It’s time for Canada to support its energy sector – My op-ed in Alberta Oil

This spring I’ve been going coast to coast with the Economic Club of Canada to discuss how we can restart Canada’s energy conversation. The low price of oil has exposed some of the weaknesses in Canada’s energy sector and we need to work together to find a solution. Energy is a national issue and our current economic environment is the perfect opportunity to stop talking past each other and start working together. Read my op-ed below:

Senator Doug Black: It’s time for Canada to support its energy sector   

The rapid decrease in the price of oil has shown us how important it is to Canadian prosperity. In a January report called Drilling Down, the Bank of Canada confirmed that “Lower oil prices are likely, on the whole, to be bad for Canada.” This is because the negative impacts are not limited to the oil patch or provinces like Alberta. The long-term negative effects of a lower price for oil will impact Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The truth is that energy is as important in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver as it is in Calgary, Regina or St. John’s. Let’s treat the decline in the price of oil as a wake-up call. There are important steps we need to take now to protect our future prosperity by ensuring market access for Canadian oil. The oil and gas industry contributes over 10 per cent of Canada’s GDP on an annual basis, yet, despite this, new developments and pipeline projects are facing obstacles at every turn they take. Why is this?

Firstly, I believe that the problem stems from a failure to ensure meaningful aboriginal engagement in energy projects. As a starting point, this engagement will only happen if we assure aboriginal communities and Canadians that the energy industry continues to make significant progress on safety, remediation and clean-up technology. Canada must be the global leader in all these areas by driving innovation. By continuing to address environmental and safety concerns, we will be able to meaningfully engage aboriginal communities to address our market access needs through nation-building energy projects like Energy East, Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain.

Adding to the urgency that a low oil price has created are the ramifications of last year’s Supreme Court decision on native land titles, which has defined a higher standard of engagement for consulting and earning consent from First Nations for energy projects that cross their lands. That means having a new kind of conversation – one based
on the idea of partnership. We must start talking with each other, not past each other.

But for this to happen, we need to recognize that the issues of market access, aboriginal engagement and environmental protection are inextricably linked. Market access will simply not be achieved until we can ensure aboriginal communities that the lands over which they are generational trustees will be protected, and their communities will have a meaningful role in development decisions. It’s time for us all to recognize this reality and take the opportunity to hit the reset button.

We all have important roles to play – leadership roles. I call upon governments to join with those who are providing leadership from both business groups and aboriginal communities. This leadership is needed to bridge the gaps and create the conditions required to ensure market access for Canadian oil. Prosperity will pass us by if we don’t recognize these realities and get to work.