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opinion

Candace MacGibbon is a Canadian mining executive.

Russia has weaponized the supply of natural gas. The state-owned energy company Gazprom has ratcheted down export quantities to Europe and said it can’t guarantee future supply, resulting in serious concerns about shortfalls for the approaching winter. Last week, the European Commission joined the G7 in agreeing to ban imports of Russian gold. Is Canada ready should future sanctions ban critical minerals such as copper, nickel, lithium and uranium? Not yet.

The German government asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month to supply critical liquid natural gas (LNG), but Canada’s systemic failures to build pipelines to export oil and gas meant we were unable to respond to this serious need. Consequently, Germany’s coal plants have been reopened, increasing greenhouse gas emissions even as the world strives to hit aggressive net zero targets. This geopolitical climate has European lawmakers rethinking energy security, voting recently to classify forms of nuclear and natural gas power as “green” energy.

Canada’s natural resources sector should be poised to displace Russian critical minerals, oil and gas in response to global energy security issues arising from the invasion of Ukraine. Our country houses the third largest reserves of oil in the world, vast reserves of natural gas, one of the most prolific nickel mining camps globally, is home to the world’s largest uranium mine, and claims vast potential for critical minerals within the Ring of Fire. Our miners are global leaders in sustainable and responsible mining practices and our natural gas sector boasts of having a low rate of greenhouse gas emissions when compared with other countries. Yet we cannot extract our natural resources for export to supply our allies with the energy they need, nor with the required metals for a swift transition to battery technologies. Why? Because policy and negative perception have made financing and permitting new projects nearly impossible within reasonable timelines.

A recent Ipsos survey found that seven in ten Canadians agree that Canada should be a global supplier of oil and gas during times of crisis. To ensure that supply, we must have public and government support to build projects and infrastructure before times of crisis. Despite the results of the poll, since 2015, Canada has begun construction on only one of 18 proposed new LNG pipelines and projects, which would have enabled us to answer the call and export abroad. None of the others have yet to be approved.

An Abucus poll found that 80 per cent of those interviewed feel that, “we need a strong mining sector for Canada’s economy to be healthy over the long term,” yet capital investment in the mining industry over the 10-year period from 2020-30 is forecast at $82-billion, nearly 50 per cent below the 2014 level of $160-billion. There is a large disconnect between the perception noted in the survey and actual investment in the sector, which is declining after years without supportive government policy, amidst loud opposition voices. This inertia is unsustainable if Canada wants to become a supplier of choice for responsible natural resources.

The simple fact is policy, public perception and anti-resource sentiment in Canada must be addressed for us to become the global supplier of choice for ethical and sustainable natural resources again. These systemic issues have impeded Canada from answering the call of our allies in Europe and make it inconvenient for Canadian political leaders to support resource extraction and export. In the longer term, however, it will be much more inconvenient for Canada not to have a comprehensive plan for securing responsibly produced, lower emission energy sources and critical minerals during the transition to a carbon-neutral future.

Canada and the U.S. have begun discussions on a collaborative critical minerals strategy and last month announced the establishment of a Minerals Security Partnership with several other allies. Later this summer, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is coming to Canada to further lobby for coastal LNG export terminals and discuss German investments into Canadian critical minerals. The world is knocking on our door. It’s time for Canada to answer.

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