Encana leaving Canada is a wake-up call for all of us

National Post

Encana packing its bags and leaving Canada should be a wake-up call, not just to the oil and gas sector, but to all Canadians and their governments, especially their federal government.

Over the last two years we have seen a wedge driven between environmentalists and the oil and gas industries. The way the debate has been conducted, Canadians have been all but forced to pick a side. One party in the debate is good and forward-looking, the other is dated and dangerous and needs to be eased out of existence.

This simplistic good-and-evil lens distorts reality. Canadians are capable of seeing shades of grey where they exist, not just black and white. We should demand better of both activists and politicians.

Our natural resources, including oil and gas, are key to how our economy functions today and will be far into the future. We all enjoy the amenities that come with having abundant natural resources — mass air travel, cheap and convenient ground and sea transportation, countless consumer products, to name just a few. Yet many of us seem to believe we could at very little cost and in very little time almost magically convert away from the fuels that make all these things possible. That may happen someday but it isn’t going to happen soon. In the meantime, does it really make sense to block pipelines or resource development that will allow us to commercialize our domestic resources so we don’t have to rely on international oil, where we have no say in the producing country’s economic agenda, human rights policies or emission reduction targets?

This is not to say we shouldn’t focus on innovation and reducing our environmental footprint. We need to do better. Everyone in the industry I represent agrees. But vilifying a sector that has made great strides in recent years in emission reduction and instead switching our fossil fuel purchases to other countries isn’t the answer. The many advances the Canadian oil and gas sector have made need to be a bigger part of the national conversation. Vehicles now have tough emission standards. The sulphur content of gasoline has been significantly reduced. Mandates for renewable fuels — both federally and across many provinces — have been in place for years and vehicle engines have greatly improved their efficiency.

These efforts have helped reduce emissions but the way forward is still challenging. It will require a myriad of efforts from industry, including increasing renewable fuel usage, continuing to improve engines, cleaning our gasoline even further, improving public transit and, yes, bringing electric and other modes of transport into the mix. But one thing couldn’t be clearer: Canadians are more likely to do all this if their economy continues to grow. We need to invest in our resources now so that we can sell them for fair market value and, among other things, invest in cleaner technology and further innovation going forward.

Too often, in politics and in life, all we see is black and white. In today’s reality, a simplistic understanding won’t advance our economy or improve our environment. With a divide in the West, and a Liberal government in power, the time is now to put politics aside and focus on what’s best for our nation.

Encana leaving should open Canadians’ eyes. Oil and gas are not going away soon, and we shouldn’t hope they do. We have one of the best resource bases in the world, right here in our backyard, and we should shift the conversation to how we innovate — not alienate and try to destroy. While we debate a way forward, and pit some against others, we are experiencing real losses that will impact us long after the rhetoric dies down.

Financial Post

Jennifer Stewart is president and CEO of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, whose members account for over half the gasoline sold across Canada.

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