Skip to main content

The Suncor oil sands mining operation north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.© Todd Korol / Reuters

Supporters of Alberta's oil sands say Ontario needs to do more to publicly defend the resource, including standing up for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, since its economy is the country's second-largest beneficiary from the production of the gooey bitumen.

According to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, in Chicago for a few days talking up her province's oil and gas industry, Quebec also needs to do its part to tell Alberta's story. This is particularly important, she said, on the issue of the $7-billion pipeline that would link Canada to Texas, a project delayed by the White House.

And the rookie Premier, set to soon visit New York and Washington as well, isn't alone. Pundits and industry are also calling on the have-not provinces to come to oil-rich Alberta's aid.

"We in Alberta have a resource that matters to the rest of the country," Ms. Redford recently told members of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada in Calgary, "It's not enough for Alberta to be talking about the importance of Keystone in the United States. We need the Premier of Ontario talking about that. We need the Premier of Quebec talking about that, and of course, we have the Prime Minister of Canada talking about that."

Some have argued that for some time that governments, including Alberta and Ottawa, haven't been doing enough to sell the oil sands to Canadians and beyond. Ms. Redford, who heads into her first election as Premier this spring, aims to turn that around by staring down environmentalist critics with her own vocal lobbying at home and aboard.

"We have to find ways to make an emotional connection between the resources we have in this province and the citizens of Canada's commitment to the development of those resources," Ms. Redford said.

A spokesperson with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's office declined comment.

The province enjoys the lion's share of oil-sands benefits outside Alberta. Between 2010 and 2035, Ontario is expected to see $63-billion in economic spinoffs and 65,520 oil-sands-related jobs, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

The Calgary-based think tank calculates that 94 per cent of the economic benefits of the oil sands (about $84-billion annually through 2035) stay in Alberta, but many of the materials needed for oil-sands development, such as vehicles and their parts, as well as pumps and gauges, are manufactured in Ontario and elsewhere far from the oil sands.

CERI also projected that over the same 25-year time frame, British Columbia could expect $28-billion in economic benefits and 31,500 jobs connected to the oil sands, while Quebec may see $14-billion and 16,380 jobs.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, now head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, also called on Ontario to speak up in defence of the oil sands to naysayers, particularly in the U.S.

"The amount of manufacturing that's connected with the oil sands alone in Ontario represents thousands and thousands of jobs with far more upside than the automobile industry, but I don't think it's recognized in Ontario," Mr. Manning said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recently counted 255 companies based in Ontario among suppliers to the oil sands.

"And Ontario people, who are actually manufacturing and selling stuff to the oil sands, I think are far too quiet when there are protests down there against this type of development," Mr. Manning added, "Where are the people saying, 'but we are getting in millions of dollars of orders to supply this industry?' "

During recent meetings with Mr. McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Ms. Redford touted her "Canadian Energy Strategy," which she hopes promotes Canada as an energy superpower. Mr. Charest offered his support as long as Ottawa wasn't involved and Mr. McGuinty, who is busy promoting his green-energy agenda, pledged academic and technical partnerships.

Travis Davies, a spokesman with CAPP, described the oil sands as a "national asset" that isn't being celebrated as much as it could be.

"There is a large number of – and growing – companies on the supply-side who are keenly aware of the opportunity provided by oil sands," Mr. Davies said, "There remains a bit of a knowledge gap in terms of how the economics flow, ongoing improvement of environmental performance and the role of [research]and technology development."

He remained optimistic that other regions will publicly stand behind the oil sands. "The more knowledge we can build about performance," he added, "the more mutually beneficial economic marriages we develop, and the greater and more visible support from provinces like Ontario will be."