The Centre is grounded in the fact that western Canada has the food, energy and materials that the world requires.
Canada is the envy of the world. Democracy and the rule of law are non-negotiable. Our natural resources endowment is unsurpassed. And, we won the location jackpot – we have had preferential access to the world’s most voracious consumer – the United States – for decades and our Pacific coast affords us easy access to growing Pacific markets.
Despite these advantages, Canada is losing. Some of our customers look at us and see a trading nation that is unwilling or unable to compete for their business. In many ways, they are right. Our oil-and-gas sector provides the most obvious example of a country paralyzed by petty jurisdictional disputes and a lack of public support. Yet, public support challenges are not limited to the energy sector.
In 2014, we polled westerners about the impact of our farming, energy, mining and forestry sectors on western Canada. Only farming was seen to have a significant net positive impact (39 per cent positive, 15 per cent negative). The other sectors were divided deeply – energy (32 per cent positive, 37 per cent negative), mining (18 per cent positive, 25 per cent negative) and forestry (24 per cent positive, 22 per cent negative). The negative perceptions were driven by the belief that these sectors are bad for the environment and not socially responsible.
Natural resources accounted for more than half of Canada’s exports in 2014. If Canadians want to maintain a high standard of living, then we will have to find a way to rebuild public support for resource development and transportation. The Centre is committed to advancing solutions that build that support without driving up costs. If we expect to be able to compete for business internationally, then we have to compete on price.
To build public support, we will tackle three big issues head on:
1) Reforming our public institutions, beginning with trust in our regulators
2) Developing environmental policy that actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions without crippling our economy
3) Finding ways to align western economic interests with the ambitions of Aboriginal, rural and northern communities
The Centre will be at the heart of these discussions, proposing smart solutions.
Restoring trust in public institutions
Our public institutions are in the crosshairs; they face loud accusations that they cannot be trusted to decide what is in the public interest. Indeed, the new federal government campaigned on a promise to “modernize the National Energy Board” (NEB) and overhaul environmental assessment processes in an attempt to rebuild public trust in regulators. Restoring trust in our regulators is one of the single most important things we can do to allow us to respond nimbly to market conditions. If we get it right, we can open the door to economic prosperity across the West and the rest of Canada with a steady stream of developments that provide good jobs and taxes. If we get it wrong, it will be a long time before investors, customers and the Canadian public engage effectively with one another again. Doors will be shut. Opportunities will be lost.
Any attempt to modernize the NEB or overhaul the environmental assessment process must be built on strong evidence. The Centre for Natural Resources Policy and the University of Ottawa plan to provide this evidence. Our experienced team will identify the drivers of trust in six case-study communities while delivering evidence-based solutions that will build confidence in regulators in 21st century market conditions.
Relations between Aboriginal people and the natural resource sector
Increasingly, the success of Canada’s resource economy depends on gaining the support of Aboriginal communities – many of which exist on top of the resources. In recent years, Aboriginal communities have made tremendous gains through the courts and the doctrine of consultation and accommodation. As a result, the dominant conversation in Aboriginal communities tends to be rights-based.
Rights-based approaches wax and wane in their effectiveness, but the alignment of shared economic interests leads to immediate benefits for families and communities – benefits like improved skills, access to capital, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. In 2016, the Foundation will drive this agenda by continuing to partner with Aboriginal organizations. For example, we will work with the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resources Centre of Excellence to find practical ways to address policy barriers to Aboriginal employment in the natural resources sector.
In 2016, climate policy will remain in the spotlight. The Centre will work with like-minded organizations to champion environmental policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the western Canadian economy. Specifically, our research will focus on ensuring that by pricing emissions we are not simply moving economic activity, jobs and emissions elsewhere – a tragic result that would satisfy no one.
The Centre is also contemplating research about the viability of using hydro-electricity to fuel the oil sands. Replacing natural gas and coal-fired electricity generation with hydro-electricity could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands while improving the oil sands brand. The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) is examining the economic costs associated with building the infrastructure necessary to build the transmission lines. If funding is available, the Centre for Natural Resources Policy will provide policy analysis of the feasibility and desirability of this investment.