EDMONTON – The province of Ontario has gone from criticizing the oilsands to increasing its efforts to capture their economic benefits.
Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister for economic development, says he plans to increase his department’s attention to Alberta by adding more staff to deal with trade issues.
“I think we have a recognition that our relationship could be stronger. I think that we want to now move forward with the knowledge that the oilsands are important to Ontario’s economy,” Duguid told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
He said he understands the value of the oilsands to Ontario business and estimated that value at $63 billion over the next 25 years.
“It may be a time for Ontario to increase our presence in the province of Alberta in terms of our business supports here,” he said from Calgary. “We may want to look at having some more presence here in terms of staffing.”
The Ontario government doesn’t currently have an office in Alberta. A bureaucrat at the Ontario legislature spends part of his time dealing with Alberta files.
“The intent is move that to a full-time contact so that we’ve got more of a personal contact here _ a good liaison between the business community in Ontario and Alberta.”
A spokeswoman for Duguid’s office later clarified the Ontario government is looking at many ways to boost its profile in Alberta, which may or may not include opening an actual office in the province.
Duguid said it’s time to help businesses in his province that are looking for oilpatch opportunities and Alberta companies that are looking for skilled labour.
“There’s a recognition that that’s important to Ontario’s economy and it makes sense to look at ways we can work closer together, both in providing opportunities for our respective businesses and at the same to work together as governments,” Duguid said.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said earlier this year that the booming energy sector was driving up the Canadian dollar and hurting the manufacturing and export sectors in Central Canada.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has made similar comments. He has said the oilsands are artificially inflating the Canadian dollar and hollowing out the country’s manufacturing sector. He calls it the definition of Dutch disease _ a reference to the Netherlands and how a natural gas find in that country led to declines in manufacturing in the 1960s.
Duguid said his government wants to move past that debate.
“We’re aware that there was a lot said about those comments. We just want to move forward.”
Stronger links between Canada’s largest provincial economy and its fastest-growing one would be good for the whole country, said Duguid.