Resources generate 'disproportionate share of Canada’s wealth'

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was asked to identify the 'next big thing for Canada' by an Ottawa think-tank. The result was a speech he delivered in Ottawa. Here’s the written text of that speech



“Thank you, John, for your most generous remarks.

Let me also congratulate you and your Government for the forthright position you are taking on the lawless takeover of Crimea. The principles and values we cherish in Canada should be the constant rudder for actions we take on foreign policy.

History teaches us eloquently what happens when violations of international law and national sovereignty are ignored in the interest of expediency.

As the first G7 country to recognize the newly independent Ukraine in 1991, Canada should be in the vanguard of those safeguarding its fundamental freedoms and staunchly supporting those seeking to reinforce that independence.

Your invitation tonight presents a great challenge: What is “the next big thing” for Canada?

In Prime Minister Pearson’s time, the answer might have been the Canadian Flag, the Auto Pact and the creation of the Canada Pension Plan. Prime Minister Trudeau will always be known for the Charter for Rights and Freedoms and Patriation.

My terms in office will probably be remembered for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and NAFTA and the GST, initiatives that — like those of my predecessors — transformed Canada.

But these big measures could not have been contrived. There had to have been a need for them, so as to ensure that Canada emerged from those great debates and elections as a more sovereign, independent and prosperous nation.

This is a new world — different from that of Mssrs. Pearson, Trudeau or myself — complex, and challenging, but one with enormous promise for Canada. As we look to the future, Canada has many reasons for optimism. At the last G8 our government stood tall, a beacon of fiscal rectitude in a turbulent world with one of if not the strongest economies in the industrialized world by most objective criteria.

How did this happen? Well, it did not happen overnight nor under one government or one political party. It happened because, for the better part of almost 30 years, four governments of different political stripes followed similar economic policies that generated stable economic growth, solid job creation, sensible public financing and a more confident national fabric.

Foundational initiatives by my government such as the Canada-U.S. FTA and NAFTA, along with a wave of privatizations, extensive deregulation, historic tax reform and a low inflation policy dramatically reduced program spending while trimming the deficit, laid the basis for growth and enabled Canada to compete vigorously in a rapidly globalizing world.

Jean Chretien had very important decisions to make when he formed the government in 1993. He could have repudiated our trade agreements and tax reform because he had campaigned vigorously against each. Instead, Mr. Chretien put campaign rhetoric aside and sustained both the trade and tax initiatives as pillars of record prosperity for Canada.

To his credit, Mr. Chretien, aided by Finance Minister Martin, used the great economic benefits from free trade and the proceeds of the GST to eliminate the deficit over time and begin the process of paying down the debt in an orderly fashion.

By acting as he did, while slashing government spending and making large investments in university research and significant advances in R&D generally and searching out new avenues for international trade, Mr. Chretien ensured the continuity of policies that were neither Tory nor Grit, Liberal nor Conservative. They were Canadian, designed to serve our national interest and strengthen our national sovereignty.

This was followed by important measures by the Martin Government and by the present Harper Government with their sound and impressive management of the economy, along with beneficial changes to corporate and personal taxes introduced by Finance Minister Flaherty. All of which strengthened our public finances and allowed us to withstand better than most the ravages of the recent economic crisis.

Prime Ministers are not perfect. Mistakes are made. I certainly made my share.

But it was this continuum of sensible and effective policies under four different governments led by Prime Ministers of different political stripes — avoiding the erratic policy lurches of the past — that changed Canadian attitudes and provided the solid economic foundation on which Prime Minister Harper was able to stand when he welcomed world leaders to Canada a few years ago.

The essential continuity of governments from Mulroney through Chretien and Martin to Harper explains a great deal of what is right about Canada today.

No one should underestimate the value of this continuity. Serious public policy can only be conceived and practised over decades — not four-year terms. We have had the great good fortune to see governments of different stripes “pass and accept the torch” over the past 30 years, rather than stop, and then try to start a new game based on discredited ideologies or personal agendas.

Only a prophet, or a fool, would predict the future. The management guru Peter Drucker once said “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

We live in a world where the events of the moment — whether in Crimea or Syria or Afghanistan — signal unrelenting pressures of instability, where the U.S. inclination and capacity to assert global leadership is on the wane and where the principles of multilateralism so helpful for the last half of the last century are now under assault.

It is easy to be pessimistic, easier still to want to turn inward. It is a world that, as Ian Bremmer describes, will be increasingly “every nation for itself.” National interests will be paramount.

The good news is that Canada is better positioned than many to take advantage of the fluid state of global affairs, provided — and this is a big if — we can get our act together to accentuate our strengths — notably our resource base and our energy capabilities in particular — to deliver prosperity and employment for Canadians for decades to come. And that is the big idea I want to discuss with you tonight.

We have enormous potential — the third largest supply of crude oil in the world — 174 billion barrels — much of which lie in the oilsands. More importantly, what we have in Canada represents more than half of the global oil reserves that are open to the private sector for development. Can there be any better magnet for investors?

Just think of this as well:

Canada ranks first in the world in potash and titanium, second in uranium, third in natural gas and aluminum, fourth in diamonds and fifth in nickel. We are also a significant source for iron ore.

We are the world’s third largest producer of hydroelectricity and have the potential to more than double our current capacity.

And it is important to recognize that the natural resource sector generates a disproportionate share of Canada’s wealth. In 2011, this sector directly accounted for 15 per cent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and nearly 800,000 jobs.

An additional 800,000 jobs in other sectors were supported by the purchase of goods and services by the resource sector. All of which is to say is that many of you and I would likely be out of a job were it not for the abundance of natural resources in Canada.

Bear in mind, too, that extractive industries are also some of the most innovative and productive sectors of the economy, now being driven by space age technology and computers.


Read the rest of Brian's speech at

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