National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

Remember back in 2006 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasted confidently that Canada was about to become an “energy superpower?”

A February 2014 report by the International Monetary Fund shows that Canada never was and, probably now, never will be. The IMF report is similar to one by the Canadian Energy Research Institute in 2011. It found that 94 per cent of the economic benefits of expanding the oil sands remain in just one province, Alberta.

The picture painted is startling:

. Canada’s energy sector created only 1.7 per cent of all new jobs in Canada from 2007 to 2012;

. Outside the energy sector and the producing provinces, the positive impacts of additional exports are “surprisingly modest.”

. A $1 increase in investment in Alberta’s energy sector boosts Canadian manufacturing GDP by just three cents, with most of the impact being in Alberta itself. The links between the Canadian oil and gas sector and Canadian manufacturing are “very weak.”

. A $1 increase in energy investment in Alberta boosts Canadian GDP by 89 cents. But of that amount, 82 cents will be in Alberta itself. Ontario’s GDP would grow by just four cents and that of all other provinces, by three cents and the U.S. by two cents.

“The energy sector accounts for only 0.1 percentage points of the average 2 ¼ per cent annual GDP growth over the last decade,” the IMF report states. “Also, employment in the energy sector increased by less than 13,000 between 2007 and 2012 – just 1.7 per cent of all new jobs – compared to a total of 752,000 jobs created over the same period in Canada.”

By comparison, health care and social assistance created 22,000 jobs in December, 2013 alone, according to Statistics Canada.

The IMF then goes on to make some rather stunning forecasts about the future for Canada as an “energy superpower.”

Even if not one of Canada’s forecast three planned new oil export pipelines are built – not the Keystone XL to the U.S., not the Northern Gateway through BC to Asian markets and not the Omnitrax to Hudson Bay – the blow to the Canadian economy would be a decidedly modest 0.5 per cent by 2020.

At the other extreme, if all these pipelines and infrastructure were approved and the energy sector develops rapidly (a 20 per cent increase in oil and gas production according to the report) Canada’s GDP increase would be a decidedly modest two per cent by 2020.

And this too has a downside, according to the IMF. “The current account would be slightly negative, reflecting larger deterioration in the non-energy balance driven by higher imports demand from households and firms.”

The IMF has some advice for Canada, advice that has been ignored ever since the first oil well flared in Leduc, Alberta in 1947. It is urging Canada to build more domestic pipelines east to connect western Canadian oil to Eastern Canadian refineries.

Strengthening Canada’s domestic energy supply chain will increase the spillover benefits from the energy boom into non-energy industries, the IMF report states. “Canada’s internal market remains segmented, as refineries in eastern Canada are not connected to pipelines in western Canada – and import much of their crude at the higher global (Brent) price,” the IMF points out.

“This has not only a direct negative impact on Canada’s energy trade balance, but potentially also an indirect one as it limits the competitive boost that Canadian manufacturing firms could derive from accessing a cheaper, domestic source of energy,” the IMF concludes.

Canada has long laboured under the international image of a well-meaning, naïve and self-deprecating Boy Scout. Never has the image been more apparent – and more counterproductive – than over its fossil fuel policies.

When Leduc gushed forth in 1947, Alberta Premier Ernest Manning, who despised the “barons of Bay Street,” begged the oil barons of Texas and Oklahoma to come north and establish Canada’s oil industry.

Forty-two years later, in 1989, Brian Mulroney’s North American Free Trade Agreement with U.S. President Ronald Reagan cemented the effective American ownership of Canadian oil with NAFTA’s compulsory sharing deal.

Canada pumped the oil, the U.S. consumed it.

NAFTA became the template, not for traditional free trade between sovereign states, but for global corporate rule. Investors, not citizens, now make all the decisions about the future of their nations’ resources.

In 1987, Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed said the best thing about free trade for his province was that never again could Canada have a national energy policy or a lower domestic price for its own oil.

Lougheed, of course, was right. Under NAFTA, just as the Alberta premier wanted, free trade stripped the Canadian government of any power to manage this country’s energy resources for the benefit of its citizens. Canada could no longer regulate, reduce or attach conditions to energy exports.

In 1999, Canada exported 59 per cent of its total production of natural gas to the U.S. The North American Free Trade Agreement’s compulsory sharing rule meant that Canada must maintain close to that level in a rolling three-year average unless it cuts its own consumption proportionally.

The U.S. has no reciprocal obligation to Canada. Rather, it has its own Strategic Oil Reserve in defiance of the entire NAFTA “share and share alike” ethos.

Finally, only now, 67 years after Leduc, is TransCanada’s 4,600-kilometre Energy East pipeline, reversing the flow of one of TransCanada’s west-east pipelines, in the works. It will send 1.1 million barrels of tar sands crude per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.

The U.S. shale gas explosion has, of course, made NAFTA’s entire compulsory oil and gas sharing regime moot – for now. But nothing in this fast-paced world stays firm for any time, let alone forever.

Jeff Rubin, former chief economist of CIBC World Markets and author of two best-selling books on the global energy economy, warns in a recent essay for Globe and Mail Report on Business that “even as the rest of the world is realizing it must wean itself off fossil fuels, the Harper government wants to double down on the resource.”

Canadians, he continues, have been force-fed the idea that the energy sector is the engine of economic growth for the nation. “But look around. Whether it’s B.C.’s hopes for liquefied natural gas, Alberta’s for the oil sands or Canada’s struggling coal mines, the news is hardly encouraging…

“High cost projects, like those in the oil sands, are exactly the ones that are most at risk as global governments begin to get more serious about restraining carbon emissions.

“Ottawa may consider climate change to be a hoax, but the rest of the world doesn’t. Economic giants such as the U.S. and China are already moving to cut back on their combustion of fossil fuels. As demand from those countries goes lower, so too will prices.”


Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.

She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.

She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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