Chemistry and plastics sectors step up
Pandemic has been highlighting their importance, Bob Masterson writes.
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.