Canada is one of the few developed nations that is a net exporter of energy—in 2009 net exports of energy products amounted to 2.9% of GDP. Most important are the large oil and gas resources centred in Alberta and the Northern Territories, but also present in neighbouring British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The vast Athabasca oil sands give Canada the world’s third largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela according to USGS. In British Columbia and Quebec, as well as Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Labrador region, hydroelectric power is an inexpensive and relatively environmentally friendly source of abundant energy. In part because of this, Canada is also one of the world’s highest per capita consumers of energy. Cheap energy has enabled the creation of several important industries, such as the large aluminum industries in British Columbia and Quebec.
Historically, an important issue in Canadian politics is the interplay between the oil and energy industry in Western Canada and the industrial heartland of Southern Ontario. Foreign investment in Western oil projects has fueled Canada’s rising dollar. This has raised the price of Ontario’s manufacturing exports and made them less competitive, a problem similar to the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands. Also, Ontario has relatively fewer native sources of power. However, it is cheaper for Alberta to ship its oil to the western United States than to eastern Canada. The eastern Canadian ports thus import significant quantities of oil from overseas, and Ontario makes significant use of nuclear power.
The National Energy Policy of the early 1980s attempted to force Alberta to sell low-priced oil to eastern Canada. This policy proved deeply divisive, and quickly lost its importance as oil prices collapsed in the mid-1980s. One of the most controversial sections of the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement of 1988 was a promise that Canada would never charge the United States more for energy than fellow Canadians.