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Northern Gateway is the CP Railway of this Century: by Ken Sands

northern gateway

May 27, 2013
I’ve been involved in the fuel distribution business in Northern BC for decades, and over that time I’ve done a lot of thinking about how an industry can be a good corporate citizen in a region, a province or a country.

With the recent and continuing deluge of commentary in the media about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, I hope my fellow British Columbians will focus on where this proposal really fits in terms of the environment, of my community of Prince George, and of the economic well-being of BC and CanadaWhile I don’t have a crystal ball at my disposal, experience helps me make a few pretty good guesses at how the future might unfold.

Based on today’s situation in which we lose billions of dollars annually because our Canadian crude oil is locked into a single US export market, the pipeline would be an effective way to unlock that artificially low price. Canada would clearly benefit.

When North Dakota crude comes onto the market, will the US even need our supply? Not according to market experts who predict virtual US energy self-sufficiency in a little more than two decades. It seems fairly plain the US has no intention of giving Canada its fair price for crude oil as long as the US remains our only export market.

How do people think we’re going to pay for our schools, our hospitals, our roads and our social programs?

The Northern Gateway pipeline and the four new natural gas lines proposed to run through the Prince George region are extremely important for Canada, similar in many ways to the historical push to build the Canadian Pacific Railway 150 years ago.

Canadian history students will remember the 1860s, ‘70s and ‘80s saw a brand new country in the process of being assembled piece by piece, led by Sir John A. Macdonald and his contemporaries. Simply stated, it was a race to create Canada and thereby hold off American expansionism.

US “manifest destiny” meant the US was asserting its own political and economic agenda. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was an attempt to ensure Canada’s survival by stitching together sparsely populated regions to fend off annexation from the south.

Today our country has the maturity of a century and a half of growth and development as well as a long-standing friendship with the US which, in turn, has retired its manifest destiny to the scrap heap.

But, like 150 years ago, today we still need a focused plan that makes Canadian pipelines a priority in ensuring Canada’s economic interests are served, just as the railway served Canada’s interests following Confederation. No other country will ensure our national interests are covered; we have to do it ourselves.

We have pipelines operating in this province that are 60 years old, and they’re still performing extremely well. This is because operation and maintenance is driven in part by monitoring technology that has improved enormously over time and is today state of the art.

But as a region, a province and a country, we have to learn from our mistakes. The softwood lumber skirmishes between Canada and the US taught us that we have to be constantly watchful over our markets and our right to access them. There’s an important lesson here.

Similarly, any Northern BCer knows the pine beetle took decades out of the harvest in our region and many other regions across the province. That was another big lesson – in part about diversifying our industry and our markets, and about the importance of doing it now.

But make no mistake. The discussion of a carefully planned Northern Gateway built to the highest environmental standards is very much about Canada’s future.

If Sir John A were around today, would he have any success at building the CPR during a modern era of multiple stakeholders and endless protest? I suppose the answer to that question depends on how seriously we take Canada’s national interest. I take it very seriously, and I say the Northern Gateway proposal is an important part of Canada’s future.

Ken Sands is a long-standing businessman and community volunteer in Prince George, BC.



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