Mythbusting: Don’t the Oilsands Only Benefit Alberta?
Enemies of ethical oil frequently try to frame their argument in a way that isolates Alberta. That’s one of their tactics: to make it seem like Alberta benefits from its oilsands resource, while everyone else in Canada gets left out, or worse, has to suffer the negative international publicity around the oilsands. The irony is that it’s these same folks who are responsible for stirring up all that bad publicity through their spread of misinformation and hyperbole about the oilsands. Mike Hudema, for example, a local Greenpeace campaigner calls Alberta “a rogue province that is setting all the other provinces back.” He, like others who try to vilify Alberta, are doing their best to revive old, fading tensions between Eastern and Western Canada. Talk about setting the country back.
In reality, the oilsands have quickly become one of the entire country’s most vibrant job creators. And the benefits to people from B.C. to the Atlantic provinces have mushroomed at a breathtaking rate, and promise to deliver decades, and billions of dollars, more in benefits to regions all across Canada, including some of the most economically challenged places in the country.
The independent, non-profit Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) — a partnership between academia, industry and government — has calculated that Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (essentially the size of its economic output, or, more simply, how rich our country is) will be boosted by nearly $800 billion by as early as 2020 by the oilsands alone. A lot of that GDP growth will happen well outside Alberta’s borders.
Ontario, for one – well poised to build the machinery and equipment needed in the oilsands region – stands to benefit to the tune of more than $100 billion, according to CERI’s studies. To put that into perspective, the entire Ontarian auto manufacturing sector contributed 2.6% of Ontario’s 2009 GDP of about $550 billion—or roughly $14 billion. Other provinces and territories will see more than $53 billion flow their way directly from the economic spin-off effects of the oilsands. And the number of jobs created directly, or indirectly, by the oilsands? Nearly a quarter of a million. Fully 44% of all the employment effects of oilsands investment —nearly half — happens outside Alberta.
People in Newfoundland already know all about the incredibly salubrious effects that the oilsands can have on communities thousands of kilometres away from Fort McMurray. Parts of that province that had been economically stagnant for years, due to the closing of the Atlantic cod fishery, the primary economic driver in the area, have seen unemployment rates dive and watched their towns come back to life again thanks to the planes that carry thousands of workers to Alberta, where they can earn six figure paycheques, and then back home again, where they can spend it.
First Nations people unfortunately face some of the most formidable economic challenges in the country: About half of all Canada’s aboriginals subsist on an income of less than $10,000 annually. The oilsands, though, has quickly become the largest employer of First Nations people in the country, offering them valuable skills and a way for their communities to permanently end their generations-old dependency on the federal government. In 2008 alone, the oilsands provided more than $575 million worth of contract work to aboriginal-run firms in Northern Alberta; in the last decade, companies owned by First Nations people and bands, collected more than $3 billion from oilsands-related contracts. The tiny Fort McKay First Nation counts just 648 people in its band: it collects more than $100 million in revenue through the companies it owns that service oilsands producers. That’s more than $150,000 for every single person in the community.
And, of course, the oilsands represent a massive and growing tax base for municipalities, provincial governments and Ottawa: nearly half a trillion dollars in taxes and royalties are expected to flow to levels of government across the country. In a nation of just 34 million people, that’s like handing each and every man, woman and child a cheque for $14,400 worth of government services, or nearly $58,000 for a family of four. That’s money that can be spent on hospitals, schools, and all manner of other social programs that will benefit all Canadians.
This is a huge part of what makes the oilsands resource so ethical: while revenues from Conflict Oil in places like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Libya ends up enriching the Swiss bank accounts of dictators and their cronies, and to fund the guns and tanks they use to sow strife and to oppress their own people, Canada’s oil revenues deliver jobs, economic opportunity and social support to everyone in the country. The oilsands aren’t just about economic growth for one province, as the anti-oilsands lobby would have you believe; they are about advancing the values of social justice and fairness that Canadians so firmly believe in.