TORONTO - NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has it wrong when it comes to the oilsands, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Friday.
Mulcair told a CBC radio program last weekend that the oilsands are artificially inflating the Canadian dollar and hollowing out the country's manufacturing sector.
He called it the definition of Dutch disease — a reference to the Netherlands and how a natural gas find in that country led to declines in manufacturing in the 1960s.
But Flaherty said Mulcair doesn't understand how the oilsands affect the Canadian economy.
Manufacturing in many western countries is contributing less to their GDP overall, even those without substantial oil and gas resources, he said.
"So I think his logic is off and doesn't make sense," Flaherty said after a news conference in Toronto about the 2015 Pan Am Games.
"In fact, what we see in Canada is a sharing of the wealth," he said.
''When we have a strong resource sector, as we do in Western Canada and in Newfoundland and Labrador, then we see manufacturers all across the country — including Ontario — profit from that."
Those who try to divide Canadians in terms of economic prospects are not helping the country, he warned.
Flaherty's the one who's dividing Canadians, said Peter Julian, the NDP's natural resources critic.
"The deterioration of manufacturing jobs is right across the country and it includes British Columbia and Alberta," he said in an interview from Burnaby, B.C.
"So the Conservatives are trying to divide Canadians on an East-West basis. That deterioration in manufacturing and value-added jobs is taking place in the West like it is in the East."
Flaherty doesn't see how it's affecting families, Julian said. About half a million manufacturing jobs have been lost on the Conservatives' watch. Family incomes are dropping and new jobs pay, on average, $10,000 less than ones that have been lost, he added.
"For Mr. Flaherty to say this is simply not a problem, that our government's not concerned at all about it, I think is showing real irresponsibility and it's a profound lack of leadership to say that's OK to have jobs that pay less for Canadians," Julian said.
Mulcair also told the radio program that he wants to see the oilsands developed in a responsible way that sees more refining done in Canada and less raw product sent abroad.
His comments have come under fire by Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
If Mulcair thinks the oilsands are a disease, what does the NDP think the cure is, asked Wall.
Redford said Mulcair needs to understand just how important the oilsands are if he wants to lead the country one day.
But Mulcair isn't the only one to land in hot water over the oilsands.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty drew Alberta's scorn earlier this year when he said he preferred a lower dollar to a growing oil and gas sector in Western Canada.
His remarks were characterized as unnecessarily divisive by Redford, who argued the whole country benefits by supplying goods to a strong resource sector.
McGuinty later tried to tone down his remarks saying he is proud of the work being done in all parts of the country.
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.