Across the country, Canadians are engaged in an important debate about the role of oil and gas in our long-term future. Thanks in large part to extraordinary technological advances, vital energy sources that were once beyond our reach are now in high demand from markets around the world.
Our newfound ability to efficiently access oil sands and natural gas reserves has generated an intense debate about pipeline construction and the environmental risks of energy development. Unfortunately, in my view, this debate is too often between extremes: resource development and access to world markets on the one hand and the protection of our global environment on the other. And, it distracts us from the important discussion we need to have about combining energy development with a robust regulatory framework that harnesses new technologies to advance important environmental and social objectives.
The enormous economic potential of new forms of energy is well documented. The Canadian Energy Research Institute estimates that the oil sands alone will generate more than $2-trillion over the next 25 years. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimates that we will receive an additional $50-million a day by diversifying our markets away from sole reliance on the United States.
In tight fiscal times, it goes without saying that these new revenues are urgently needed to properly fund our public education and health-care systems. This is something Canadians know well, as our quality of life and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Canadians already depend, in large measure, on our resource industries – including gas and oil.
I believe these economic considerations form a strong argument for building important economic infrastructure projects like pipelines. But the case for such projects is even broader than that, incorporating our deeply held environmental values.
The rapid economic rise of the Pacific Rim has generated a massive new market for energy, one that is growing by the day. Not surprisingly, energy producers around the world are rushing to move their products into the Asian market. But many of these nations are doing so with more regard for production than protection.
Here in Canada, we have among the highest environmental and regulatory standards the world has to offer. From coast to coast to coast, our citizens will always demand world-class safety standards for transporting energy resources.
This is where Canadians have the chance to set the gold standard for extracting and transporting energy resources safely and responsibly.
We can ensure our pipelines are world class, and through tough regulations we can hold the industry accountable for conducting constant monitoring and regular maintenance.
We can leverage energy production to support First Nations as they forge a better future for their communities, through meaningful consultation and real partnerships.
And we can use a portion of the revenues from these new sources of oil and gas to drive the research and innovation that will lead to even safer extraction practices and the renewable energy sources of tomorrow.
Our challenge, then, is not to pick one side or the other in this debate: Energy development at the expense of the environment or no energy development at the expense of our economy and our social programs. Our challenge is to combine these values to chart an environmentally responsible energy future here at home and around the world.
This opportunity won't knock at our door indefinitely, and as long as we remain stuck in a zero-sum, all-or-nothing debate between extremes, we certainly won't be able to answer the call.
To seize this moment, Canadians have to transcend the parameters of the debate. Doing so will take effort and goodwill. This is not easy work. In Canada, nation-building never is.
For more than a century, our natural resource wealth has helped us build one of the world's leading democracies and economies. And today, in this new century, those resources offer us the opportunity to secure that quality of life for our children and grandchildren.
But to get there, we can't simply be observers to our own fate. We must come together in a national conversation that allows us to reaffirm Canada as a world leader in safe and responsible resource extraction and transport. And we must push ourselves toward crucial innovations that will lead the way on energy efficiency and green power.
This conversation will, at times, be difficult – we will not always agree.
But I believe it is how, as a nation, we must ensure our children and grandchildren have the pristine environment and the strong economy they deserve.
It's why today, I am speaking in favour of Canadian pipelines. Because I believe the cost of "no" is far too great.
David Emerson is a former federal minister of foreign affairs, industry and international trade.