By Kenneth P. Green
and Elmira Aliakbari
The Fraser Institute
Not content with his ongoing opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at home, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is agitating against the project in the United States.
“I don’t think this project will go – I really don’t – based on the resistance on the ground,” said Robertson in a recent interview with Bloomberg. “I don’t think the resistance on the West Coast is going to fade – I think it will only intensify … escalation looks likely.”
The mayor, with his militaristic jargon, also believes that Canada must “get off of fossil fuels,” adding that he believes Alberta’s oil and gas sector represents only a “tiny fraction of the overall economy and job count” in Canada.
These statements are dubious, in more than a few ways. First, Robertson steers clear of the evidence, which indicates more Canadians (and even more British Columbians) now support the Trans Mountain project. According to a recent Nanos Research poll, six in 10 Canadians support enlarging the capacity of the pipeline, which runs between Alberta’s oilsands and ports in British Columbia.
Another poll released in April by Angus Reid found that 54 per cent of B.C. residents now favour the project – that’s a six-percentage point increase from polling results in February. And the same poll found opposition to the project has dropped from 40 per cent of B.C. residents to 38 per cent.
So while public sentiment seems to belie Robertson’s contention that the “resistance” will “intensify,” his misrepresentation of the role oil and gas play in the Canadian economy may be more egregious – and more easily refutable.
First, according to data from Natural Resources Canada, Canada’s energy sector employed (both directly and indirectly) 884,000 people in 2016 – that’s at least 200,000 more than the entire population of Vancouver. Roughly 16,000 of those employees are aboriginal.
Second, Canada’s energy sector accounts for almost seven per cent of Canada’s GDP (the value of all goods and services produced in the country), rising to 10 per cent if you include indirect activities. The largest share of government revenue, an average of $19 billion over the last five years, was collected from the oil and gas industry. The energy sector also accounted for 18 per cent of Canada’s exports in 2016, generating a $50-billion trade surplus. And this sector accounted for 29 per cent of total investments of non-residential investment and machinery/equipment in Canada.
The list of benefits to Canada from the energy sector could go on and on, but we’ll end with this: Alberta, the hub of Canada’s energy industry, disproportionally contributes to federal finances. Albertans contributed $221 billion more to federal coffers than they received in federal transfer payments and services. That’s $221 billion to finance important government programs across the country.
Clearly, Robertson’s blithe dismissal of the economic and employment importance of Canada’s oil and gas industry can be disproven with a single visit to a government website. Of course, people in Vancouver have legitimate concerns about the Trans Mountain project. Everyone, from Kinder Morgan to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has acknowledged those concerns and gone the extra mile to address them.
But if Canada is to move ahead and retain the ability to build trans-provincial infrastructure, decisions by policy-makers must be grounded in fact – not based on incorrect and cavalier dismissals of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and the many billions of dollars the energy industry contributes to Canada’s economy.
Kenneth Green and Elmira Aliakbari are analysts at the Fraser Institute.
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