Don’t throw resources under the bus – by Mike Byfield (National Post – November 8, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Mike Byfield is vice-president of Alberta development at the Frontier Centre.

That’s just what green lobbyists want to do

Energy represents Canada’s best economic and technology bet — by far. Once upon a time, Canadians prided themselves on extracting natural resources — farming, mining, logging, oil drilling and so on. Our workers were as skilled, courageous and productive as any in the world. Following the Second World War, however, Central Canada’s expanding manufacturers began to see themselves as this country’s class acts, while hewing wood and drawing water were sniffily dismissed.

Maybe it’s time to take another look. A really hard look. Ontario’s economic woes aren’t simply the result of cheaper labour in Mexico and Asia, though that factor is critical. Its high-tech champions are being overwhelmed by larger foreign rivals like Apple, Samsung and Cisco. Meanwhile, the resources sector has clocked some big wins. In particular, Alberta’s hard-charging oil producers and service companies have revolutionized the international energy outlook through technological innovation.

Nortel, a Toronto-based telecom giant that was once Canada’s biggest company by many measures, is evaporating into the final stage of bankruptcy. Research in Motion, the BlackBerry smartphone manufacturer, now finds itself reduced from international star to struggling desperately for simple survival. Even the Toronto Stock Exchange, pressed by technology changes in trading, has tried to hand over its future to London.

Despite Vancouver’s metropolitan size and oceanside perch, the manufacturing picture looks far worse on the West Coast. For example, British Columbians once pinned big hopes on Ballard Power Systems, a fuel cell maker. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old firm has yet to deliver. Last year, it posted a net loss of $31.7-million on revenues of $75.4-million.

Seattle, Vancouver’s near-twin city just to the south, has generated Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks. B.C. boasts few if any comparable achievements. Its largest forestry producer, MacMillan Bloedel, was acquired and absorbed by Weyerhaeuser, a Seattle-based rival (which happens to the world’s largest in its sector). The province now lacks global-scale champions in manufacturing or forestry, its traditional economic mainstay.

Of course, Canadians should wish the best for Ballard and RIM, which may yet succeed. Given our serious setbacks in manufacturing, however, it makes absolutely no sense to throw the resources sector under the bus. Yet that’s exactly what green lobbyists are attempting to do, especially in British Columbia. And so far they’re succeeding.

Over the past generation, Western Canadian producers have brought on the oil sands, the world’s largest single source of crude. Its service companies have played pioneering roles in technologies like coiled tubing rigs and hydraulic fracturing of tight oil and gas reservoirs.

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