Oilsands Banquet 2017
Past and future major focus at Oilsands Banquet
In a packed Shell Place ballroom, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning cautioned federal and provincial politicians their feelings towards energy must not only consider global demands for petroleum, but the past. In a 10-minute speech at the annual Oilsands Banquet, Manning, 75, gave a tribute to the early pioneers behind the opening of the Great Canadian Oil Sands Company, including his father, former premier Ernest Manning, and industrialist J. Howard Pew. Towards the end of his speech, Manning explained the motives behind Pew’s enthusiasm for the oilsands was not motivated by money –he was 80 and from one of the richest families in the U.S. – but by security.
The Pew family had made much of their fortune in shipbuilding, with a focus on many of the oil tankers that supported allied forces in both world wars. Manning Pew told his father the number of tankers destroyed by enemy ships, mines and submarines in combat shook him, making him realize the fragility of North America’s energy security.
“They were not just about energizing cars or heating your homes, but shaping security, trade and dependency relations between economies and between nations,” said Manning, pointing out Pew was speaking about energy security before the 1973 oil crisis. “It’s important today that decision makers in Ottawa and Edmonton, however we think on oil and gas, also think strategically about the role of petroleum in this country’s future and the future of the world,” he said. “Perhaps remembering the strategic reasoning behind the construction of the first oilsands plant will help us remember that lesson.”
The gala was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Great Canadian Oil Sands Company and the 20th anniversary for CAREERS: The Next Generation, a trades training program for youth in Fort McMurray, Indigenous communities and Wood Buffalo’s rural hamlets.
The program is currently in one of its busiest years yet since the May 2016 wildfire, with organizers seeing the rebuild as an opportunity for youth to learn their trades. Last June, the program was presented with $1.5 million in support from the Canadian Red Cross, the United Way of Fort McMurray and RBC.
Eric Newell, board chair of the group and Syncrude’s CEO from 1989 to 2004, said in his keynote speech that the group must evolve with the rest of the oilsands, specifically citing automated trucks, artificial intelligence and renewable energy as influencing the future of labour.
“The group has partnered with high schools to run a digital skills academy, a summer camp teaching students everything from coding and programming to hands-on experience and mentorship. “ We understand the nature of the trades may not significantly change, but the trades of the future will be much more oriented to digital skills,” he said.
“Our focus has to move in that general direction so we can anticipate the jobs that will appear in the future.”