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Brian Lee Crowley
Brian Lee Crowley

Munk preview debate pro

Canada should take advantage of China's rise by fuelling it Add to ...

This is the pro argument in the first of two mini-debates The Globe is hosting in advance of Friday’s Munk Debates on China’s role in the 21st century. The topic: Should Canada’s oil sands fuel China? Click here for the con argument.

Canada trades to fuel its own rise; the benefit to our partners is purely incidental. This country has a long and honourable history of paying its way in life by adding value to nature’s bounty and selling it. Timber, wheat, coal, copper, oil – we have an abundance of what the world needs.

Moreover, we generally produce these things in an exemplary way. We have democracy, the rule of law, workers rights and a state largely free of corruption. Our natural resource revenues help to pay for education and health care, not to export extremist ideologies or to finance terrorism.

China is a country with which we enjoy reasonably friendly relations and burgeoning trade. We contribute to China’s rise, such as it is, by buying Chinese furniture and toys and electronics at least as much as by selling them our oil.

Few suggest we should stop buying from China, despite that country’s rather nasty political regime. Why should we buy China’s products but not sell them Canada’s?

Not selling China our oil would hurt us without harming them.

Oil is a widely traded global commodity. Oil not bought from Canada will be bought by China elsewhere at the prevailing world price. That is the nature of commodities.

Canada, on the other hand, has long wished to diversify away from our trade dependence on America, which in normal times buys about four-fifths of what we export. Not selling our oil to China and other Asian markets would leave Canada almost entirely dependent on American customers, weakening our bargaining power with the United States over a range of trade matters.

Finally, refusing to supply Canada’s oil to China will do nothing to improve the world’s environment. According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s dependence on oil will inexorably rise for decades to come. Oil not obtained from Canada will be obtained elsewhere, usually from countries with lower environmental standards. While everyone recognizes the oil sands must improve their environmental record, the way to do that is through new capital investment incorporating cleaner technologies. And for that you need customers.

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa.

Editor's Note: The Munk Debates are semi-annual events that feature prominent figures in their fields. The next debate, to be held June 17, asks whether the 21st century will belong to China. It features former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger alongside economist David Daokui Li, CNN host Fareed Zakaria and historian Niall Ferguson.

The Munk Debates are offering eight VIP tickets to see the China debate on June 17 at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. Go head-to-head against a friend and post the video on the Munk Debates online forum. The top two most-viewed entries win. Find more information and enter at www.munkdebates.com/head-to-head.

For more news, videos, interviews and biographies, follow The Globe and Mail 's coverage of the upcoming debate here.

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