04/08/2014 21:03 EDT | Updated 06/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Brian Mulroney calls on Canada to improve resource development, U.S. ties

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney has called on Canada to do a better job of extracting and exporting its natural resources so it can forge an even deeper integration with the U.S. energy market from a "position of strength." 

Mulroney, speaking at an Ottawa dinner event on Tuesday, sharply criticized Canada for its "complacency and chronic inertia" when it comes to exporting everything from oil and gas to minerals. 

The former leader said Canada needs to do better if it wants "deeper integration" with the U.S. market, something he said would benefit both economies.

"If we decide first to get our own house in order, we could engage the Americans from a position of strength and relevance, making energy independence in North America a near-term reality and generating significant capacity for influence in world affairs," he said in prepared remarks. 

The federal government, he said, needs to create an organization to oversee every aspect of the development and export process — from forging agreements with First Nations groups, to setting environmental standards, to building infrastructure to export products like liquid natural gas.

Without it, he said Canada's resources will remain in the ground, "dead as a doornail."

Mulroney said he envisions the organization as a "genuine partnership that will spearhead expansion of our resources, expedite infrastructure construction and bolster a broader diversification of our exports."

And he had some ideas of who he'd like to lead it.

"We would need someone with the tenacity of Simon Reisman and the sensitivity of a Bob Rae or a Jim Prentice. Someone who has the absolute confidence and persistent attention of the prime minister," he said. 

"Any volunteers?" he asked the audience at the Ottawa Convention Centre, who paid $5,000 per table of 10 to hear the speech. 

Canada falling behind on infrastructure: former PM

Mulroney's speech also highlighted three major issues: the Keystone XL pipeline project, the resource potential of Ontario's Ring of Fire and a lack of infrastructure to transport energy products.

Mulroney said Canada "definitely" needs Keystone XL — which would move crude oil from Alberta to the United States — and that the U.S. would be breaking a "major tenet" of NAFTA if it blocks the pipeline. 

He said Canada also needs to build pipelines and liquid natural gas facilities on the west coast to transport products to the booming Asian market. He warned Canada has fallen behind Australia and the U.S. when it comes to exporting liquid natural gas, and won't catch up without investing. 

"We have to understand that, while demand for much of what we have is strong, we operate in a highly competitive global market," he said.

"We cannot sit back, contemplating our collective navel and expect customers to knock on our door."

Mulroney called Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire a "classic example" of Canada's lax attitude toward development. He called on First Nations groups, the Ontario government and environmental groups to speed up regulatory reviews so mining projects can begin in the area.

Mulroney's speech was organized by Canada 2020, a think-tank that identifies itself as progressive and non-partisan.