Chasing the Resources Jobs

In a troubled world economy Canada has performed relatively well. But the good news has not been evenly spread.

Strong performances have been largely based on natural resources — for example mining in Labrador, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia; oil in Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Alberta; grains in the prairie provinces. These all provide good jobs and support vibrant rural communities. But equally important most of them generate large royalty payments for provincial treasuries. The revenues from Sable gas have been extraordinarily important to Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile manufacturing has struggled, particularly in southern Ontario.

What does this mean for Nova Scotia, particularly outside of Halifax? There are areas where manufacturing is important—such as the three Michelin plants, the new DSME plant, and numerous smaller facilities. But some of these lead a precarious existence and, as is common in other jurisdictions, many are recipients of taxpayer support. Meanwhile efforts to advance resource based industries are frequently resisted.

The most recent manifestation has been the oil prospect in Lake Ainslie being drilled by Petroworth, who think there might be 30 million barrels of oil to be found. There have been vocal protests, mostly about the possibility of “fracking” which is not part of the license they have sought. Likewise there were objections in Shelburne and Digby to large scale aquaculture projects. There is resistance almost everywhere to open pit mining. Uranium prospecting is banned throughout the province.

Our best prospects for stronger rural economies are resource based. This does not mean that environmental considerations should be ignored, but government can signal its support by providing a clear policy framework and prompt responses to applications:

  1. Aquaculture and fisheries are strong resources. Aquaculture proponents should have clear rules to work with. Public consultations should be for information and to test adherence to the policy framework, not to remake it.
  2. Why should uranium mining be prohibited? In Saskatchewan both NDP and conservative governments have established safe working environments for this important economic contributor—in fact safer than those in potash, gold, or coal. Any viable global plan to reduce greenhouse gases has to include nuclear power. (This is not to recommend building a nuclear power plant. Having only one is a bad idea, as New Brunswick’s experience with Point Lepreau has proven.)
  3. Open pit mining has earned a bad reputation in Cape Breton because of inadequate remediation of past projects. But it can be profitable and is safer than underground mining. It should be permitted, with adequate funding for reclamation funded throughout the project.
  4. Xstrata has invested substantially in an effort to resurrect the Donkin coal mine. Every effort should be made to facilitate a restart of that mine.
  5. We need a reasonable and efficient regulatory regime to facilitate oil and gas exploration, including “fracking” in areas with little or no population. As well as good paying jobs this can provide substantial royalties to the provincial treasury. It took more than a year for Petroworth to get a response to its application. That is not the way to encourage the development of a promising industry.

Resource based industries can provide good jobs, and they often provide royalties to the province. They rarely need subsidies. They can generate spin-off jobs for rural manufacturers.

They have been the engines of growth for Canada’s prosperous provinces and should be embraced in Nova Scotia with the same enthusiasm that was brought to the ship-building contract.

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