You may hear talk about “natural resources,” especially as NAFTA negotiations continue. Canada is often described as a resource economy. If you live in southern Ontario or a highly urbanized area like Montreal or Vancouver, you might question this description.
Natural resources are important to Canada’s vitality. They always have been and they’re going to continue to be well into the future.
Rich in Resources
Canada has always had an economy built on natural resources. While certain areas have been hubs of industrial activity, the truth is much of Canada’s economic vitality relies heavily on its natural resources.
What are our natural resources? In Canada, you can count them. The country’s vast forests supply the timber industry and the paper industry as well. Water is another resource. On either coast, fishing has been important. Mining has always played a vital role in the Canadian economy, as the Canadian soil is rich in minerals and ores. Even oil, the power house of Alberta’s economy since the 1940s, is a natural resource.
New Resources Are Developing
No matter where you travel in Canada, you’re bound to find a natural resource. Whether it’s fishing in Newfoundland, oil in Alberta, or hydroelectricity (powered by water) in Quebec and Ontario, most regions in Canada rely on natural resources to fuel their economic activity.
In fact, industrialization in the heartlands of Ontario and Quebec in the 19th and 20th centuries likely wouldn’t have been possible without this variety of resources. Steel mills in Hamilton, Ontario, were created to process the products of Canadian mines, and pulp and paper mills thrived in areas where the forestry industry was a large player.
Today, many new resources are being developed. BC is focused on liquid natural gas (LNG), while Alberta continues to develop the Athabasca oil sands. In Manitoba and Quebec, lithium mining is an important industry. Even the Far North is being explored as the permafrost melts and new industry takes root.
Driving the Economy
It should be clear natural resources have driven the Canadian economy for quite some time. What may be less clear is that natural resources continue to be the major driver of the Canadian economy.
While much has been said about the switch to the “knowledge economy,” this is really only visible in major urban centres. Ontario’s economy may be driven by the service industry now, but this is skewed by Toronto’s enormous job market. Travel outside of the GTA and you’ll find primary industries, which process natural resources, and secondary industries, which transform them into everyday products factor heavily in the economy.
The situation is very clear in Alberta, where oil has long been the primary driver of the economy. Although Edmonton and Calgary have strong tertiary industry development, often in service and healthcare, travel to Fort McMurray and you’ll hear a different story.
Canada has vast reserves of most of its natural resources, which is one reason they continue to drive the economy forward even today. Even with rich resource reserves, however, Canadians must exercise caution.
One cautionary tale might come from the fishery industry on the East Coast, where the fisheries collapsed after decades of overfishing and environmental damage. Today, after careful management and concerted effort, some fish stocks are making a comeback.
The collapse of the fisheries in the 1990s placed many East Coast communities in a cycle of unemployment and impoverishment. While supplies of natural resources sometimes seem endless, even the largest oil reserve or ore mine might be drained.
Canada’s economy is still resource-based and will be for the foreseeable future. Careful management of the vast resources will ensure economic vitality and prosperity in Canada for a long time to come. Booming industry combined with cutting-edge environmental initiatives are giving Canada the leading edge in remaining a natural resources powerhouse.