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A combine harvests a wheat crop near Cremona, Alta., on Sept. 9, 2021.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Canadian business leaders are pitching U.S. lawmakers on turning to Canada to cover energy and food shortfalls stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, led a delegation of businesspeople to Washington on Monday and Tuesday to offer Canadian commodities such as oil, barley and potash as a means of coping with shortages brought on by the European conflict.

U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month banned imports of Russian petroleum as part of a package of sanctions to punish Moscow for its military assault on Ukraine. Mr. Hyder said that leaves the United States short between 500,000 to 600,000 barrels of oil a day. He said his group told congressional leaders Canada could supply a significant portion of this.

“In Canada we have the capacity to meet about 200,000 to 300,000 of those barrels on a daily basis. It would be shipped by rail obviously, but we feel we can help offset some of the inflationary pressures Americans are facing at the pump,” Mr. Hyder said.

Russia’s war on Ukraine sets the stage for worst food crisis in decades

He said businesses are committed to a transition to a greener and more energy-efficient future. “But it’s going to take some time and during that transition you want to have access to a safe reliable supply of energy and Canada can provide that.”

The Canadian delegation included Victor Dodig, CEO of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce; Blake Hutcheson, CEO of Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System; François Poirier, CEO of TC Energy; and Mark Little, CEO of Suncor.

Their schedule included meetings with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, who serves as a swing vote in the U.S. Senate and who blocked passage late last year of Mr. Biden’s US$1.75-trillion budget bill. They also met with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, his party’s most senior member of the Senate committee on banking, housing and urban affairs.

Mr. Toomey was a supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline expansion project that would have carried more Canadian crude to U.S. markets but was rejected by successive Democratic presidents. Mr. Biden revoked the permit upon taking office in 2021. Mr. Toomey has recently called for the revival of Keystone.

Sanctions are affecting Russian and Ukrainian exports of wheat, and Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is targeting that country’s ports “from which half the world’s wheat is shipped out,” Mr. Hyder said. The conflict has also disrupted exports of sunflower oil from Ukraine and Russia, and it has thwarted shipments of the fertilizer ingredient potash from Belarus and Russia.

Mr. Hyder said he listed for U.S. legislators the commodities where Canada can step up, including canola, which is used to make cooking oil. “We’re No. 2 in wheat. We’re No. 1 in oats, No. 1 in barley, No. 1 in potash, No. 1 in canola,” he said. “When you’re a top producer, we can increase supply.”

The head of the business lobby said the message to the United States is: “At a time in which you are looking for reliable partners to build resilience in your supply chain, you don’t need to look very far.”

The Canadian trip to Washington came the same week the White House invited executives from an array of U.S. industries and businesses – including energy, food and banks – to a briefing on the Russia-Ukraine conflict as Mr. Biden’s cabinet discusses ways to lessen the economic shock of the war on supply chains.

Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats have been pushing the chief executives of major oil companies to increase production amid rising prices at the gas pumps.

Mr. Biden has blamed the latest spike on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. U.S. consumer prices, including for rent and food, have also surged, and inflation is poised to accelerate even further as Russia’s war against Ukraine drives up the costs of crude oil and other commodities.

Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter in the 2020-2021 season while Russia ranked third, International Grains Council data show. The two countries combined accounted for 22 per cent of global exports.

But with Russian warships off Ukraine’s southern coast preventing cargo ships from leaving the ports, including the major hub of Odesa on the Black Sea, grain exports have all but ground to a halt since the start of the war on Feb. 24.

The Business Council of Canada’s membership includes about 170 CEOs who represent companies that are among the largest employers in the country with a combined total of more than two million employees.

With a report from Reuters

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