Despite the frigid temperatures, high winds, snowstorms and multiple flight cancellations this week in BC and Alberta, the 21st Annual BC Natural Resources Forum presented a great collection of panel discussions and keynote speakers. At one point, on day two of the conference, organizers commented that some attendees were still in transit due to flight delays and rescheduling.
Conveniently the conference also offered a virtual attendance option that allowed attendees to view the sessions if they were unable to attend in person.
Hon. David Eby, Premier of British Columbia opened the conference speaking at the Jan 16th evening event at the Celebrating Natural Resources Banquet. Day two of the conference was packed full of insightful discussion sessions on topics such as indigenous leadership in BC LNG industry: pioneering global solutions, Building a BC Forest Sector Roadmap to 2030, Building a BC Forest Sector Roadmap to 2030 and Sustainable Energy Solutions with a great keynote by Cynthia Hansen, President Gas Transmission and Midstream at Enbridge. It is interesting to note that a recurring thought throughout the sessions was the reference to some of the advances made in Alberta that should be studied and perhaps adopted in BC. Cynthia Hansen mentioned Enbridge’s $1.12 billion landmark agreement between Enbridge and 23 First Nation and Métis communities in September 2022. At the time it was announced as the largest energy-related Indigenous economic partnership transaction in North America to date. In an earlier panel discussion on Indigenous Leadership in BC LNG, Karen Ogen mentioned the importance of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) which facilitated the agreement saying “We have yet to do that in BC.” Cynthia Hansen mentioned that the government of BC is looking into a loan guarantee program and there is news that the government of Ontario is doing the same based on the success of the AIOC.
The panel discussion that made the strongest impression on this reporter was the last panel of the day on the topic of long-term visions for the BC Export economy. It featured speakers Bryan Cox, Director External Affairs and Policy at Petronas, David Trent Senior Vice President Supply Chain and Digital at Canfor, Ken Veldman, Vice President Public Affairs and Sustainability at the Prince Rupert Port Authority, Tim McEwan, Senior Vice President Corporate Affairs at the Mining Association of BC and was moderated by Laura Jones, the President and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia.
Perhaps this panel had the most impact because the panel participants grounded their discussions of BC industry in global, national and regional economic perspectives- something that seems to be missing in current public discussion. Bryan Cox, Director External Affairs and Policy at Petronas was one of the first speakers and talked about the reality that supply chains and geopolitics are changing. He asked a valid question about Canada’s role.
“Supply chains are shifting, geopolitics are shifting. What will Canada’s role be in the world? Will we continue to be the helper nation that we’ve always been? Will we continue to step up and be there for our allies? I think the answer is yes. We’re showing that demonstratively today- we see it with projects like the LNG Canada project. It’s our opportunity to get out there and play our part in the world with our natural resources.”
Cox also pointed out that export capacity off the BC coast provided an opportunity to keep responsibly growing Montney resources to serve not only domestic customers but to export as well.
Tim McEwan, who spent four years mid-career working with the City of Prince George Economic Development Authority identified the city’s role as a hub “to build a knowledge-based resource economy” and has “a supply chain spend of about $3.8 billion with over nearly 4000 companies in every corner of the province, with about 200 communities, both First Nations and local communities, who benefit.” He referenced a study that referred to resource industries as “the Clydesdales that pull the rest of the economy along”, conveying an image of not only strength but scale.
McEwan quantified that scale saying “There’s an enormous opportunity ahead of us, about $800 billion cumulatively over 24 years with 16 critical mineral projects that are on the horizon- 14 critical mineral mines plus two extensions. And the short-term construction impact is $36 billion. So what we need to do is get the public policy frame right.”
Ken Veldman, Vice President Public Affairs and Sustainability, Prince Rupert Port Authority spoke about the rapid expansion of global trade since 1990 which has reduced global poverty from 36% of the population to 9% which he translates to over a billion people that have been lifted out of poverty attributed to global trade. He advised that there will be an infusion of $2 billion of investment in 2024 to expand the Port of Prince Rupert’s capacity for export, especially natural resource-related products which constitute 45% of BC exports overall.
There seemed to be an acknowledgement in the panel that in cities like Prince George or the Port of Prince Rupert, there are visible signs of the industries and facilities of the resource economy which foster a greater understanding of it. It makes the task of getting support for resource industries from the general public easier in northern BC than in the lower mainland. However, Tim McEwan advised that there is an general lack of understanding of natural resources as the economic engine of the BC economy.
“You are definitely hearing support for natural resources,” McEwan said, “but understanding that they are the economic engine, that everything else flows off of that connection into government revenues and how that ties back into investment into those industries to compete on a global stage while ensuring that you’ve got the supply chain to be able to deliver it into those markets in a reliable way is absolutely key. Understanding economic policy has to be the foundation. Basic economic education in our schools around things like exports would go a long way.”
Inevitably, the discussion turned to the impact of carbon tax pricing with Tim McEwan responding from the point of view of the mining sector. Currently, BC’s mines and smelters already pay amongst the highest carbon taxes in the world while having some of the lowest emission profiles. It is promising that the government of BC is currently looking at revising the carbon pricing system to an output-based pricing system. Tim advised the industry has been making the case very strongly that there needs to be a carbon price in BC that is competitive with or at least on par with Ontario and Quebec.
“We need to be competitive domestically,” McEwan said. “and we also have to keep a clear line of sight on our international competitors as well. Most mining companies have a portfolio of options that they review to decide where they’re going to deploy capital. We need to be competitive within that frame.”
Bryan Cox had a great takeaway message for the room about the long regulatory and permitting timelines for projects, saying:
”We need to work at pace. We need to change our systems because it takes too long to get things done. When we come back to this conference next year, we need to see tangible movement – moving at pace on things like electrification, Carbon Capture and Storage, and all these pathways to abatement. In order to make those happen, we need to see direct, clear pathways to growth.”
Day two of the BC Natural Resources Forum was quite engaging. Day three should bring more thought-provoking discussions.
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.