Lorraine Mitchelmore is chair of the Resources of the Future Economic Strategy Table and former president of Shell Canada.
The expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” could have been coined by a typically modest Canadian.
It summarizes perfectly much of our current attitude to the embarrassment of riches that constitute our natural resources: our vast forests, our wealth of metals and minerals and our diverse reserves of energy that make us a top producer in many categories.
We have commodities that would be the envy of any other country in the world. And yet, for a variety of reasons, we seem determined not to take full advantage of them. We are not building as many projects as we should, we are not attracting our share of global capital, we are not fully reaching global markets and, in certain cases, we are selling our products at significant discounts to the benefit of other countries.
As a result, the resource sector is not generating the level of wealth for Canada in the form of taxes, royalties, community investments, jobs and business opportunities of which it is capable.
Given the world’s growing demand for more resources that are produced more responsibly, the greatest contribution Canada can make to meeting global demand and achieving a lower carbon economy is not to move away from resource development. Instead, it’s to produce the cleanest mining, forestry and energy products, including hydrocarbons, to displace less responsible alternatives around the world, the way LNG Canada will lower global carbon emission by displacing coal in China.
In other words, we have a tremendous opportunity.
The chance to expand our resource sector responsibly is one that our federal government has recognized. Last year, business leaders in six key sectors – including advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health and bio-sciences, and resources of the future – were invited by the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to form economic strategy tables. Each group assessed its sector’s greatest challenges and opportunities and developed recommendations for economic growth.
Our table deliberately chose to call ourselves not just “Resources” but “Resources of the Future.” This is because the forests, mines and energy that helped get Canada where it is today are not just the industries of yesterday or even today, but also of tomorrow. The resources we take out of the ground with increasing care and innovation still underpin our changing economy, including supplying the raw materials in our phones, laptops, wind turbines and batteries. Canada’s forestry, mining and energy companies continue to set new standards when it comes to working with communities, protecting the environment and embracing the digital economy.
But in order to realize Canada’s resource potential, we need to take action in a few key areas.
This country already has a regulatory process that is one of the best in the world when it comes to safeguarding the environment. That should never be compromised. Let’s also make our regulatory system one that is best for our economy, attracts foreign investment, encourages innovation and supports the timely development of responsible projects.
Let’s build the infrastructure that is worthy of a large country open to the world on three oceans, so that we can diversify our markets, earn fair value for our products and displace less environmentally responsible alternatives around the globe.
Let’s recognize that the resource economy and the digital economy are not at loggerheads. They already wonderfully coexist, as mines powered by electricity and automated trucks in the oil sands are proving. Industry is already coming together through the Clean Resource Innovation Network to position Canada as a leader in cleaner hydrocarbons and more innovative ways to use carbon.
Let’s work even more closely with Indigenous communities and businesses, as many resource companies are already doing. Working together to create jobs, higher incomes, business opportunities – and increasingly, equity partnerships for resource projects – is economic reconciliation in practice.
Let’s partner on training opportunities. Resource jobs – like jobs in other industries – are not going away. They are just changing. As the financial industry has automated and digitized, the total number of jobs is actually increasing. We all need to be ready, including in the resource sector.
Let’s share our Canadian stories and work together to define our own global leadership. Our forestry, mining and energy companies have earned the right to serve the world in a sustainable fashion.
Canada’s resources of today are not the resources of yesterday. And as a country we need to come together to talk about how our resources of the future will be even better. So let’s not get distracted from the opportunity by the outdated perceptions standing in front of us. Let’s see the forest for the trees.
The world needs more resources that are produced responsibly. Canada is the right country for the job.