IN THE NEWS ~ Op-ed ~Taking a balanced approach to resource development

NDP MP Peter Julian

We can all agree that Canada's oil and gas sector contributes in many ways to Canada's national economy. As elected officials, the real challenge is ensuring that we are pursuing the development of our abundant natural resources in ways that are sustainable, while creating jobs for Canadians in a cleaner and more prosperous economy. Canada's long-term economic growth and international reputation are dependent on us getting this equation right.

Canadians expect their leaders to pursue a balanced economic approach that includes all sectors of our economy and they expect this to be done without compromising the stability and integrity of our sensitive ecosystems and climate. The Conservative approach is to tell Canadians that we need to pursue unbridled expansion of our oil and gas sector at the expense of our environmental values. Last year's budget implementation bill was focused on dismantling our environmental protections instead of implementing a balanced budget with clean energy and job initiatives. Canadians deserve a better approach.

Now that U.S. President Barack Obama is leading the United States toward a greener economy and is implementing a strategy to curb American carbon emissions, the U.S. is leaving Canada behind. While Conservatives used to claim they were waiting for the U.S. to act, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are now scrambling to show that they have any credibility left on the natural resources file.

Instead of working with Canadians and our international partners who have key concerns about the oil sands, the Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver is labelling them as radicals and spending a massive $16.5-million dollars on government advertising to green wash their poor record of inaction. Joe Oliver is spending $500,000 of taxpayer dollars just on media training for himself and his department.

Conservatives have stalled once again on implementing their own oil and gas regulations to curb carbon emissions. We will be watching carefully to make sure they are not delaying merely to water down the regulations to satisfy their friends in the industry.

Conservatives are seemingly unable to differentiate between the interests of oil and gas companies and broader Canadian interests. Sometimes those interests do align, but we should never assume that they are automatically the same. Oil companies have refineries in various places around the globe, but that does not mean that it is in Canada's best interest to encourage them to ship Canadian oil to jurisdictions with lower environmental and labour standards.

It is far more prudent to focus on our own refineries here in Canada to protect long-term jobs and growth. As a former manual worker at a now-closed Canadian refinery, I know the importance of having smart strategies that ensure we get every job we can from every barrel of oil we produce. It is in our national interest to ensure that we lower our imports of foreign oil and add value to our oil and gas products before we export them.

Take the Keystone XL pipeline for example. Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed understood that refining at home translates into jobs for Canadians. He recently advocated for making it public policy to refine bitumen in Alberta instead of shipping it to ports and refineries in Texas and beyond.

Canadians are also concerned about how the recent FIPA agreement gives China's state-owned corporations new rights that guarantee access to, and control over, Canada's natural resources. The FIPA is also troubling as Chinese investors have been given the right to sue the Canadian government in closed-door international tribunals over measures designed to protect the public interest and the environment. The agreement remains ungratified pointing perhaps to the Conservatives' doubt of the deal's advisability.

A potential EU Fuel Directive would target our oil sands exports with tariffs because Stephen Harper refuses to internalize the true environmental costs into the oil products we produce. Our trading partners south of the border and in Europe are sending very clear signals to us that we must deal with our climate obligations. There are real economic implications if we choose not address these challenges. These concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

The truth is that we can grow our natural resource economy, while keeping our focus on a transition to a cleaner and innovative economy of the future. We can fix our lamentable trade deficit by finding innovative ways to turn our resources into value-added goods for export. We can ensure that Canadian companies have a social license to operate by sitting down with oil sands critics and working out the challenges together.

Our oil sands are a natural resource blessing, but we have an obligation to value our environmental and economic assets like true owners.

NDP MP Peter Julian represents Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C., and is the NDP's Energy and Natural Resources critic.

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The Hill Times


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