Oilsands boom brings economic risks as well: report

Image from the Sierra Club.
Image from the Sierra Club.

Ottawa – The rapid pace of oilsands development is creating economic risks and regional disparities that need to be addressed, according to a report released by the Pembina Institute and Équiterre.

Booms, Busts and Bitumen: The economic implications of Canadian oilsands development looks at the side effects of the oilsands boom in uncertain economic times and presents a counterpoint to the frequently overstated economic benefits of oilsands expansion.

The report indicates that the overwhelming majority of those economic benefits — both direct and indirect — are limited to Alberta. Other provinces will benefit less: even the United States would gain more employment opportunities from the oilsands than the rest of Canada if oilsands development goes ahead as projected.

“The manufacturing sectors of Ontario and Quebec have been, and still are, suffering greatly from the rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar,” says Équiterre co-founder and senior director Steven Guilbeault. “A truly national economic and energy plan would benefit communities and industries across the country, not just in one region.”

The economic side effects of the boom, such as a high dollar that makes it harder for manufacturers to compete globally, are being felt across the country.

These unintended consequences we’re seeing today should serve as warning signs, given the rapid projected growth of the oilsands. By favouring oil and gas over other economic sectors with longer-term growth potential, the federal government is putting the prosperity of all Canadians at risk.

“Oilsands production is projected to grow significantly in the years ahead,” says Sarah Dobson, oilsands program economist with Pembina Institute. “That carries risks for our environment and, as today’s report shows, for our economy as well. We need responsible policies for oilsands development to protect Canadians’ long-term prosperity.”

The report provides pragmatic recommendations to address these concerns, such as improving the management of one-time resource wealth and eliminating preferential tax treatment for the oil and gas sector.

By the numbers

  • In Canada, only 14 percent of the employment opportunities created by oilsands development will be in provinces outside of Alberta.
  • According to the Bank of Canada, one third of the Canadian manufacturing sector’s decline is due to a more expensive dollar. Rising commodity prices account for anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of the loonie’s recent rise.
  • Previous research has shown that a $1-million investment in clean energy creates 15 jobs, compared to just two jobs from investing in oil and gas.

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