5 reasons shipping oil to Asia is not in the national interest

One of the more startling takeaways from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter is how the government has confused “corporate interests” as being one and the same as the “national interest.”

Oliver equates shipping unrefined oil to Asia as undeniably being in the national interest, but there are at least five key reasons why he’s wrong on that front.

1)    Protecting B.C.’s coast is about protecting B.C. jobs. Right now, more than 45,000 people are permanently employed by B.C.’s coastal seafood and ocean recreation industries. We’re not just talking the fishing fleet, but also processors, anglers and tour operators. Enbridge says its pipeline and tankers project will create 560 jobs in B.C., so we’d be risking 80 jobs for every one we stand to gain. Why would we put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk just so multinational oil companies can make a quick buck? We need to protect real jobs and the existing livelihoods of tens of thousands of British Columbians who support their families with the coastal economy.

2)    Canada’s already got a bad case of Dutch Disease. When a currency becomes tied to the price of a single commodity, such as oil, due to a rapid surge in exports, it frequently causes job losses in the manufacturing sector. When this happens, it’s called Dutch Disease. A recent University of Ottawa study found that Dutch Disease is responsible for 42 per cent of currency-related job losses in Canada between 2002 and 2007 – that works out to about 140,000 jobs lost in Ontario because of the rapid expansion of the oilsands. Every time another oilsands expansion is approved, more jobs are lost in Ontario. Read our blog on Dutch Disease.

3)    Exporting raw bitumen exports Canadian jobs. Recent polling shows 84 per cent of Albertans would prefer to see oilsands bitumen refined in their province. Further to that, 81 per cent of Albertans think the government should be taking steps to increase the amount of oilsands upgrading and refining provincially. Even the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 29 unions and 145,000 workers, has spoken out against Enbridge’s tankers and pipeline proposal because it would exported unrefined bitumen – and  50,000 high-quality jobs to China. We’re not prescriptive about whether new refineries should be built or where (because we believe local people should make these decisions), but one thing is for sure: it never makes sense to sell the wood and buy back the chair.

4)    Half of Canada is reliant on foreign oil. Most of eastern Canada is currently dependent on foreign oil from declining or volatile reserves in the North Sea and the Middle East. If our government really cared about the best interests of Canadians, they’d be at least considering Canadian domestic energy security. Instead, they are selling off our non-renewable resources to foreign oil companies and pushing to allow them to ship it to Asia on oil supertankers through one of the last pristine places on earth.

As former senior federal government geologist David Hughes says in his 30-page report submitted to the review panel: “The proclivity to liquidate these resources as fast as possible in the name of economic growth is a very short-sighted policy practised by the Alberta and federal governments at the expense of the long-term energy security of Canadians.”

5)    What’s the hurry? As former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed says, why not go slower on oilsands/pipeline expansion and use the oil we have left in the ground wisely? After all, one of Canada’s top investors, the 85-year-old Stephen Jarislowsky, has said: “Long term, I think oil in the ground is a good asset.”

Enbridge’s pipeline and tanker scheme is predicated on the assumption that oilsands production could (and should) be tripled in less than 25 years – that calculation goes beyond even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ calculations. Without that expansion, there is no oil to fill West Coast pipelines.

Given the plethora of unaddressed environmental and social concerns in the oilsands (as pointed out by six independent reports in 2010 and 2011), as Canadians we should be thinking long and hard before embarking on further rapid expansion. After all, this is a valuable non-renewable resource that we only get to dig up and use once – let’s use it in the best interests of Canadians, not for the short-term gain of multinational oil companies.

Every time you hear the federal government say “national interest” insert “corporate interest” and you’ll see a clearer picture. The prime minister is abdicating his responsibility to serve in the best interests of Canadians – and prominent commentators are asking: when will Harper stop thinking as an oil CEO and start acting like he is prime minister of Canada?

This article was published in the Trail Daily Times, Slave River Journal, MontrealGazette.com and CalgaryHerald.com

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