By LICIA CORBELLA, Calgary Herald - Today, let's have some fun and play fairy godmother to Quebec. Let's grant the province the wish it articulated in Copenhagen. Wave the magic wand and poof, wish granted. Shut down Alberta's oilsands, except, since it's Quebec making the wish, we have to call it tarsands, even though it's not tar they use to run their Bombardier planes, trains, and Skidoos.
Ah, at last! The blight on Canada's reputation shut down. All those dastardly workers from across Canada living in Fort McMurray, Calgary, and Edmonton out of jobs, including those waitresses, truck drivers, nurses, teachers, doctors, pilots, engineers, and so on. They can all go on employment insurance like Ontario autoworkers and Quebec parts makers!
Closing down Alberta's oil industry would immediately stop the production of 1.8 million barrels of oil a day. Supply and demand being what it is, oil prices would go up and therefore the cost at the pump would go up, too, increasing the cost of everything else.
But lost jobs in Alberta and across the country along with higher gas prices are a small price to pay to save the world and not "embarrass" Quebecers on the world stage. Not to worry though, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Nigeria can come to the rescue. You know, the guys who pump money into Al-Qa'ida and help Osama bin Laden target those Van Doos fighting in Afghanistan. Bloody oil is so much nicer than dirty tarsands oil.
Shutting down the oilsands will reduce Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions by 38.4 megatonnes. Hooray! It's so fun to be a fairy godmother! While that sounds like a lot, Canada produces only two per cent of the world's man-made GHGs and the oilsands produce only five per cent of Canada's total emissions or 0.1 per cent of the world's emissions. By comparison, the U.S. produces 20.2 per cent of the world's GHG emissions - 27 per cent of which comes from coal-fired electricity.
The 530 sq.-km piece of land currently disturbed by the tarsands (which is smaller than the John F. Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Fla.) must be reclaimed by law and will return to Alberta's 381,000 sq. km of boreal forest, a huge carbon sink. Quebec, of course, has clean hydro power, but more than 13,000 sq. km were drowned for the James Bay hydroelectric project, permanently removing that forest from acting as a carbon sink.
But fairy godmother is digressing. While the oilsands produce only five per cent of Canada's GHGs, it contributes much more to Canada's economy, with oil and gas making up one-quarter of the value on the TSX alone.
Alberta is also the largest net contributor per capita by far to Confederation. Quebec hasn't made a net contribution to the rest of Canada for a very long time. This is not to be critical; it's just a fact.
In 2007 (the last year national figures are available), Alberta sent a net contribution of $19.49 billion to the rest of Canada or $5,553 per Albertan -- more than three times what every Ontarian contributes at $1,757. Quebecers, on the other hand, each received $627 per capita net or a total of $8 billion, money which was designed to help "equalize" social programs across the country.
Except, that's not what's happening. Quebec has more generous social programs, like very cheap university tuition (paid in part by Albertans) and cheap provincial daycare (paid in part by Albertans).
But in this fairy godmother world, poof! those delightful unequal programs have now disappeared!
The July 2009 Canadian Energy Research Institute report states that between 2008 and 2032, the oilsands will account for 172,000 person-years of employment in Ontario during the construction phase, plus 640,000 for operations over the 25-year period. For Quebec, the oilsands will account for 84,000 person-years of employment during the construction phase, plus 292,000 for operations over the 25-year period. In total, the tarsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to Canada's GDP over the next 25 years.
Wave wand. Poof. Jobs, gone! So, now that the oil industry has shut down and left Alberta, Alberta has become a have-not province and so has every other province. Equality at last! Meeting our Copenhagen targets suddenly looks possible, as most of us can't afford to drive our cars or buy anything but necessities, so manufacturers have closed their doors and emissions are way down.
Fairy godmothers always like to look on the bright side. Quebecers finally realize they can't thrive without the rest of Canada. Alas, in Alberta, separatist sentiment has risen dramatically, citizens vote to separate and the oil and gas industry returns. Albertans start to pocket that almost $6,000 for each person that used to get sent elsewhere, and now their kids get the cheap tuition.
Fairy godmother's work is done.
Quebecers must now sign up for foreign worker visas to work in Alberta to send their cheques back home so junior can start saving up to pay for college.
What if Quebecers got their wish, and the oilsands closed?
Economic impact would be devastating, even affecting Quebec's social programs