When the going gets tough, the tough get going. With all of the doom and gloom it is time for some big ideas in this country. But do we still have purpose and determination? Every big idea in the past decade has been nibbled to death by ducks. Nothing is firing on all cylinders except selling our real estate to foreigners.
We remain a resource-based country. Yes, I know – we have to convert that into a sustainable economy of ideas. But we haven't done that. You remember the Alberta bumper sticker after the last crash? "Please God, let there be another oil boom. We promise not to piss it all away next time." Well, She did, and they did.
Collectively we've bought comforts instead of investments in the future. We maybe have another shot at doing it right. Or, we can continue to dwindle away as a much nicer and poorer United States.
Here is the issue. There are three classic economic factors of production for everything from widgets to symphonies. These are land, labour, and capital. In our golden age of development some 50 years ago, we had a world edge in all three factors.
The world changed. It is awash in capital. Our share of it is now small. Skilled labour is everywhere, often much cheaper. Our only remaining edge is land, aka resources.
When something stares you in the face, it is better to acknowledge it, whether you like what you are seeing or not. Here are three big ideas that have to do with our ace in the hole, oil.
Our oil is in the oil sands of Alberta. Don't be ashamed of it. Our oil is not only "ethical," as compared with the dictatorship variety, it is also no more emissions-intensive than a full 45 per cent of feedstocks the U.S. uses, bought from the likes of Venezuela and Mexico. (The big difference is those countries pay no attention to Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature and the Sierra Club. Maybe we've now paid them all the attention that we should.)
Why should we be thinking such crass economic thoughts? Well, it comes down to better health care, home care, child care, pensions, capacity to help refugees, foreign aid and the many other good things that we believe in.
So here are three big, simple oil ideas.
The first is a refinery in British Columbia. There are two major proposals – David Black's huge 500,000 barrel a day refinery and the 200,000 barrel a day of Pacific Future Energy, both in northwestern B.C. – making a product safe to ship. Both claim no need for government financing. Both would rely on existing rail to move bitumen to the B.C. coast in a form called "neatbit," of the consistency and benign impact of peanut butter. No spill danger here. Both would produce multiple thousands of construction jobs and several thousand in continuing operations. Either would spawn an associated petrochemical plant.
The oil majors oppose new Canadian refineries. They would rather continue to exploit our oil sands product at a huge discount to their captive market on the Gulf Coast. Estimates of this discount range around $20-billion annually lost to Canada. Think of the jobs and taxes. Where is the courageous government (Ottawa? B.C.?) ready to help recapture this wasted gift to American big oil? Invisible, so far.
Pipelines are the second idea. I will not rehash the well known arguments, but even one of them is the key to that $20-billion per year.
The third big idea is small modular nuclear plants to provide process heat and electricity to the oil sands. Attractions? Major drop in Alberta emissions, improvement in our world reputation, and major jobs in Ontario. The "glow in the dark" enviros hate nuclear for reasons deep in their anti-prosperity psyches. They seem to think that electricity comes from light switches.
Alas, not true. Also, money does not come from banks. Food does not come from supermarkets. Pensions are not some magic kingdom benevolence and health care is not a doctors' charity. It all has to start from something real, and "something real" involves making and selling goods and services that others want. Our competitive edge is resources. That defines our choice.
We have become a "cannot do" country. Will any politician step beyond the utterly safe grounds of greenery and high tech? Like it or not, our edge is resources and will be so for another generation. Just a fact.