Aboriginal chiefs should rethink oil opposition


A small handful of aboriginal chiefs recently came together in Manitoba to sign a declaration in opposition to Canada’s oil and gas industry and new pipelines.

Beyond the fact they could barely attract a small handful from Canada’s 600 aboriginal communities to the event, there are several other reasons why the chiefs who attended should rethink their position.

First, their anti-oil sector demands would have a negative impact on aboriginal people in Canada, particularly those in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, over the past 14 years, aboriginal companies have earned “about $10 billion through working relationships with the oil sands industry.” If you include oil and gas projects outside of the oil sands region, this figure would rise even further.

As the oil sands have lifted thousands of aboriginal people out of poverty, by providing jobs and compensation to their communities, why on earth would anyone want to reverse or oppose such a good news story? 

Some of the protesting chiefs would no doubt use the old cliché “it’s time to end our oil independence.” Sure, many of us would love to drive around in solar-powered cars that run on free energy from the sun. But let’s face it, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, it only makes sense to support Canadian companies that employ thousands of Canadian workers, both of which pay billions in taxes. Groups like the Indian Resource Council, an aboriginal organization that is supportive of energy development, could further elaborate on the benefits.

If helping fellow aboriginal people isn’t enough motivation for the chiefs to support Canada’s oil and gas sector, perhaps self-interest arguments will work?

Over the next 20 years, the oil sands industry alone is expected to pay $464 billion in federal taxes; money that will help pay for government services across the country. From a nurse’s salary in Prince Edward Island to a university professor’s paycheque in downtown Toronto, revenue from the oil and gas sector is used for government services far beyond Western Canada’s borders.

Focusing strictly on services delivered to aboriginal people, where will Ottawa come up with the billions of dollars demanded by aboriginal communities for better housing, clean drinking water and other services if Ottawa heeds the call to obstruct the oil sands?

Finally, it should be noted that aboriginal people also use all kinds of oil products. From the fuel in their cars to the jet fuel that flies people from remote communities to larger centres for health care procedures, aboriginal communities use oil and products just like everyone else.

Even one of the most vocal chiefs at the anti-oil event in Manitoba, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, is a well-known oil and gas consumer. In 2013, he went on a well-publicized motorcycle tour of Western Canada. More recently, at the aforementioned anti-oil event in Manitoba, he tweeted out pictures from a cell phone – a device that is made partly from plastics which come from oil and gas products.

Hopefully you can see that as long as our world continues to rely on oil and gas products, it only makes sense to support Canada’s oil and gas sector. More importantly, hopefully the anti-oil chiefs will come to the same conclusion.

Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre.

Story: Toronto Sun