It has taken 2,000 years, but the centre of the global economy has circled the world and returned to Asia, BMO Group vice chair Kevin Lynch told mining and energy ministers last week in Yellowknife.
“This is the largest shift in the location of economic activity in human history, and we in Canada have to make sure we have a good sense of it,” Lynch said, laying out the main theme for the annual two-day gathering.
Noting that “virtually all” of Canada’s oil and gas is piped south to the United States, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the country should diversify markets or risk losing the opportunity to supply the Asia-Pacific region.
“This is a pivotal moment when we decide whether to take that opportunity or let it pass us by,” Oliver said.
Canada needs new pipelines to carry oil to the Pacific, but determined opposition from First Nations and environmentalists has stalled Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline through BC.
To counter that, Oliver said enhancing safety and cementing cooperation on natural resource projects is essential, in accordance with the Harper government’s plan for “responsible resource development.”
Oliver promised an expert panel to review tanker safety and to increase pipeline inspections and audits with fines for offenders of up to $100,000 a day.
A special federal representative reporting to the Prime Minister would be appointed to outline Aboriginal participation in the development of the West Coast’s energy infrastructure.
All pipelines would be required to carry a minimum financial liability of $1-billion, with the absolute liability for companies operating in Canada’s Atlantic and Arctic offshore increased to $1-billion.
Environmental organizations observing the meeting had their own ideas.
Alternatives North, Ecology North and the NWT Chapter of the Council of Canadians called on the government to withdraw the proposed amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act that eliminate regional land and water boards.
“Given the federal, territorial and provincial push for expanding energy and mine development in the NWT, we need to strengthen oversight, not weaken it,” they said in a statement issued last week.
They also urged Ottawa to rescind changes to the Fisheries Act that undermine the department’s ability to adequately protect fish habitat and begin to rebuild lost science and enforcement capacities; require full public disclosure of all fracking chemicals used in the NWT and the chemical composition of fracking fluid waste entering the ecosystem; and establish legally-enforceable quality and water flow standards for water bodies, both within and flowing into the NWT.