Chem­istry and plas­tics sec­tors step up

Pan­demic has been high­light­ing their im­por­tance, Bob Master­son writes.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION -

Like most coun­tries around the globe, Canada has been eco­nom­i­cally rocked — and no prov­ince il­lus­trates this bet­ter than Al­berta. Af­ter deal­ing with a rail strike in late 2019 and rail block­ades at the be­gin­ning of this year, which stalled Al­berta’s key prod­ucts from get­ting to mar­kets, the prov­ince was dealt an­other blow from the down­turn in oil prices and then, of course, the COVID-19 pan­demic, which af­fected ev­ery­one in the prov­ince.

Al­berta’s eco­nomic chal­lenges are ob­vi­ous, which makes push­ing for­ward with new in­vest­ment, cre­at­ing much-needed jobs and col­lec­tively re­build­ing the econ­omy in Al­berta and across Canada more im­por­tant than ever. Yes, we are fac­ing un­cer­tain times, but there are pos­i­tives to fo­cus on and steps we can take to come out of the pan­demic fo­cused and pre­pared to bounce back.

An area of Al­berta’s econ­omy that has stepped up dur­ing the global cri­sis is its grow­ing chem­istry and plas­tic sec­tors. Tra­di­tion­ally over­shad­owed by oil and gas, the chem­istry and plas­tics sec­tors al­ready have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in Al­berta, with the pro­duc­tion of in­dus­trial chem­i­cals con­tribut­ing $9.2 bil­lion to Al­berta’s econ­omy in 2019 and plas­tic prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing adding a fur­ther $2.6 bil­lion. Some of the most re­spected and re­spon­si­ble chem­i­cal and plas­tics com­pa­nies in the world, in­clud­ing Nova Chem­i­cals and Dow Canada, have fa­cil­i­ties in Al­berta and there is fur­ther in­vest­ment un­der­way by In­ter Pipeline and Canada Kuwait Petro­chem­i­cal Co.

From the on­set of the pan­demic, the im­por­tance of the chem­istry and plas­tics sec­tors — both in terms of their eco­nomic out­put and for keep­ing Cana­di­ans safe and pro­tected — was high­lighted again and again. Com­pa­nies acted early and quickly to en­sure that their work sites and fa­cil­i­ties adapted to phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing guide­lines and re­stricted ac­cess to non-es­sen­tial em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors.

Min­i­mal dis­rup­tions to oper­a­tions and lo­gis­tics al­lowed them to con­tinue pro­vid­ing ur­gently needed re­sponse items such as iso­propyl al­co­hol, san­i­ta­tion chem­i­cals and the build­ing blocks for per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment. They have also been tapped to pro­vide the in­puts for mil­lions of con­sumer goods in high de­mand as Cana­di­ans adapt their lives to pub­lic health guide­lines.

Emerg­ing from the cri­sis, Al­berta-based chem­istry and plas­tics com­pa­nies can be among the lead­ers in the new, post-pan­demic eco­nomic re­al­ity and help fill the gap from an oil and gas sec­tor that con­tin­ues to see chal­lenges.

With the in­creas­ing de­mand for PPE, plas­tic pack­ag­ing, san­i­tiz­ers and dis­in­fec­tants, along with the chem­i­cals we need to en­sure safe drink­ing wa­ter, and the crit­i­cal in­puts re­quired to sup­port a re­turn of ac­tiv­ity to other pri­or­ity sec­tors of our na­tional econ­omy — in­clud­ing forestry, con­struc­tion, and au­to­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing — the op­por­tu­nity for growth and new in­vest­ment is clear.

As the fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks of the mod­ern world, chem­istry so­lu­tions and plas­tics will con­tinue to play a vi­tal role as we build the post-pan­demic econ­omy. As we reimag­ine trans­porta­tion sys­tems, in­door en­vi­ron­ments, work­places and emer­gency pre­pared­ness pro­to­cols, the goods of chem­istry will be front and cen­tre.

Al­berta and Canada can sig­nif­i­cantly, and re­spon­si­bly, grow the chem­istry and plas­tics sec­tors by lever­ag­ing our ex­ist­ing strengths — all while meet­ing Canada’s strin­gent cli­mate change goals with the sec­tor’s best-in-class global en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

The Al­berta govern­ment is al­ready lead­ing the way in at­tract­ing in­vest­ment by ac­tively work­ing to re­duce red tape and stream­lin­ing reg­u­la­tions so chem­istry, plas­tics and other sec­tors can grow and thrive re­spon­si­bly. The prov­ince is also work­ing on a nat­u­ral gas strat­egy that, ide­ally, will af­fect our sec­tors for the bet­ter.

With Canada emerg­ing from the COVID-19 pan­demic, the fed­eral govern­ment must fol­low Al­berta’s lead in in­vest­ing in this low-car­bon, in­no­va­tive and pi­o­neer­ing sec­tor.

To re­al­ize the op­por­tu­ni­ties from in­vest­ment growth in Canada’s chem­istry sec­tor, it is es­sen­tial that the govern­ment of Canada be much more en­thu­si­as­tic to­ward the in­vest­ment growth projects and be­gin work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively and in a co-or­di­nated man­ner with the prov­inces to at­tract multi­bil­lion-dol­lar global chem­istry in­vest­ment into Canada.

Bob Master­son is the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Chem­istry In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada.

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