Perrin Beatty is president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a former parliamentarian. During his 21 years in parliament, he served as a cabinet minister in seven different portfolios, including Treasury Board, Revenue, Solicitor-General, Defence, National Health and Welfare, Communications and External Affairs.
Canada has grand ambitions and the talent and natural resources to see them fulfilled. But we also have a record of getting in our own way by doing the wrong things – or not doing anything at all.
Take, for instance, the government’s ambition to transition to a net-zero economy and establish a clean energy grid that will support an EV-powered future. The raw materials necessary for this future are available here and now. So, what’s preventing us from acting? Our own paralysis.
Critical minerals like lithium are essential components in the shift to a low-carbon economy. However, since 2005, only four new critical minerals mines have opened in Canada. According to the government’s own data, if Canada is to fully support domestic EV battery production, it needs to open new mines for critical minerals five times faster than it currently does – in other words, it needs to open more than 20 new mines by 2035.
That’s only 11 years from now. Not nearly enough time considering that the typical mine, major infrastructure or energy project takes 10 to 15 years to move through the regulatory process before being approved at the federal and provincial levels, and requires consultations with local Indigenous and community groups. Though governments have made several commitments in recent years to improve regulatory efficiencies, streamline permitting for major projects and clear permitting backlogs, the status quo remains. This multijurisdictional process certainly has many actors involved, but the federal government has a unique role to play to ensure Canada rids itself of the reputation of a place where major projects can’t get built.
Given these realities, is it any wonder that mining is among the least optimistic industries in terms of business outlook, according to the Q3 2023 Canadian Survey on Business Conditions from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab?
Canada can have all the ambition in the world, but only action moves the needle. By allowing our natural wealth to sit idle, we give many of our competitors, who do not abide by the same sustainability standards, an opportunity to take over the market. China controls upward of 80 per cent of the critical minerals and rare-earth elements ecosystem we need to make the transition to that EV future we so desire. If we continue to regulate in a way that impedes access to our resources and energy options, we will only make ourselves more dependent on China.
You don’t have to look far for another example of what happens when ambition isn’t paired with action. Canada relies heavily on trade, yet we have not been pro-active in maintaining our trade corridors and their accompanying infrastructure adequately. The result is a system that has become so rigid and bottlenecked that as soon as there is a flood, fire or strike, everything comes to a stop because we don’t have enough backup infrastructure to get our goods where they need to go. Thus, businesses don’t have what they need, and Canadian consumers and families pay the price.
Ambition without action is meaningless. Only ambition matched with action results in achievement. The proof of this equation is evident in some of our most economically crucial sectors, such as our world-class agriculture sector, which is on the cutting edge of technology and AI-enabled innovation. It can also be seen in our oil and gas sector, which has reduced emissions through new forms of carbon storage and repurposing and developed low-carbon alternatives, such as sustainable fuels and small modular nuclear reactors. Not only will these sorts of innovations enable Canada to meet its net-zero ambitions, but they will also be the technologies, innovations, and intellectual property that we can share with our partners and allies to help them achieve their own ambitions.
Successfully achieving our economic and environmental ambitions requires partnership and co-operation between the private and public sector. For that to happen, government needs to see business as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The private sector is ready to act but is currently stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for government to cut through the self-imposed red tape and lead. And what better time is there than now, in the last sitting days of 2023, to put some action behind that ambition.