Big Oil may rob Canada of jobs

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Canada could soon face a major blow to its economic stability: oil. As the country continues to develop Alberta's oilsands and Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaches out to Chinese oil companies, there is growing concern that Canada is rapidly becoming a petro-state. And in this shift, manufacturing jobs are disappearing.

Canada's recent push for the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would deliver oil from Alberta to the nation's west coast, where it would be sent to China, has drawn strong criticism from environmental activists and workers. Fuel from Canada's tar sands is blamed for being a major contributor to climate change.

In the U.S., President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in the interest of environmental protection. Given these factors, Harper is looking to government-owned oil companies in China, Common Dreams reports, for Canada's fossil fuel needs, after expressing he felt as though he were being "held hostage" by U.S. interests.

As Canada is increasingly subjected to Big Oil, so it - and its manufacturing sector - will suffer, economists predict. In fact, the fallout from bedfellowship with oil companies is already plain to see, many believe.

 "Ontario is probably the province that has suffered the most from this," says University of Ottawa economist Serge Coulombe. "The biggest losers are typically [those] who had all those great jobs in manufacturing, much like in the U.S."

In a report conducted by Coulombe and other researchers, it was discovered that dirty oil money was to blame for at least 42 percent of job losses between 2002 and 2007. That translates to about 140,000 manufacturing jobs out the window as a result of the oilsands development.

From there, said Coulombe, it gets worse: manufactured exports dropped another 12.6 percent between the second quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2011.

The manufacturing sector will continue to be riddled with job loss if irresponsible oil pursuits are allowed to continue, he warns. Consumers, farmers, and non-oil producing industries will also feel the troublesome effects of Big Oil, through inflation and gas prices at the pump.

Over the past two years, China has invested about $15 billion in Alberta's oilsands. If the Canadian crude - rated some of the dirtiest in the world - was delivered to China via the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, say critics, it would travel through extremely environmentally sensitive areas. Should an accident occur, the results would be devastating.

Economist Robyn Allan notes, "Right now, 95 percent of the oil is in Alberta, but 75 percent of manufacturing jobs are in Ontario and Quebec. If you have a policy that deliberately supports Alberta at the expense of Eastern Canada, then you're stretching the national fabric.

 "The jobs are not there; the benefits to Canada are not there. We are going to experience even more upward pressure on the Canadian dollar, and even more intense division between Eastern and Western Canada."

Many economists agree that Canada should maintain a competitive manufacturing industry, as "resource booms don't last forever." They could also invest in green energy.

 "Canada is not what it used to be," said Todd Paglia, executive director with ForestEthics, an environmental group calling for international boycotts on tars ands oil. "It's hard to believe, but it's tilting toward becoming more of an authoritarian petro state, positioning itself as a resource colony for China."

Photo: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen arrive at Capital International Airport in Beijing. Harper visited China to discuss oil sales and economic ties. Alexander F. Yuan/AP