EDMONTON — Natural resources, including Alberta’s oilsands, will continue to drive wealth creation in Canada, says former federal cabinet minister David Emerson.
But Canadians need to stop bickering over resource issues to allow this to happen, he told 300 people attending an oilsands industry trade show in Edmonton.
“Let’s quit the short-term bickering based on superficial, symbolic phrases and cat-calling across the land and let’s commit,” Emerson said Tuesday night.
“Let’s commit to good science, good economics and to behaving as governments and corporations with a good social conscience.”
Emerson is currently chairman of a government-appointed panel tasked with creating a blueprint for Alberta’s economy for the next 30 years.
He told reporters before his 30-minute speech that there’s no question that natural resources are key to Alberta’s economic future.
However, he says the economic strategy that he will hand over to the government in about 15 months also needs to include elements that will help diversify Alberta’s economy.
“We’re going to be looking at areas where there can be further processing, further value added, and what conditions need to be put in place if we’re going to succeed in doing that,” he said.
This would include consideration of tax incentives or regulatory incentives.
But Premier Ed Stelmach told reporters that these are issues that are still being debated across Alberta.
“There’s quite a difference of opinion on whether government should be involved or shouldn’t be involved through some kind of subsidy or tax incentives,” said Stelmach.
“Emerson’s report will give us a better sense of what’s happening around the world and be able to make a better policy decision for the long term.”
Emerson was first elected as a Liberal in Vancouver Kingsway and served as Industry minister under former prime minister Paul Martin. In 2006, after being re-elected, he crossed the floor to join Harper’s Conservatives and became minister of International Trade. He also served as Foreign Affairs minister.
The 12-member Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy also includes former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge.
Before Emerson spoke, Stelmach told the crowd that Alberta’s oilsands are the second largest oil reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia.
He also said environmental challenges in the oilsands have been widely exaggerated by groups such a Greenpeace.
Many positive steps that the oilsands industry has taken to demonstrate environmental responsibility have not been widely acknowledged, he added.