By Stockwell Day
What a difference a month makes.
In early April, media reported my comment, “watch out for Rachel Notley, head of the New Democrats. She’s a smart woman and knows what she’s doing.”
Having said that, I admit I did not anticipate she would do as well as she did. As Albertans now read the various reports of how much they have apparently lost overnight in monetary value, there is room for optimism nevertheless.
Most people agree that maximizing value for Alberta’s oil by gaining market access to the growing Asian markets is something worth pursuing. And doing so shouldn’t require taxpayer subsidies from cash-strapped governments.
This is not an easy challenge. Right now, Canada’s oil industry is entirely dependent on one customer: the United States, where there is declining demand for our product due to increased self-sufficiency in their own market.
Alberta’s economy will continue to be at risk of losing billions of dollars every year simply because one of our most important strategic assets is increasingly stranded. Producers need another export option. The fast-growing economies in Asia are the obvious answer.
But to get there, they must go through B.C., with North America’s closest ports to Asia. So far, navigating through B.C. has been tough for industry. To get through B.C., we must recognize British Columbia — and especially First Nations in B.C. — as true partners, by demonstrating respect for them and their views about the economy and the environment.
First, we need to recognize B.C. First Nations as landowners and governments. We must recognize the true value of First Nations lands, their traditions, and their people. We must work with First Nations every step of the way — from concept to implementation — to build any resource projects on their territory.
Second, we must acknowledge British Columbia’s deep connection to the coast. British Columbians have one of the most pristine ocean coastlines in the world, and they will fiercely fight to protect it.
My father’s years as a commercial salmon fisherman in B.C. vividly underscored this for me. We saw this spirit in Vancouver, when 4,000 people immediately volunteered to help clean up after the recent spill of 14 barrels of bunker fuel in the Burrard Inlet.
Third, we must recognize that British Columbians expect real, tangible economic benefits in return for the environmental risk associated with moving oil products through their province.
Refining our bitumen before it leaves Canada’s shores addresses all three of these issues. That’s why we created Pacific Future Energy (PFEC), a company launched a year ago to address Alberta’s export challenge by building the world’s greenest refinery on Canada’s West Coast.
Building this refinery will take export tankers laden with heavy oil (diluted bitumen) off of the water, replacing them with ships carrying products such as diesel or jet fuel, which have considerably less impact on the marine environment in the case of a spill. It will also create thousands of new jobs for First Nations and non-First Nations alike from across Canada in construction and operation.
PFEC’s refinery will first be built in large, super-modules in Asia, and then shipped to tidewater for assembly in Canada. While we will maximize Canadian jobs during construction, the real opportunity is with long-term, high-paying jobs over the course of the refinery’s life.
Alberta New Democrats like the idea of building refineries in Alberta instead, but it would be much more costly to build our project inland. Moving those massive modules across the Rockies to Alberta would be impossible. Building a refinery without them would add 50 to 100 per cent to the cost of construction.
Let there be no doubt: Pacific Future Energy’s refinery will make money, provide jobs for generations, release Alberta’s stranded oil, and its business plan does not depend on subsidies.
Today, dozens of refineries in the U.S. Midwest — which are almost exclusively processing Canadian bitumen — are generating over $30 profit per barrel by refining Canadian crude into products for sale in the U.S., even with low oil prices.
It’s time to repatriate some of those profits back to Canadians. I am sure that’s something that we can all agree on.
Stockwell Day — former minister of international trade, treasurer and acting premier of Alberta, and Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla — is the chair of Pacific Future Energy’s advisory board, as well as a senior adviser to the company’s management team.