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In July, we praised Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty for showing a more positive attitude about the oil sands, and the province of Alberta in general (“What’s Good for Alberta,”July 21). Mr. McGuinty had dined with Alberta premier Alison Redford in Toronto, seeking to smooth over any problems in their relationship that may have been created by the Ontario premier’s earlier ill-considered criticisms of the oil sands.
It was February when Mr. McGuinty sought to pin some of the blame for Ontario’s current economic difficulties on the high Canadian dollar, partially due to Alberta’s booming petroleum sector. Of course, a high Canadian dollar provides as many benefits to Canadian businesses as problems, and Mr. McGuinty’s leadership has undoubtedly done more harm to Ontario’s economy and future competitiveness than any oil pumped from Alberta.
We were therefore pleased when, after his meeting with Ms. Redford, Mr. McGuinty spoke of the need for the provinces to work together as members of the same team. And we said so. We ought to have waited. We hadn’t seen anything yet.
On Thursday, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan travelled to Calgary to launch a full-on charm offensive. In meetings with local editorial boards and in a speech for a lunch-time crowd hosted by the Alberta Enterprise Group, Mr. Duncan lavished praise upon the oil sands.
He called them a “valuable resource” for Alberta, and the entire country, that “helps fuel the Canadian economy.” He said that Canadians in all provinces should be proud of the oil sands. And he noted, correctly, that even as Ontario’s manufacturing sector has struggled to recover from the 2008 global economic crisis, it has been the rapid growth of the oil sands that has kept thousands of Ontarians working, supplying the equipment and spare parts that Alberta companies need to tap their natural resources.
The figures mentioned by Mr. Duncan are staggering. He predicts that, over the next 25 years, Ontario’s economy stands to benefit from oil sands development to the tune of $63-billion dollars. If true, this would make Alberta a trading partner to rival many of Ontario’s traditional off-shore markets. If realized, such an economic relationship would not only be good news for Alberta and Ontario, but the entire country. It would be tangible proof that our nation’s natural resources are an opportunity for all, not a blessing for some at the expense of others.
The McGuinty-led Ontario Liberals were clearly late getting this message. But we welcome their latter-day conversion all the same, especially since they certainly seem to mean it this time.
Mr. Duncan’s trip to Alberta, to tour the oil sands and meet with local business leaders, comes at a sensitive moment in our history. The rapid reordering of the global economy since 2008, and the continuing weakness of the United States, our traditional trading partner, has placed tremendous stresses upon our economy. Some have benefited. Others have suffered. Some tension within the federation was to be expected.
But Mr. McGuinty’s earlier comments, in which he had said that he’d be happy to see Alberta’s growth slowed if it helped Ontario, were not only misguided, but dangerously divisive. This, at a time when B.C. premier Christy Clark has threatened to hold up the approval of pipelines necessary to export Alberta’s oil unless her province is cut in for a bigger piece of the pie. And when the Parti Québécois has taken power in Quebec, threatening, at the very least, a series of provocative demands for more federal dollars for Quebec. Another national unity crisis cannot be ruled out. Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has also sought to sow division between western and central Canada, as he knows that he will not be prime minister until the existing Conservative electoral coalition, based around Ontario and Alberta, is broken.
It is in this context that Mr. Duncan’s comments, which he made clear represented the perspective of Mr. McGuinty, are so welcome. Ontario now seems set to become a leader in embracing the oil sands, and good old-fashioned commerce between it and Alberta, as a path to prosperity. Ontario will become stronger by helping Alberta become stronger.
In contrast to the demands for more royalties and grandiose national plans to promote growth in one region of the country at the expense of others, Mr. Duncan’s strongly pro-Alberta — and pro-Canada — stand is a welcome development.
For the web version of this editorial, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/10/01/national-post-editorial-board-pro-alberta-pro-canada/