From the day the first Europeans set foot on our soil, Canada’s resources have been the core of our nation’s development.
It started with fur traders who endured danger and deprivation exploring Canada’s vast wilderness, followed by the forest workers who wrestled hug logs to tidewater.
Then came the hardy and determined settlers who turned soil frozen half of the year into a breadbasket of the world, creating the driving force behind the most important project in Canadian history, the building of a national railroad.
Steam locomotives require large amounts of coal, motivating the first underground mines.
Then in 1883, during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, nickel-copper ore was discovered near Sudbury, Ont., launching a huge metals mining development.
That same year, thousands of kilometres to the west, the national railway helped launch Alberta’s petroleum industry when a well drilled to supply water for steam locomotives struck natural gas. It would be another four decades before production from Alberta’s first major oilfield began in 1936 at Turner Valley.
Remarkably, what has become Canada’s most notable oil resource was discovered 158 years earlier when, in 1778, fur trader Peter Pond became the first European to witness bitumen seeping from oilsands along the banks of the Athabasca River. He learned that natives had long mixed that bitumen with pine tar to seal their canoes.
Our country’s rich endowment of resources was pivotal to the building of this nation and remains fundamental to the prosperity that makes Canada one of the best places in the world to live.
Natural Resources Canada’s most recent data shows that the resource sector generated 1.6 million jobs and $233 billion in export revenues in 2011.
But the potential is even greater. Resource development companies are planning to invest a staggering $650 billion in hundreds of Canadian projects over the next decade. Economic research firm Informetrica estimates these projects will add $1.4 trillion to Canada’s GDP and create an average of 600,000 jobs per year.
Just as past resource development has been the key driver to our nation’s privileged living standard, these new projects are crucial to preserving that prosperity, anchoring the careers of many young Canadians while providing the financial underpinning for our generous social programs.
But what are the chances that those investments will actually occur?
While a perennial optimist, I worry that most will be stymied by the actions of environmental zealots who oppose virtually every mine, pipeline or hydroelectric project. That Canadian environmental standards rank among the worlds’ best and are administered by regulatory agencies staffed with highly qualified scientific experts matters little in the public opinion marketplace where fear-instilling propaganda lacking scientific foundation all too often wins the day.
The proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline is a prime example. Opponents would have us believe that environment-wrecking oil spills are inevitable. Yet every day in Canada, some three million barrels of oil is safely transported through oil pipelines. The design criteria of Northern Gateway would make it the most robust and reliable oil pipeline ever built in Canada, and very likely the whole world.
Anti-pipeline propaganda has not only been successful in instilling fear in the general public, but also in First Nations who live near the proposed route. That the courts and our politicians have conceded a defacto veto to First Nations means that, even if it wins authorization in accordance with the laws the land, this project crucial to Canada’s economic future may never be built.
Canadians today stand on the shoulders of previous, less-fortunate generations whose determination, courage and hard work carved a livelihood out of a harsh and unforgiving wilderness. Few of their achievements would have been possible had every new initiative been met with such strident knee-jerk opposition.
As another New Year dawns, my wish for Canada is that the previously apathetic “silent” majority rises up to prevent our new nation builders from being stymied by a highly vocal minority with an ideologically-driven agenda that doesn’t include creating prosperity and jobs.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations. This column was supplied by Troy Media (www.troymedia.com).