Nothing like a few days in Angola to help reset your personal Global Positioning System.
Just because we Canadians believe that ours is the best nation in the world doesn't mean it's the centre of the universe. Far from it — especially in one of the areas where we think we rule and have eternal security: natural resources.
Angola's bumpy journey on the road to increased democracy and social prosperity has been close to spectacular. It has only been about 10 years since the African nation emerged from a multi-decade civil war of gruesome proportions. The years before that, to independence in 1975, were no less crippling. The country had been bound in the suffocating grip of totalitarian socialist economics which will always sap a nation's vitality.
Here in the True North, Canadians generally are still floating down a river of dreams we believe will always flow at relatively healthy levels because the world will always need our energy resources.
Angola, and in fact many countries in Africa and the Americas, are proving how disastrously wrong we may be in that assumption if we are not careful.
We conduct our important domestic debates on how and at what speed we should develop our resources without realizing the breathtaking scope of developments in those previously impoverished states.
We are constrained by internal debates on important but comparatively small geographic areas like Fort McMurray, Alta. or Kitimat, B.C. Meanwhile, our friends in the southern African nations of the Atlantic Basin are much more ambitious and productive in the far-reaching aspects of their resources. Engaging with them are the recently emerged economies on the South American rim of that basin.
It is now estimated that one-third of all global oil and gas development resides in the African component of that area.
U.S. surging ahead
Let's add other key elements to the countervailing suppliers of energy that are totally bypassing Canada.
The United States is now a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time in almost 65 years, while we are still debating what kind of plant we should or shouldn't have in Kitimat. Even if that debate was to conclude in the affirmative tomorrow, it would be 2020 before it was even online.
With that in mind, consider that the International Energy Agency now predicts the United States, not Canada, will surge past Russia as the leading producer of natural gas by 2015. Top that off with the fact the United States is also predicted to bypass Saudi Arabia as the number one producer of oil by 2017.
Going back to Africa for a minute, China is now getting more than 20 per cent of its energy supply not from Canada but from Angola and her neighbours. By the way, these new energy-exporting countries are no longer being plundered by colonial masters or using scorched-earth production methods. For the most part, they are very much in control of their own destinies and firmly demanding increased corporate social responsibility from foreign partners.
All of that to say this: Canada is still one of the best places on the planet from which those in need of energy products are and should be dealing. The quality of those products, the expertise of Canadian workers and the best financial and tax system in the G-20 make us an obvious choice.
But we are not the only game in this global village.
Every interest group in Canada — governments, investors, landowners, First Nations or citizens generally — need to know we are at serious risk of falling behind in these developments.
Countries in need of energy are not waiting for us to make up our minds. Only one in 26 Africans has electricity to their homes. No amount of foreign aid will alleviate that problem. Poverty will persist for those in that situation without electricity. Similar conditions exist throughout Asia.
Their governments are moving ahead responsibly (with a few grievous exceptions) to fix that problem. As we have our important debates here at home we must find intelligent ways to get to timely decisions or we may well lose out on those markets.
Imagine a Canada rich in assets sitting in the ground but poor in essential social programs to keep people "above ground." And, at the same time, having to import increased energy products from the U.S. or maybe the UAE.
We can do better.