David Staples: Are we Canazuela? Has Canada lost the ability to carry out major national projects?

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Canada is vast, with endless prairies, mountains and shield rocks, crossed by rivers. But 140 years ago, Canada realized what is called the national dream, by building a railway across the country.

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Could Canada achieve something so ambitious today?

Of course, I am not talking about building under conditions of forced labor and without the consent of the natives, because the original railway was built. None of this is part of our world anymore. We have benefit agreements with land and rights holders, as well as amazing machinery and skilled workers to do the heavy lifting in construction.

But could we realize such a project in this modern world?

At the Ice Center Conservative Conference in Edmonton on Thursday, Executive Director Malcolm Bruce of regional economic development corporation Global Edmonton asked me this provocative question.

“Do you think we could really rebuild the railroad here in this country?” Bruce asked. “Do you think that would ever be possible? »

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I asked Bruce for his own opinion.

“I would say no. Today it would never be built.

The question of the railways is hypothetical, but it could not be more relevant for the future of Canada.

For Bruce, the answer is directly tied to a massive national hydrogen industrial enterprise he is trying to help build.

If we can’t develop a hydrogen industry, and if we can’t build new transmission lines, new mines, new pipelines and new LNG projects, Canada will truly be Canazuela, because critics of industrial policy now refer to this beautiful but naive and complacent country.

We will walk the path to becoming a poor and chaotic Venezuelan north.

There is a multi-trillion dollar market for hydrogen, a low-carbon fuel in the age of global warming. Canada can get at least $100 billion a year from this market, Bruce said, if we can build export pipelines.

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Right now our oil and gas industry brings in about $110 billion a year. If oil and gas revenues are falling due to climate change concerns, what will replace that kind of cash flow and wealth creation, Bruce asked, then replied, “Hydrogen will be a big part of it.”

But only if pipelines can be built, he added. Four of the five major hydrogen markets — South Korea, Japan, China and California — are accessible from our west coast ports.

But major international investors no longer believe they can put their money into Canadian projects like pipelines because of the uncertainty surrounding our ever-changing and more complex regulatory processes, Bruce said. “That’s what drives everyone crazy because they just don’t see a stable playing field that they can tackle.”

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The government’s new industrial approval process, Bill C-69, poses a particular problem. C-69 takes into consideration everything from the safety and economic viability of the project to its impact on global warming and gender issues.

Trudeau Liberals will tell you that C-69 is great for voicing concerns at the start of a project, allowing things to run smoothly, but Bruce isn’t buying that idea.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “The question is, is anyone moving on some of these massive resource projects? Give me a tangible result that has happened since (C-69) happened. I can tell you it’s zero. No major investment decisions have been made since this bill came into force… It hasn’t happened.

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Bruce wants to see a “bipartisan, results-based” approach to approving projects, with all levels of government and companies striking a deal, then doing all they can to make it happen. “We need smart people sitting around the table and saying, ‘This is the outcome we want. How do we arrive at this result? said Bruce.

“I can tell you that the federal government and the provincial government seem publicly at odds with each other, but privately they work quite well together. What pisses me off is that public rhetoric is creating uncertainty for investors in international markets because they don’t trust Canada to get (things) done.

Despite his pessimism on the hypothetical Trans Canada Rail issue, Bruce is bullish on hydrogen, given the current impressive buy-in from all levels of Canadian government, as well as the world’s sudden focus on energy security. .

“That’s why I’m a little optimistic about it,” he said. “I actually see alignment and harmony happening.”

As new national dreams fade away, an annual market of more than $100 billion for hydrogen deserves consideration.

But will that wake up liberals enough to implement sensible industrial approval regulations for all projects? I need to see it to believe it.

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