Failing to develop our resources risks losing out on long-term security

The future for our families and our children depends on our ability to develop our resource endowment efficiently and responsibly


uI recently read an editorial that described a vision in which representatives of labour, the environmental movement and industry joined forces for a more constructive, less polarizing approach to discussing the country’s energy future.

An interesting aspect of the piece was its author, long-time environmental activist Tzeporah Berman. Her view was that polarization served no one.

Without going too far, I’ll agree the stakes are high, and as a result we can’t ignore the idea that we should consider ways forward that are less combative. For my members, those stakes are nothing short of good, family-supporting jobs and a relatively strong resource economy – together with the healthcare and education those items support.

It comes down to this: the future for our families and our children depends on our ability to develop our resource endowment efficiently and responsibly.

Let me put it the other way around: if we fail to develop our resource endowment responsibly, and further, if we fail to gain access to international customers, then we may well lose a generational opportunity to secure long-term employment security for Canadians.

So it’s no surprise many within our union and across the trade-union movement at large have been turning their minds to these issues. Many, for example, can agree we need to support high tech, and clean energy, and the manufacturing sectors as well as the more traditional resource industries for which our members have long provided services.

After all, the development, transportation, marketing, sale, and financing of energy and natural resources involve Canadian and international labour along the entire length of the supply chain. That includes work in high tech, clean tech, and manufacturing.

But supporting high tech, clean tech and the manufacturing sectors won’t be done to the exclusion of energy, including fossil fuels. Until the world stops demanding them, they’ll remain an important part of our work.

It should come as no surprise that as a union, we reject the notion that workers have to make a choice between a strong economy and the responsible stewardship of the environment. Innovation and best practices that have been pioneered and developed right here in Canada for the purpose of better, more responsible resource development should be the standard for responsible development globally.

But at the same time, discussions like the ones Ms. Berman proposes can’t ignore some of the gorillas in room. For example, the union I represent has been safely and efficiently handling and transporting coal for more than four decades.

Handling and shipping BC metallurgical coal for export supports steel manufacturing internationally. Ms. Berman knows this is a crucial part of what we do, and an equally important part of what our province does. The same goes for thermal coal, that creates affordable energy in many parts of the developing world.

As many British Columbians are learning, the BC coal sector creates 26,000 direct and indirect jobs, $3.2 billion in economic activities and $715 million in tax revenues for the province and its municipalities each year.

Let’s remember, too, that ILWU members are among the hardest working Canadians, our families love to live here, and we take great personal pride in the quality of our work. More important, we are not willing to compromise on safety and responsible development. Instead, we’ll continue to work hard to earn and keep the public’s trust.

We can agree with Ms. Berman that neither the trade-union movement nor environmental activists have all the answers. At the same time, we recognize that a real conversation may be in order.

It’s a conversation in which we might look for constructive ways of balancing environmental impacts with the necessity of jobs and a thriving economy that pays for education, healthcare and the programs that look after those who most need looking after. In short, we’re all responsible for taking care of this place.

So I welcome the opportunity to meet and have a grown-up conversation with Ms. Berman and others. Who knows? Maybe we can take the next few steps in this debate together.

Mark Gordienko is the president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada.

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