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Nelson: Canada well-placed to replace Russia as a resource mega-power


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Here’s today’s pop up quiz: what do Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and Canada have in common?

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No, the answer isn’t they’re countries that, when citizens protest in the streets, throw leaders in jail, freeze supporters’ bank accounts and blame foreign bad actors for the unrest. (Still, that’s not a bad guess.)

Instead, think of that old adage, beloved of realtors everywhere: location, location, location.

Yes, those assorted countries are where the vast majority of the world’s oil reserves rest and, despite our current government’s recent over-reach in stomping on Canadians’ rights, certainly, we still shine brightly when comparing our individual liberty with what’s on offer to citizens from those other hydrocarbon big shots.

And, given the way things are shaping up globally, such a distinction is becoming ever more important, as a figurative curtain is once more being lowered between competing factions in an increasingly belligerent world.

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This widening split — highlighted primarily today by the brutal war in Ukraine — has huge, long-term ramifications for both Canada and Alberta.

Few could have imagined just how rapidly attitudes towards fossil fuels would change, both in Europe and North America, as we are forced to suddenly contemplate excluding all Russian supplies from the usual mix.

Suddenly, that infamous Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported more Alberta crude to the U.S., has morphed from its previous role as a convenient climate-change piñata to one now judged akin to some squandered D-Day landing ground. Its abandonment thereby allowing Russia’s Vladimir Putin to sleep more soundly in his king-sized bed, no doubt dreaming of yet more Botox injections.

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There’s even chatter among the Republicans in the U.S. about reviving the project, though why on earth Calgary’s TC Energy would dip even the tiniest toe into that cesspool of political malevolence is a question few have courage enough to ask.

Anyhow, this drawing down of blinds between nations involves more than any single engineering project, no matter how symbolic and politicized that particular pipeline remains.

Excluding Russia, via sanctions, from the western world’s economy goes far beyond energy supplies. There is a host of other commodities the world’s biggest national landmass produces that also face sanctions.

So, where else could the world find a similarly colossal country, one capable of replacing such a treasure trove of metals, minerals and foodstuffs?

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Well, look downward. Those are your feet and, yes, you’re therefore standing upon it.

Sure, we like to tell ourselves we’ve moved beyond the dig it, grow it and chop it economy, just as we once proudly announced companies such as Blackberry and Nortel were our future.

Perhaps that’s because it all sounds a bit demeaning, making a living from digging in the dirt, which, at its root, is what mining and agriculture involve.

But we do it so well and, despite what the greenies might preach, we’re being reminded that the time when humans can ignore such coarser industries remains distant.

Of course, being Canada, we pretend otherwise. Apparently, our national resume doesn’t need “energy mega-star” as a prominent line item.

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Yet, the latest federal budget, still overflowing with deficit spending, would have been many times more onerous were it not for the recent windfall provided to the national treasury by those traditional, heavy-duty, hands deep in the dirt industries.

Most Albertans understand this. We know why this remains the richest province: location, location location. We aren’t especially smart, other than by moving here in the first place. Nope, just lucky.

So, no matter how many pointed letters federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault sends to Suncor pontificating about carbon emissions, one thing won’t change. We sit atop untold riches and while our prime minister might secretly dream of turning those Alberta tarsands into Quebec oilsands, it just isn’t going to happen.

Location, location location. It isn’t just the catchphrase of realtors, after all.

So, following seven long years of bust, we can spot a boom on the horizon. Let’s grab it while we can.

Chris Nelson is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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