The Hon. Jean Charest with incoming Vice-Chair, Rob Batherson
On March 10th, former Premier of Quebec and current Chair of the Partnership for Resource Trade, the Hon. Jean Charest, delivered a passionate speech to Chamber members on Canada’s natural resource potential. The Partnership for Resource Trade is composed of organizations across Canada that believe that Canada’s natural resources can be developed in a way that is economically, environmentally, and socially beneficial.
His message was that over the past few years, Canada has developed an international reputation as a country that cannot get resource projects done. He argued that our collective inability to capitalize on our Canada’s natural resources is having a major impact on our country’s economic growth. As an example, Mr. Charest noted that the discount between the world market price for oil and the price Canadian oil companies get for their product costs Canada billions of dollars annually.
His speech however was not just about oil. He pointed out that Canada is one of the world’s largest natural resource producers overall, with major exports including minerals, hydroelectricity, wheat, pork, and potash.
Mr. Charest argued that Canada is a small country that is heavily dependent on international trade. While Canada is incredibly lucky to live so close to the United States, it has made us overly dependent on one economy. It is especially important for Canadian companies to be prepared to take advantage of the trade opportunities presented by the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.
In his view, capitalizing on the economic potential of China and India, where Canada’s represents only 2% and 0.6% or their imports respectively, should also be a major national priority. To drive home the scale of the opportunity, he mentioned that Canada’s entire population is within the margin of error of India’s population.
To achieve our country’s potential however, we will also have to do a much better job addressing the concerns of First Nations communities and increasing our labour force participation so that we have the skilled labour we need as our population ages.
He also tried to highlight that natural resources are not just an issue for rural Canada. Halifax’s universities and transportation infrastructure are critical components of the natural resource sector. Halifax is also home to some great natural resource companies such as Great Northern Timber, Emera, and the Shaw Group.
After the speech, there was a brief question and answer session:
How can companies do public consultation right?
Mr. Charest answered that companies need to consult much wider and earlier than they currently do. Communities need to be brought on board before projects are even publically announced.
What are your thoughts on new coal developments?
He said that he hoped to see the world begin to phase out coal eventually. He mentioned that we are already seeing a switch to natural gas and once we are able to store renewable energy effectively, it will be a turning point.
How is Canada doing on the topic of climate change?
Mr. Charest responded that we need strong government leadership in this area. He also said that he believes that carbon taxes will be commonplace in ten years and that companies such as Exxon Mobile are already incorporating carbon taxes into their planning.
Mr. Charest finished his speech by arguing that Nova Scotia should strongly consider following Quebec’s lead and lobbying the federal government to get more control over immigration. Quebec is able to offer all international graduates of its universities a ‘certificate to immigrate’, which would be an extraordinary advantage for Nova Scotia given its large university population.