Paul Stothart is vice president, economic affairs of the Mining Association of Canada. He is responsible for advancing the industry’s interests regarding federal tax, trade, investment, transport and energy issues. This article was originally published in May, 2007.
Arguably the single most significant development in the Canadian economy over the past decade has been the emergence of the western oil sands as a creator of jobs, exports, tax revenues, and wealth.
Technological advances since the 1970s have made the recovery and processing of oil sands financially feasible. Increases in world oil prices, from the $20 to $30 level of decades past to the $60 to $70 range today, have further enhanced the economic viability of these projects. Political rhetoric about Canada as “an energy superpower” and talk of “reserves larger than Saudi Arabia’s” speak to the emergence of the oil sands.
It is difficult to over-state the magnitude of this development. On a macro scale, it has served to increase wealth and economic activity in western Canada. On a micro scale, the city of Fort McMurray has grown from a population of some 20,000 two decades ago to 75,000 today. The 200,000 jobs that have been created in the oil sands over the past decade is of similar magnitude to the job losses seen within the central Canadian manufacturing sector— in effect creating a job cushion for the entire country.