On December 20, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on offshore oil and gas activity in Canada’s Artic by way of a moratorium on all new exploration and development in Arctic waters for a renewable five-year period.
The Prime Minister’s decision is part of a trend: his tanker ban off British Columbia’s coast, his comments regarding phasing out of Alberta’s oil sands and his stunning silence when then-president Barack Obama withdrew his support for the Keystone Pipeline project — a critical element in getting one of Canada’s key natural resources safely and cost efficiently to market.
The Prime Minister tried to justify this latest ban on resource development by warning about the risks of Arctic drilling, even going so far as to say it cannot be done safely. Those statements are both inaccurate and misleading, but another statement he made is completely correct: he admitted that his government has now “closed one door of potential economic opportunity” for the North.
Most galling is that prior to the announcement, neither Aboriginal nor political leadership in the region was consulted on this decision. In fact, Premier Bob McLeod of the Northwest Territories said he only received word about the decision — which he opposes — two hours before it was announced and Nunavut’s Premier Peter Taptuna said the decision would cripple that territory’s future financial independence.
I have spoken out against this decision on numerous occasions. As a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, the proving ground and gateway for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, I know this decision is harmful to my province as well. After all, oil companies and suppliers from all over the world have come to my home province to develop leading technologies and best practices for operating in harsh ocean environments, just like the Arctic.
Canada’s northern communities deserve to determine their own futures and have cause for concern when a unilateral decision is made, without proper consultation, which affects their economy and their ability to develop their own revenue sources. Premier Taptuna said that this decision takes them back to square one, where Ottawa makes the decisions for them — historically, a pattern that has never served them well.
In short, the North is looking for ways to break its dependence on the federal government, and this decision prevents it from doing so.
All regions should be allowed to benefit from their own resources, just as Newfoundland and Labrador has. As the former Deputy CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, I had the opportunity to contribute to initiatives that ensured protection of the environment. In fact, the board went through a rigorous and successful process of developing robust safety and environmental regulations which allowed us to develop our offshore natural resources while safeguarding the environment. It is possible.
If Prime Minister Trudeau is so committed to environmental protection over all other concerns, then why is resource-based economic activity permitted in some regions and not others?
In the 46 years since the first barrel of oil flowed, there has never been a wellhead spill off Newfoundland. At the same time, billions of dollars have flowed into the provincial and federal treasuries, and tens of thousands of jobs have been created that contribute to the economy across the province. It has raised the standard of living and has created high quality jobs. It is a great Canadian success story.
Today, nobody would tell the people of my province we do not have a right to do that. No one, not even the Prime Minister, has that right to deny the same opportunities to the people and communities of Canada’s North. They have the right to generate their own wealth and to make and build their own housing, schools and health and transportation infrastructure, based not on what Ottawa wants to give them, but what they can earn themselves.
The North should have the right to determine its own future in the same careful manner that we have in the rest of the country. In doing so, it will benefit from Canada’s strong, world class regulatory system that focuses on the safety and protection of people, resources and the environment.
This ban is a mistake and suggests that safe development of resources in the Arctic is not possible. That is not just a ridiculous argument, but a dangerous one.
Prime Minister Trudeau is depriving the North of economic independence through this ill-informed and ill-advised decision. This is a wrong decision for the North. This is a wrong decision for Canada. And ironically, for a Prime Minister who claims to champion the middle class, it is wrong for them too.
David Wells is a senator representing Newfoundland and Labrador. He is chair of the Senate Subcommittee on the Senate Estimates, and sits on the Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
This article appeared in the March 7, 2017 edition of the Hill Times.