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Geoff Russ: Natural resources have always been a pillar of Canada’s prosperity. There’s no sense in changing that now

The Reid family work around an oil pumpjack as they bale their hay crop, which will be compressed and exported to Japan, near Cremona, Alta., Friday, July 29, 2022. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press.

Canadian oil and gas exports alone were worth $123 billion in 2022

From the era of the fur trade to today’s oil markets, Canada’s economy has been defined by exporting staples, a special term for natural resources. Those staples were fur in the 17th century, timber in the 19th century, and has been oil and gas since the 1970s.

The recent completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (which as economist Jack Mintz recently noted in a Hub podcast ought to have been six years earlier) should be understood as part of Canada’s staple legacy. It’s also an opportunity to revisit two of the greatest historians that Canada has ever produced.

Harold Innis and Donald Creighton were historians of Canada’s political economy who wrote great volumes that revealed how natural resources were essential to nation-building in Canada. Today their work is mostly ignored by university departments and can even be difficult to find in used bookstores.

Innis wrote books like The Cod Fisheries: The History of an International Economy, while Creighton authored The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, 1760-1850. What those titles lack in excitement was made up for by their depth, research, and in Creighton’s case, the quality of his prose.

Those two books alone still enable readers to make greater sense of the Canadian economy. Were Innis and Creighton still alive, TMX would fit neatly into their staples-centred perspectives—though the aversion among Canadian elites to the country’s natural resource economy most definitely would not.

Innis and Creighton’s conception of Canada was viewed through the lens of the country’s rich natural resource endowment. They conceived of and popularized the Staples Thesis and the Laurentian Thesis of Canadian history, respectively.

The Staple Thesis posits that the export of staples from Canada to more advanced economies decisively influenced our economic development, as well as our social and political systems.

It helped to inspire Creighton’s Laurentian Thesis, which similarly set out that Canada’s economic and national development came primarily from exploiting staple products like fur, timber, and wheat, under the leadership of colonial merchants operating on the St. Lawrence River.

As a wordsmith, Creighton was noticeably more adept than Innis, and his work is the perfect starting point for those wanting to know more about how Canada grew into the world. Reading The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence reveals just how unchanged Canada’s economic pillars have been since the 18th century.

In Toronto and Montreal, where finance and technology are significant, it’s tempting to imagine Canada as only a highly digitized economy, akin to Switzerland or Singapore. While there is no question that services contribute immensely to Canadian GDP, our natural resources are what has always made Canada stand out.

A stark economic difference between Canada and the United States is our greater reliance on exports, which made up a third of Canada’s GDP in 2022. By comparison, exports made up about 12 percent of American GDP in the same year.

If there is any doubt that crude oil is our modern staple, Canadian oil and gas exports were worth $123 billion in 2022. The second-most valuable export was automobiles, which were valued at just $29.4 billion.

Staples are not a hidebound industry that Canada should eschew, but a vital part of our economic and social well-being.

Innis’ assertion that staples have also helped define Canada politically is demonstrated by the polarized reactions to the TMX project, with one side celebrating it as a Canadian success story, while others deplore it as an environmental disaster.

Protesters attend a anti trans mountain pipeline rally in downtown Vancouver, Monday, December, 16, 2019. Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press.

Debates over the place of oil and gas in the Canadian economy have proven to be a great faultline in Canadian politics, such as how federal interference in the form of the National Energy Policy in Alberta’s oil industry drove Western alienation in the late 20th century.

At the peak of Creighton and Innis’ influence in the mid-20th century, Canadian institutions seemed to have a greater appreciation for the reality of our economy. They weren’t self-conscious or insecure about the providence of our natural resources.

Until the 1970s, the Bank of Canada still issued banknotes decorated with portrayals of commercial hunting, logging, and fishing. Maybe our currency ought to grant a place for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The Bank of Canada projects that TMX will boost second-quarter growth in Canada by 0.25 percent at a time when the country is stuck in a growth and productivity crisis that is hurting our standard of living. For context, the entire economy of B.C. added 0.23 percentage points to Canadian GDP in 2023, while Ontario added 0.60 percentage points.

TMX will do more for our economy in the next few years than a banker, public servant, or EV lobbyist could ever hope for.

A constant feature of Creighton’s work was how the staples merchants were constantly thwarted by colonial administrators. This too remains unchanged, although the administrators are no longer appointed in London.

On average, it takes up to 20 years to approve and build mines in Ontario due to bureaucracy and red tape. In B.C., mineral exploration leaders warn that the provincial government’s confusing regulatory approach could drive members of their industry out of the province.

Canada has a tiny population given the vast size of the country. This land contains the world’s third-largest known oil reserves in the world, and one of its largest rare earth elements deposits, which are crucial to modern technologies.

Hungry markets are waiting for oil and minerals, and ramping up the export of these staples could make Canadians some of the wealthiest people in the world on a per-capita basis.

The bounty of Canada’s staples is a pillar of our prosperity. If TMX has proved anything, it is that Creighton and Innis’ work remains valid, prophetic, and more useful than ever.

Dave Snow: The groundbreaking Cass Review on transgender care is shifting the debate abroad. Yet it was barely reported on by Canadian media 

A counter-protester walks in front of people protesting Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's proposed youth transgender policies as she appears at an event in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press.

The CBC and Canada's national media are showing their bias in the lack of coverage

Few Canadian policy issues are as polarizing as youth gender transition. Yet according to my analysis below, most Canadian media spent last month paying little to no attention to one of the most consequential reports on the topic.

The gender transition debate in Canada

In 2023, conservative governments in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan both introduced policies requiring parental consent for pronoun changes for school children, with the latter invoking the notwithstanding clause. More recently, Alberta announced it will bring in a host of policies related to youth transition, including restricting the use of hormone therapies, puberty blockers, and gender reassignment surgery. At the national level, Pierre Poilievre has publicly opposed puberty blockers for children.

Such restrictions have been rejected by major Canadian medical organizations, which remain committed to the “gender-affirming” model of care. Yet this medical consensus is being challenged at home and abroad.

Canadian investigative reports have raised questions about insufficient safeguards for hormone treatment and surgeries. Outside Canada, several European countries are actually moving away from the gender-affirming model. Then came the Cass Review.

On April 10, 2024, British pediatrician Dr. Hilary Cass released her long-awaited Independent Review of Gender Identity Services for Children and Young People. Commissioned by England’s National Health Service (NHS), the 387-page report was completed alongside independent reviews of the scientific evidence around youth gender medicine by a research team from the University of York, which were published as nine journal articles in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The Cass Review’s 32 recommendations call for an overhaul of how youth gender medicine is practiced in the United Kingdom. Cass found “a lack of high-quality evidence” for the gender-affirming model of care, particularly with respect to “the use of puberty blockers and masculinising/feminising hormones.” 

The review recommended “extreme caution” for providing cross-sex hormones for children and raised concerns that puberty blockers “may change the trajectory of psychosexual and gender identity development.” Going forward, the review urged that youth gender services “must operate to the same standards as other services seeing children and young people with complex presentations and/or additional risk factors.”

The Cass Review received significant media attention (positive and negative) in the U.S. and in Europe. It appears to have already had a serious impact in the U.K. and beyond. Both the Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Labour Party’s shadow health secretary praised the report, while Scotland’s NHS announced it would pause puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for children (NHS England had already paused puberty blockers in March).

There are suggestions that Belgium and the Netherlands may soon follow suit. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith even cited the Cass Review as justification for her government’s proposed gender policies. Support for Cass was not merely confined to conservative sources, as the report was portrayed positively in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, as well as by the editor-in-chief of The British Medical Journal

Canadian media coverage of the Cass Review

As a major medical report on an issue where there is considerable Canadian political debate, one would have expected the Cass Review to garner considerable Canadian media attention.

To determine how the issue was covered in Canada, I conducted a content analysis of online articles from five mainstream media outlets (The Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, CBC, and CTV) from the three-week period following the Cass Review’s publication (April 10 – April 30, 2024). These five outlets published a total of 15 stories that mentioned the Cass Review. Given that three stories (all from the National Post) only briefly mentioned it in passing, and one Associated Press story was published in two outlets, this meant a total of 11 unique stories in which the Cass Review featured prominently.

Coverage was dominated by the National Post, which featured seven articles on the Cass Review over an 11-day period between April 10 and April 20. By contrast, there were only two stories featuring the Cass Review in the Toronto Star, and only one each in CBC, CTV, and the Globe. Apart from the one AP story, every article applied the Cass Review to the Canadian context, with six mentioning Alberta’s proposed gender policies. The stories were split between hard news (six) and opinion pieces (five).

Given the National Post’s longstanding focus on youth gender transition, it is not surprising that it gave the Cass Review the most coverage. The other four outlets did not give it as much attention. The only hard news piece in the Toronto Star was a wire story written by the U.S.-based Associated Press. CTV’s one mention of Cass appeared in a piece about Alberta’s proposed gender policies and was only the result of Premier Smith raising it during an interview with the outlet. Meanwhile, the lone CBC article on the review was more of a condemnation than a news report (see below). The Globe and Mail did not feature Cass in a single hard news article, though the report was mentioned in an investigative opinion piece about gender transition in Canada written 16 days after the review was published. In total, only three of the six hard news pieces quoted from the Cass Review extensively, including two lengthy pieces from National Post reporter Sharon Kirkey and one Associated Press piece (published in both the Star and Post).

While there were only five opinion pieces published about the Cass Review, they shared several notable characteristics. All five opinion pieces—three from the National Post and one each in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail—portrayed the review positively, including descriptions such as “landmark” and “an exhaustive and rigorous report.” All five were broadly supportive of exercising greater caution around the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for youth. The Post’s Adam Zivo called such restrictions “a wise approach that Canada should follow,” while the Globe’s Robyn Urback cited multiple studies “exploring the potential long-term effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on bone densityfertilitysexual function, and cognitive development” (links in original). Moreover, the five opinion writers demonstrated considerable knowledge of the review itself, with Cass quoted or paraphrased a total of 16, 11, eight, four, and three times, respectively.