Western Economic Diversification Canada is working on a 10-year strategy to make the four western provinces competitive, innovative and inclusive, attracting business and investment and generating good jobs.
To build the strategy, they’re seeking answers to the five questions below. Here are my thoughts on those questions:
What does a stronger western Canadian economy look like 10 years from now?
Whether we like it or not, 10 years from now, our resources will still be the mainstay of the western economy. These include agriculture, minerals, forestry and energy – oil and gas.
As noted in the Western Economic Diversification Canada brief, oil and gas currently make up 41 per cent of western Canada’s exports, the largest single component.
In 50 years, technology may well have enabled the world may to move past carbon-based energy sources, but this process will take considerably longer than one decade.
What are the best ways to spur new growth in western Canada?
One of the best ways to spur growth is the provision of appropriate infrastructure. It’s up to governments to provide infrastructure. The private sector can’t do it alone, although it can be in involved through partnerships, etc.
Without infrastructure like communication, transportation and reliable power and water, economies decline rather than grow.
The greatest gap in infrastructure in western Canada is the lack of a means to get our oil resources to tidewater: a pipeline. This has been seriously limiting all of Canada, not just the west.
Because we can’t get our oil onto ships, our only possible customer for this very important export is the United States. The U.S. knows that we have no other potential buyers. As a result, they’re happy to take our oil from us at approximately $30 a barrel less than the world price and have been doing so for decades.
No doubt, the Americans are laughing at us all the way to the refinery.
Expediting the construction and activation of an oil pipeline would do more than any other single thing to strengthen western Canada.
What will help the Indigenous economy continue to grow?
There is not one Indigenous economy. There are many First Nations in the west with very different ideas and in very different circumstances. The best way to improve the economic conditions of First Nations is to have a strong overall economy, for which a pipeline is key.
Contrary to impressions gleaned from media, not all First Nations are opposed to the pipeline and other resource-based economic development. Many of them, especially those in rural areas with limited options, are strongly in favour of such activity. They desperately need the jobs that such development can provide, including jobs to ensure that any resource extraction, processing or transportation is done in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
Smaller, more isolated First Nations know that if there are no local jobs, their young people will leave and the existence of those communities will be jeopardized.
How can we improve economic participation in the west of underrepresented groups, including women, youth and new immigrants?
A rising tide raises all boats. Strong exports generating overall growth will encourage employers to hire underrepresented groups.
There’s a labour shortage at almost all skill levels. Encouraging Canadians to improve their skills and employers to offer training, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas, will enable all workers to get better jobs.
Vitally needed for all of Canada is a timely, cost-effective system of credential recognition for the many well-qualified immigrants we let in and then don’t allow to practise their professions.
How can governments, industry and western Canadians work together to grow the regional economy?
If growth is desired, it’s up to government to work with industry and citizens to ensure a sufficient level of certainty about present and future policies so long-term decisions about investments and business activities can be made.
Also, all those involved must work together in good faith to remove the impediments to growth.
One major impediment to the creation of an oil pipeline so needed by western Canada is opposition by those concerned about the environment. These concerns can and should be addressed.
Engineering and other talent must be employed so that the construction, operation and maintenance of a pipeline and any infrastructure offers the highest level of safety for people and the environment.
Such standards should also be applied to related shipping and transportation.
Good green jobs can be created to undertake these tasks.
While every precaution must be taken to avoid accidents, stuff happens in the real world. Therefore, systems, people and equipment must be in place in advance to detect and deal with any incidents as soon as they appear. This, too, will generate good green jobs.
Finally, industry and government must work together to remind Canadians that if we don’t create a strong and growing economy, we won’t have the means to deal with underrepresented groups, the environment and all the other factors Canadians deem important.
You can share your thoughts on these questions by going to the Western Economic Diversification Canada website at https://www.wd-deo.gc.ca/eng/home.asp.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.