Our natural resource resource: Honorary degree address by David Lynch

Former dean of engineering encourages responsible development of resources in honorary degree address

David T. Lynch - 18 May 2018

University of New Brunswick Encaenia Address by Dr. David T. Lynch, P.Eng. on the occasion of being awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science on May 17, 2018.

Chancellor McCain, President Campbell, faculty and staff, family and friends of the graduates, guests, and especially the UNB graduates of 2018. Thank you for this incredible honor from my University, UNB. I very much wish to thank those who nominated me, and I wish to acknowledge and thank the truly incredible group of alumni, donors, industrial leaders, government officials, students, staff, faculty, and many others who supported me so strongly at the University of Alberta.

I also wish to provide special recognition for my wife, Joan Lynch, whose unconditional love and support over the decades has sustained me through good and difficult times alike. Thank you Joan!

I also want to provide my very best wishes and hopes for a quick return to normal for all of those affected by the recent devastating flooding in New Brunswick.

To the graduates of 2018, congratulations! I know, from my own experience, that you have received an outstanding education at UNB that will provide you with a solid foundation for your lives and careers.

As you contemplate your future, I strongly encourage you to think about why Canada over the years has been such a desirable location for existing and new Canadians, alike.

Why is that? Is it because Canadians are "just so nice"?

Perhaps, but I am not certain that we are "so nice" that people will move from around the world just to be close to us. Or, is it because Canada is seen to be a safe, law-abiding, prosperous country that provides ample opportunities for a good life?

If this is the real reason, then what is the fundamental basis for the societal prosperity and opportunities in Canada? Is it because we in Canada are so much more creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, productive, hard-working, diverse, and resourceful relative to others in the world?

Sadly, based on my experience, the answer to that question is unfortunately "No". These important attributes are found in people everywhere in the world and are not especially concentrated in Canada.

Instead of any special attributes of the Canadian people, I strongly believe that our incredible bounty of natural resources (forests, minerals, metals, oil, gas and oil sands) is the fundamental basis for the societal prosperity and opportunities in Canada.

Canada's natural resources have long been seen by new Canadians as a source of opportunity. My Irish great-grandfather, Timothy Lynch, came to New Brunswick in 1842 and eventually became successful in forestry and lumber operations along the Miramichi River. My Italian grandfather, Dominic DiCarlo, came to New Brunswick in 1912 and got his start working in the underground coal mines around Minto.

In my own case, I worked in a fertilizer plant near Redwater, Alberta, in a petrochemicals plant in Sarnia, Ontario, and I planted approximately 45,000 jack pine trees near Boiestown, N.B. for the princely sum of two cents per tree. This has completely offset my personal greenhouse gas footprint for at least 1,000 years - not that I plan to live that long!

Looking at all of Canada, according to Natural Resources Canada and Statistics Canada, in round numbers, approximately 800,000 people constituting just over 4 per cent of the Canadian workforce, including an estimated 37,000 individuals of indigenous heritage, are directly employed in the forestry, minerals, metals, oil, gas and oil sands industries, including creation of products.

This small 4 per cent of the Canadian workforce directly produces approximately 10 per cent of Canada's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is directly responsible for an incredible 40 to 50 per cent of Canada's total domestic exports every year. This does not include the additional large indirect employment, GDP and exports connected to this sector. The natural resources sector is also the major area where Canada has a large positive net balance of trade with other countries.

The workers strongly benefit from the societal prosperity generated by the responsible development of natural resources. For example, the average earnings per worker in the oil, gas, mining and quarrying industrial sector is approximately $2,100 per week which is more than double the average of $1,000 per week for the overall Canadian workforce.

The relatively larger amounts of income taxes paid by individual natural resources sector workers and companies then disproportionally support public infrastructure, health care, schools, excellent post-secondary institutions, such as UNB, and programs such as the national equalization transfer payments.

Pointing out that the natural resources sector is the foundational basis for the societal prosperity and opportunities in Canada is not currently a popular position. We see that many, if not most, natural resources development projects in Canada are experiencing determined opposition from within Canada, from USA-based foundations, and others.

The recent demise of the Energy East pipeline project that would have supported energy independence and market diversification for Canada was, in my opinion, a tragedy - a view that I know is shared by many in New Brunswick.

The constitutional conflict and contempt of the courts occurring over the Kinder Morgan pipeline project speaks volumes to international audiences concerning the current state of dysfunction regarding natural resources development in Canada.

At the heart of the opposition to natural resources development is often a demand that a project pose absolutely zero risk, which is unobtainable. Project opponents often dismiss the major societal risks associated with not developing natural resources. In disputes about risk, it is important to heed the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts."

Robust and timely regulatory processes embodying deep technical expertise are the appropriate mechanism for establishing the facts and assessing, mitigating and balancing the risks associated with the responsible development of natural resources. To allow projects to die from a thousand delays truly puts at risk Canada's continuing and future societal prosperity and opportunities.

The responsible development of Canada's natural resources, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land disturbance, and safety incidents, requires a creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, productive, hard-working, diverse, and resourceful workforce with exceptional education in engineering, computer science, forestry, and environmental management such as possessed by the UNB graduates of 2018 gathered in this room today.

I urge you to seize the opportunities to become generators of societal prosperity and opportunity through the responsible development of Canada's natural resources. A bright future for existing Canadians and newcomers alike depends upon it and upon you.

Thank you, and once again, Congratulations!