Labour is key to being an energy superpower – by Eugene Lang and Christopher Smillie (Globe and Mail – December 6, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Eugene Lang is co-founder, Canada 2020: Canada’s Progressive Centre, a non-partisan, public policy think tank based in Ottawa. Christopher Smillie is senior adviser for the building and construction trades department of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Canadian office.

For six years now Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been referring to Canada as “an emerging energy superpower.” It is a very ambitious goal that comes with significant geopolitical clout, the likes of which this country has not enjoyed in decades, if ever. And it will not be achieved without considerable public policy action, especially from the federal government.

While the idea of a “national energy strategy” has been rejected by the Harper government, this government has, nonetheless, taken two steps over the past year to facilitate achieving its energy superpower objective.

The first step has been to open the door to more foreign investment into the oil and gas sector so that this capital-intensive resource can be developed. This was symbolized by agreeing to a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with oil-thirsty China. Enter the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), which promptly walked right through that door with a takeover bid for Nexen. If this transaction is approved by the feds, we can expect much more investment from China in Canada’s oil and gas sector in future.

Ottawa’s second step has been to take an unambiguously supportive position on the building of pipelines to get Canada’s oil and gas into global markets. Earlier this year, Mr. Harper said: “Our government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the infrastructure necessary to move our energy resources to those diversified markets.”

These are the first two steps of the government’s energy superpower plan: attracting capital investment into the oil and gas sector from abroad and building pipelines to deliver product to market.

Both are important but turn out to be rather academic because the third step – ensuring we have the skilled labour pool to execute on these projects – has yet to be taken.

Put bluntly, we simply have nowhere near the skilled trades labour force to satisfy even today’s demands, let alone to fulfill our lofty aspiration to become an energy superpower.

The Construction Sector Council estimates a skilled trades deficit of nearly 160,000 people over the next seven years (which, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, is still five years before projected peak oil sands capital investment).

For the rest of this column, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/labour-is-key-to-being-an-energy-superpower/article6004864/%3bjsessionid=GZNJQQXGmhnC28S60MWLkDTdX9TCDWY2GQ3p2Qymy21D09CyZQMp!-1018525594/?ord=1354798960555

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