OTTAWA - A new poll suggests Canadians are roughly split over NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's contention that the Alberta oilsands have given the country a case of Dutch Disease as he prepares to visit the province next week.
Mulcair has suggested the Alberta oil exports raise the value of the Canadian dollar, which in turn hurts the economy in other parts of the country.
The phenomenon is dubbed the "Dutch Disease" in reference to the manufacturing decline that occurred in the Netherlands after a boom in natural gas exports in the 1970s.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, released Friday, suggests slightly more Canadians disagree than agree with Mulcair — 45 per cent compared to 41 per cent — although opinions varied across the country.
The telephone survey of just over 1,000 people was carried out between May 17 and 20 and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Most people polled in oil-rich Alberta and the rest of the Prairies disagreed with the NDP leader, while those in Quebec and British Columbia were most likely to agree with him.
The poll indicates most people don't share Mulcair's sentiments in Ontario, the country's manufacturing heartland, where the economy has been hard hit from the restructuring of the North American auto sector and other blue-collar industries.
But a study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute says Ontario enjoys the lion's share of oilsands benefits outside Alberta. The Calgary-based think-tank has suggested the oilsands will create billions of dollars in economic spinoffs in Ontario and tens of thousands of jobs over the next quarter century.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Alberta counterpart Alison Redford got into a spat earlier this year over the same issue. When McGuinty said a strong oilsands industry means a high loonie that hurts the manufacturing and export sectors, Redford accused him of being too simplistic.
Redford and federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver addressed the poll results Friday in Edmonton, with both expressing the hope that Canadians, including the NDP leader, can have an informed debate about the issue.
"To be even thinking that the discussion that's taking place — which I think is quite a divisive discussion — is in any way informed is quite troubling," said the Alberta premier.
"It's going to be an awful lot more interesting to see what (Mulcair's) comments might be after he actually visits the oilsands."
Oliver called for a "national conversation with Canadians to inject as many of the facts as we can into the conversation, to get people as aware of the economic reality, what the enormous benefits are to Canada of resource development."
But Mulcair has insisted that statistics on manufacturing job losses are "irrefutable''' and that "everyone'' agrees more than half of those losses are the direct result of the artificially high Canadian dollar created by booming energy exports, particularly from Alberta's oilsands.
The federal Conservatives quickly pounced on Mulcair for suggesting the Alberta oilsands have given Canada a case of Dutch Disease. Cabinet ministers have accused the NDP leader of pitting region against region and insulting hard-working workers in the resource sector.
Redford has said she won't meet with Mulcair until he visits the Fort McMurray region to educate himself about the oilsands, and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has also weighed in with harsh words.
The NDP leader's office has confirmed Mulcair will visit the region May 30 and 31.
The poll suggests less than half of Canadians had heard about Mulcair's comments. People from parts of the country most involved in the oilsands told pollsters they were most aware of what he said.
"Our survey suggests that those who have the most to lose if oilsands development were to be slowed as a means to assist other economic sectors are the ones paying the most attention to the 'Dutch Disease' debate," said Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima.
"On top of that, no region seems particularly convinced that oilsands development has been hurting exports of other sectors of Canada's economy."
There were few surprises along party lines.
The survey suggests 70 per cent of self-identified Conservative supporters polled either disagree or strongly disagree with Mulcair.
However, most Green party supporters also disagree with him — with 56 per cent offside.
Liberal supporters were roughly split, with 48 per cent agreeing with Mulcair and 44 per cent disagreeing.
The poll indicates 55 per cent of New Democrat supporters share Mulcair's view.
But the NDP leader's assessment was most popular with Bloc Quebecois supporters. The survey suggests 64 per cent of Bloc supporters back his musings.
10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP
The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>
9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980
Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed
Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.
Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves
Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>
5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.
One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry
Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands
Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat
Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?
The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.