.ca.