Evidence of meeting #24 for Natural Resources in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was energy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Christopher Smillie  Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office
  • Larry Hughes  Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
  • Jack Mintz  Palmer Chair in Public Policy, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, As an Individual
  • Michal Moore  School of Public Policy and ISEE Core Faculty, University of Calgary, As an Individual
  • Brenda Kenny  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association

9:30 a.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

Thank you for your question.

The apprenticeship system in Canada relies on employment. In construction it's not a system whereby young people sit in a classroom for four years. For a construction apprentice, it's basically the same in the 14 industrial trades; it's 80% on-the-job learning. So in terms of benefits to young people, energy projects such as pipelines and oil sands work, and all the spinoffs provide a really good opportunity for teenagers and young adults to get hired and become apprentices.

Those apprentice programs are three to four years, depending on the trade, and it requires the participation of employers, the government, and the unions for young people to move through the system. The way it works is a young person goes into an apprenticeship program. It's a four-year program, and they learn the competencies in a structured way, but to do that, to be adding value to the training system and being involved, they have to work.

I talk about the oil sands as a global classroom. These megaprojects and pipelines provide an opportunity for young people to gain employment. So lots of folks from Newfoundland and New Brunswick get on a plane and become tradespeople in Alberta. In fact, in Ontario, to be flexible and nimble during the recession, a lot of the training centres we represent started teaching Alberta curriculum. So now there are folks graduating and working who are based in Ontario but are getting their hours in Alberta. The benefits are twofold: one, you get a job right away as a young person; and two, it's a way to transfer knowledge from people who are moving out of the workforce, to grab that knowledge from plumbers and pipefitters, carpenters, and stonemasons.

Without these work opportunities, the apprenticeship system could become stagnant.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

I just want to shift a bit on that then. All of us, I think, would support jobs in the alternative energy sector, but the NDP has argued in the past that those alternative sources of energy will basically take over the jobs that would be lost if we shut down the oil and gas sector.

Do you see that as realistic? I don't think we would. Is it realistic to say we can create some alternative energy sources, which right now provide a very small percentage of our energy resources, and say those jobs will take over from all the jobs we could lose by shutting down the oil sands, for example?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

Thanks for your question.

Not to be overly partisan, the experience in the skilled trades thus far, with windmills and solar-powered farms and the like, the green or the alternative project, shows they're not huge job creators, and in some cases in New Brunswick we've been fighting to even have local workforces put up those projects.

So when you're looking at a project such as Kearl, which employs 18,000 people, versus farmers who are putting 10 or 15 or 20 windmills on their properties, the long-term maintenance associated with those windmills is certainly not as great in terms of employment opportunities as maintenance on a refinery, which requires thousands of people each year.

So some direct jobs are created by alternative energy projects, but the vast majority of the skilled trades are engaged in oil and gas.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. Anderson. You're out of time.

We go now to the official opposition, Monsieur Gravelle, up to seven minutes.

Go ahead, please.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

Mr. Smillie, I'd like you to answer this question, please.

The NDP brought this study on pipelines and refineries because we're concerned about the decline of the refining industry and the loss of jobs due to the export of raw materials. We believe Canada needs a new clean energy strategy, one that creates opportunities for green energy jobs. The Minister of Natural Resources promised last year to produce such a strategy, but none has yet appeared. We now have a large team working on an NDP clean energy strategy for Canada, and we call on the Conservatives to join us in our efforts.

We believe Canada can harness our best minds and our wealth of resources to become a clean energy superpower and a leader in the development of renewable energy, but we have to act now. Other countries are moving forward with major investments in renewable power. Canada needs to maintain its competitiveness in the global economy.

Most witnesses appearing at these hearings have called for a new national energy strategy, including those appearing here today.

My question to Mr. Smillie is this. You have said Canada needs a coherent national energy road map with federal government leadership on the environment. You have said there's a natural link between the way in which we plan, use, and distribute energy in Canada to the policy we set for dealing with byproducts from those energy products.

Could you comment more on your ideas for a national energy strategy?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

Absolutely.

I think some sort of overarching framework is required. Our organization has views similar to those of industry, and I think you're bang on. That's exactly what we need. At the end of the day, we have vast resources in our country. We have to figure out a way to move forward in developing those resources responsibly. I'm not calling for socialism or grand government planning. What I'm calling for is the involvement of all levels of government, which I think we have to some extent now, to talk to industry and get input for some sort of plan.

I would also say in response to your question that no energy plan—I don't want to say plan. Sorry, guys. I know some of the westerners get upset about that.

My pitch would be that no strategy can be in place without also considering a workforce strategy. If we're talking about a national energy strategy, we have to talk about a workforce strategy around that as well. Again, it's not grand socialism or central planning, but it's using all the levers of government and industry that are involved.

Sure, we can decide what the elements of a national energy strategy, or a policy framework, would be, but there are a couple of other things we need to do at the same time. I really wouldn't want to say either way about the minister's plan being released or not. I'm like everyone else. Let's see how things develop. But I think there are a number of players in this country—big CEOs, small trade contractors, regular working unions—that are looking for some guidance, absolutely. We can't plan where to send 20,000 or 25,000 people in the next five to 10 years if we don't know if the projects are going ahead.

I am also supportive of fixing the regulatory system to assist in workforce planning. We can't have a 15-year dance before a project is approved. We don't know when to train people, we don't know where to send them, and we don't know how to harness those resources. So a change to the regulatory system—something that's responsible and rigorous—would be necessary as part of the grand strategy that I would put before the House of Commons, if I were allowed to do so.

I hope I've answered your questions. Regulatory changes, workforce stuff, and industrial planning are all important elements of any national involvement.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Hughes, could you comment on the national energy strategy?

9:40 a.m.

Prof. Larry Hughes

It's a very important question. I know, as Mr. Smillie just pointed out, that it is a red flag to some, especially western members.

What strikes me, from listening to what various witnesses have said today, is that we are moving towards an energy security policy for energy exports. You see this in many major exporting countries. A good example is the former Soviet Union, or Russia, in which the Soviet Union at the time, and now Russia, had essentially one market for its oil and natural gas, and that was western Europe, and now effectively all of Europe. The Russians have done what is being advocated. They've diversified to Asia. So now they have, from an energy exporter's energy security view, two markets in which they can effectively play one off against the other, which is more or less what has been suggested by a number of the witnesses.

That being the case, we now have in Canada, surprisingly, the need for energy security to address the energy import issue. As it stands right now, it really isn't being addressed in eastern Canada. We've been told there is infrastructure in eastern Canada to handle the natural gas, because the natural gas will start flowing from the south to the north. This, as it stands right now, is not true. If the infrastructure were there, natural gas would be certainly making larger inroads into Atlantic Canada. It isn't.

We do need a national energy strategy of some sort to recognize that the country is both, at present, an energy exporter and an energy importer. We should be addressing the need for energy security from both the exporter perspective and the importer perspective.

Thank you.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

How much more time?

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

You're actually out of time.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

All right.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

We go now to Mr. McGuinty, from the Liberal Party. You have up to seven minutes, please.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Mintz, I want to go back to your comments and your op ed in the newspaper some time ago about game theory. I'd like to ask you about your purported leverage with respect to game theory in the United States. Can you tell us where your leverage begins and ends with respect to our obligations under NAFTA and North American energy security?

9:40 a.m.

Palmer Chair in Public Policy, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, As an Individual

Jack Mintz

First of all, we do have an agreement on NAFTA on the use of energy in terms of trying to, let's say, withhold it from the United States but still provide it in Canada. There are limitations on that. But I think the idea of trying to expand our markets is not something that would violate NAFTA at all. In fact, we do it in a lot of our industries that are under NAFTA. The idea is to really try to take advantage of the economic returns we can get from alternative exports.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

So if we're obliged to supply energy in a North American context, what leverage do we actually have with the United States?