What makes business sense, and the very real need for energy and moving it to where it’s needed, must be considered. So too, what’s good for the environment, and what has the best social outcomes, are crucial to the discussion.
Unfortunately, these two positions have become polarized. In the space between the two positions are the people who are now speaking up for pipelines, not because they’re pro-big business or have no care for the environment, but because their ability to look after themselves and their families is at risk.
Across Alberta and Saskatchewan, regular Canadians have begun to demand that our political leaders honour the promise to build much-needed pipeline infrastructure. These “protestors” are normally quiet community members who go to work every day, raise their families and volunteer in the community.
Their message is clear — build the pipelines. The primary motivation for this position is lost to too many Canadians, but it is a simple one. People are suffering and see a clear and present danger to their families and communities. As the pipeline debate continues to rage, needlessly, they are experiencing the real costs of political indecision and inaction.
An estimated 110,000 jobs were lost in the energy sector between 2014 and 2016; many were the high-tech and engineering jobs that governments are desperate to create. Even using the conservative number of 50,000 Albertan job losses, the picture painted is one of crisis.
Include family members and you have a remarkable one-in-30 Albertans directly affected. Put in perspective, imagine a job loss in every family in cities such as Oshawa, Barrie or Sherbrooke. How would Vancouver respond if one in four families experienced a high-paying job loss?
According to Statistics Canada, the type of jobs affected paid an average 2017 salary of $2,228 per week, compared to an average of $1,155 for Alberta or $1,005 for Canada.
The loss of tax revenue is staggering. Using the Alberta Tax Calculator, an estimate of the loss of revenue to Alberta provincial coffers is $375 million annually, and to the federal treasury, some $911 million per year.
The loss of $375 million per year of revenue for the government of Alberta is equivalent to the income needed to pay 1,000 doctors, 3,000 nurses or teachers, or the entire professoriate of my university. It is money no longer available to fund Alberta’s social programs. No province, certainly not one with a growing population, can sustain such a hit.
Federally, the loss of $911 million in annual tax revenue is equivalent to the entire transfer payment for Ontario. This is revenue no longer available to fund Canada’s social safety net.
Ottawa spends about the same amount on medical research through the Canadian Institute for Health Research. Or on science and engineering research and scholarships through the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Prosperity for all Canadians is at risk as a result of the continued delay in pipelines construction.
There are further economic repercussions such as lost business, sales and municipal taxes, and lost business for retailers and industries that indirectly supply the oil patch.
Our nation’s economy is an intricate web, and damage in one location weakens the entire structure. Regardless of where you live, the loss of Albertan jobs matters to you. Demonizing the people of Alberta for seeking what we all seek — an economy that supports us — serves no one.
Governments cannot create jobs, but they do have the power to erect or remove barriers to job creation. What is required of our leaders, for Canada’s collective good, is the establishment of a policy platform that engenders a system of socially, culturally and environmentally responsible development that allows business to thrive, and people and communities to prosper whether it’s a pipeline to move Albertan or Saskatchewan oil, or an automotive plant in Ontario.
This must be the highest priority for our leaders. With Canada’s world-renowned know-how, we have, now, what it takes to build pipelines and our economy in ways that will allow all Canadians to look forward to sustainable prosperity. Build the pipeline.