* Mulcair to tour Suncor oil sands site Thursday
* Redford calls "Dutch disease" comments divisive
* Pembina, Macdonald-Laurier in battle of the reports
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, May 30 Canada's federal
opposition party leader, who has criticized the oil sands boom
as harmful to the country's manufacturing sector, prepared on
Wednesday to make his first visit to the massive resource
development in Alberta, where his comments have sparked anger.
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, slated to tour
Suncor Energy Inc's oil sands operation on Thursday, has
said the manufacturing sector is being hollowed out by a
Canadian dollar that has surged due to the boom in oil exports.
Quebec-based Mulcair's comments, which characerized the
situation as "Dutch disease," angered Alberta Premier Alison
Redford, who said they threaten to deepen East-West divisions.
She will not meet with the leader of the left-wing party, having
already committed to an economic forum in the United States.
Mulcair's tar sands tour is seen in Alberta as an important
introduction to an industry that has eschewed the left-leaning
NDP with its history of support from organized labor.
Nationally, recent opinion polls have shown Mulcair and his
party approaching and even surpassing Prime Minister Stephen
Harper's Conservatives, major supporters of the oil-industry.
"Our simple message is simply that we want to work for
sustainable development in all regions of Canada," Mulcair told
reporters in Ottawa. "There's nothing specific to the West in
our message ... we're going to say that we want legislation
enforced and legislation that is there to protect human health
Joe Oliver, the federal natural resources minister, said the
opposition leader's trip to the heart of oil country does
nothing to change an anti-industry stance. The NDP has also been
highly critical of the environmental impact of development.
"The NDP is trying to dress up an anti-resource agenda in
sheep's clothing. It is clear that they want to shut down an
industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Canadians and
provides billions in revenues to governments across Canada to
pay for social programs such as education and health care,"
'OIL SANDS FEVER'
The Pembina Institute, an environmental research
organization, released a report backing Mulcair's assertion that
the resourced-based economies in western Canada have boomed over
the past decade and outperformed exports from the manufacturing
centers in Ontario and Quebec, where their goods have become
uncompetitive as the currency has climbed.
"While Canada is exploiting its comparative advantage with
respect to natural resource extraction, the rate of change is
causing significant challenges in central Canada - making it
difficult for this region to adjust to incredibly rapid
structural changes in the economy," Pembina wrote.
That is one, though not the only, factor in the loss of
550,000 manufacturing jobs between 2004 and 2010, it said.
"The result appears to be a uniquely Canadian strain of the
Dutch disease that could be called 'oil sands fever' - a strain
that is beginning to create clear winners and losers in Canada's
economy and could pose a significant risk to Canada's
competitiveness in the emerging clean energy economy," it said.
Pembina recommended setting up a Norwegian-style federal
savings fund for oil and gas revenue to work against currency
appreciation and to soften the impact of boom-and-bust commodity
cycles while moving to cleaner energy sources.
However, another think tank, the more conservative
Macdonald-Laurier Institute, released a paper arguing that
Ontario, Quebec and other provinces enjoy benefits from the oil
and gas industry that outweigh any negative effects from the
higher Canadian dollar.
The institute said that while foreigners are buying more oil
and fewer manufactured goods from Canada, numerous studies have
shown that the energy and pipeline industries are spending more
to buy goods and services across the country.
"This shows the danger in a naive assumption of the 'Dutch
disease' critique of Canadian energy exports," it said,
referring to a term first used to describe the decline of the
manufacturing industry in the Netherlands in the 1960s following
the discovery of major North Sea natural gas reserves.