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Bill WhitelawIt’s interesting to study two sectors that should be joined at the hip in defence of their futures and wonder why they’re not – at least not in any publicly or politically discernible way.

I’m involved with two teams that provide essential insights to Canada’s two most important resource sectors: energy and mining. The people associated with venerable business brands such as Oilweek, the Daily Oil Bulletin, The Northern Miner and Canadian Mining Journal provide context, analysis and insights to the diverse stakeholders of the two sectors.

Collectively, the brands represent more than three centuries of service. They’ve been binding tools through the diverse, complex and often brutal cycles of these industries. They also provide research and analysis, including into external forces that impact the sectors, giving perspective on the things that put energy and mining under fire.

Both sectors are under tremendous social and political assault, based on how many Canadians now think about the economy and the environment. Canadian society more than ever is disconnected from how our resource riches contribute to our standard of living.

Petroleum products pervade every corner of our lives by Bill Whitelaw

So how can two sectors work more collaboratively to tell Canadians more compelling and cogent stories? In the process, helping people understand how far advanced these sectors are in their environmental and social records – the things for which, paradoxically, they’re most pilloried.

Take aboriginal action, for example. A poll of ordinary Canadians would almost certainly say resource industries need to do much more for aboriginal communities, because everyone reads the same headlines. Who gets the coverage? Communities negotiating through the mainstream media, of course. Those same communities have also effectively played politicians from all levels of government.

But both oil and gas and mining companies can point to pretty decent records of working with aboriginal communities and companies. However, aside from occasional advertising campaigns pointing this out (often too rose-coloured to be credible), few people realize this.

Instead, myths are propagated that these sectors are too distant and uncaring to be bothered by the sovereign, economic and environmental travails of aboriginal communities.

But consider the following quote from Fort McMurray First Nation No. 468 (FMFN) over the recent controversial visit by actor Jane Fonda to Canada’s oilsands. The First Nation was trying to distance itself from a former councillor who appeared in a photo with Fonda. After pointing out it had no part in the planning of the actor’s visit, FMFN said this:

“FMFN No. 468 does support responsible development of the oilsands and is confident that our industry partners have the same vision. We have strong partnerships with many companies, and we are grateful for these partners for the significant role they have played in our efforts since 2011 to establish FMFN as a strong, economically self-sufficient First Nation.”

There are plenty of sentiments like this from aboriginal communities across Canada. But they’re not headline fodder, nor are they simple for stretched journalists to contextualize. Most mainstream media are so busy chasing their own social media tail that consequential journalism has fallen by the wayside.

And, for ordinary citizens, labels like “inconvenient truths” are more emotively satisfying than things like “convenient realities.”

The oilsands sector is a good example, because communities like FMFN No. 468 benefit from mining and oil and gas activities, and provide a suitable backdrop against which to consider what is real and possible.

The reality is that both sectors are in states of profound flux – and we have embarked on a transformative new energy era.

To support next-generation renewable energy infrastructure, we’ll need mined resources like lithium and other rare earth elements. So at least some stars are aligning for the sectors to chat more strategically.  

Many oil and gas companies are making bold moves into alternative energy systems investments.

The dawning of a new energy era can prompt the two sectors to contemplate how they’re stronger together.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

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