For better and for worse, Canada's economic fate is now chained to tar sands oil exports. This is not good news for the long-term health of the Canadian economy. The $200-billion tar sands mega-project has diminished Canada’s economic diversity and resilience, and created a carbon bubble that will undermine Canada’s economic well-being when effective climate change policies make carbon-intensive energy sources like the tar sands uneconomic.
Rapid tar sands development has transformed the Canadian currency into a volatile petro-dollar and destabilized the country's manufacturing base. A Canadian government report noted that the rising dollar, combined with volatile energy prices and cheap Chinese imports, has decimated Canada’s manufacturing sector, concluding that Canada was witnessing "a long-term structural change favoring both the resources and the services sectors at the expense of the manufacturing sector" in Ontario and Quebec.
More than 50 per cent of decreased employment in the manufacturing sector (a total of 322,000 jobs) was directly related to the tar sands petro-dollar, which means for every job created in the tar sands (approximately 100,000) another job was lost in the country's manufacturing sector. Canada’s economic obsession with tar sands expansion also has decreased Canada's share of technology-intensive industries, such as automobile production, aerospace, advanced economic software, and other high value-added industries.
There is another way. A report by Blue-Green Canada shows that investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transit not only reduces pollution, but it creates six to eight times more jobs than comparable investments in fossil fuels. If Canada took the $1.3 billion of taxpayers’ money the federal government gives to the oil and gas industry each year in the form of subsidies, and instead invested that money in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, it would spark the transition to a clean energy economy. Just look at the numbers: a $1.3 billion investment in clean energy would create 18,000 to 20,000 jobs, compared to the 2,340 to 2,860 that jobs can be generated with $1.3 billion invested in oil and gas production, refining or pipelines.
Rapid tar sands expansion is not in Canada’s best economic interests. A cap on tar sands production and a more diverse, balanced economy is what is needed to ensure Canada’s long-term economic health.