Trudeau lends sympathetic ear to oil patch’s plight during Alberta visit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau solidified a congenial relationship with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and sought to reassure an energy industry deflated by the oil-price plunge – and intent on building new pipelines to help with a rebound.

On Thursday in Calgary, the Prime Minister met with some of the country’s most powerful oil-sands executives, as well as the owners of smaller energy-sector companies. Industry members in the room said he listened intently as they told of having to lay off dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of their employees.

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Since mid-2014, the price of oil has dropped by about 70 per cent, creating a cascade of bad news for Alberta’s once-powerful economy. The province shed about 51,000 full-time jobs last year, and the job losses are expected to continue this year.

“I’m going to continually highlight that we’re all in this together as Canadians – that Alberta contributed tremendously to Canada’s growth over the past decade. And now that we’re facing challenging times here in Alberta, Canada will be there for them,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.

But, while praising the province’s ambitious climate-change policy and some energy-sector innovations, the Prime Minister made no clear promises about the building of pipelines – projects seen as crucial infrastructure by Alberta’s downtrodden energy industry, but as environmental concerns to political leaders and activists in other regions of the country.

Mr. Trudeau has said he wants pipelines to be built, but his government will play the role of a referee for projects rather than cheerleader. On Thursday, Suncor Energy Inc. chief executive Steve Williams said a meeting with Mr. Trudeau was productive but not definitive on the issue of pipelines.

“The key message was we clarified some of the challenges in front of us with the price cycle, with market access, and we talked about some potential solutions,” Mr. Williams told reporters following a private meeting with Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Notley, PMO advisers, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, and other oil-sands leaders.

“I think ‘assurances’ is too strong a word. I think what we agreed was that we understood the need for them [pipelines] and we were all going to go away and work towards that end,” Mr. Williams said. Suncor – Canada’s largest oil company – now faces a funding deficit estimated at $4-billion in 2016 as it grapples with lower-than-expected crude prices.

Mark Salkeld, chief executive of Petroleum Services Association of Canada, said the Prime Minister asked good questions during his meeting, and understands the industry’s push for more market access. “He’s got a lot of challenges ahead to make this work,” he said. “It’s about aligning the country. It’s about going in and seeing these mayors who are raising a stink … and having those conversations beyond provincial bickering and parochialism.”

New pipelines to get Alberta oil to the East or West coast for export to foreign markets won’t change the low price of oil. However, growing production will eventually need increased pipeline capacity, and the industry said investors need the certainty of new pipeline projects to continue to put money into the country’s oil and gas sector.

Canada is also largely dependent on the United States for its export market, and the country’s heavy oil sells at a significant discount – or differential – to lighter varieties of North American crude. The Canadian industry, centred in Calgary, wants the option of selling to markets around the world, and potentially fetching a better price.

But Mr. Trudeau must balance interest in getting crude resources to new markets with the environmental concerns of municipal leaders and premiers from outside Alberta. TransCanada’s Corp.’s Energy East project faces stiff opposition from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and mayors in the surrounding area, who have argued that the environmental and safety risks outweigh the economic benefits. Kinder Morgan Canada’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain oil pipeline is being fiercely opposed by some B.C. Lower Mainland mayors.

Mr. Trudeau’s two-day trip was also a public-relations exercise to reach out to a province that both has experienced a dramatic drop in its economic fortunes, and hasn’t been inclined to vote for his party in recent decades. In Edmonton on Wednesday, the federal government confirmed it is prepared give Alberta a $250-million fiscal lifeline from the seldom-used, little-known fiscal stabilization program, and will fast-track up to $700-million in infrastructure funding. In a photo op at Calgary’s YWCA on Thursday, he helped pack hygiene kits for women experiencing abuse and homelessness.

There was little in the way of news in a push to make it easier for Alberta workers to qualify for Employment Insurance, or to extend benefits, as the Prime Minister said his government is still examining the ways it can strengthen the program.

But the visit showed the substantive changes in tone between Ottawa and Alberta. In contrast to the sometimes adversarial relationship between former prime minister Stephen Harper and Ms. Notley, Mr. Trudeau and the Alberta premier appeared together a number of times throughout the visit. The Prime Minister praised the province’s climate-change plan, which will increase carbon taxes, limit the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions from the oil sands and see the phasing out of coal-fired power plants.

Mr. Trudeau also called the Alberta Premier “Rachel,” and as the Prime Minister adjusted a microphone for her at a news conference, Ms. Notley described him as “a pretty awesome roadie.”

In Ottawa on Thursday, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark sought to make a distinction between her province’s stance on pipelines, and those of other politicians and activists who oppose proposed projects..

British Columbia five conditions for approval are broadly supported, including by Kinder Morgan Canada, which has said it intends to meet them, said Ms. Clark, who meets Mr. Trudeau in Ottawa on Friday.

With a report from Shawn McCarthy

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail


  • edoil1

    Thanks for nothing but previous allocated money and garbled pipeline talk that will give further uncertainty to industry.Good luck trying to find revenue to run this country.You will need it.

  • Sciurus Carolinensis

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we were one big happy confederation? The east uses oil, the west produces oil. The west needs refining capacity, the east has excess refining capacity. Seems so simple if we could all get over our small, tribal, petty “whats in it for me?” attitudes and think like Canadians instead

  • Count Iggy

    I’m sure the Globe’s ‘sympathetic Justin’ is about as ‘sympathetic’ as it takes to get some votes from the dopes.

  • Brad Brien

    Sympathy won’t even buy a cup of coffee !

  • Lajoie

    J.Trudeau lends a sympathetic ear to oil patch. Trudeau supported strongly BC opposition to pipeline. Trudeau had a warm meeting with his friend Coderre, a strong opponent to pipeline. Trudeau promised everything to everyone, but now is time to deliver… Good luck our unbridled optimistic PM!

  • Fairness3

    Trudeau is more interested in building his brand than building Canada. Four months in power and yet nothing to show for his ‘rock star’ persona. At some point he needs to act and stop talking. He is becoming a punch line to many.

  • Snort

    in one sympathetic ear and out the other. Meanwhile he chums up with eco-nuts intent on closing down the Canadian economy.

  • Lyon Mackenzie1

    William How do you know he lent a sympathetic ear? Maybe he was putting on an act. He is a drama teacher.

  • Scampy1

    Trudeau’s speech this afternoon in Calgary was 5% platitude and 95% ummm and ahhh.

    It is painfully obvious by his weasel words that his “sympathies” lie with Quebec and he has no interest in advancing the Alberta agenda. This became evident with his de facto veto of the Northern Gateway project and now waffling on Energy East with new federal regulatory requirements that render the NEB useless.

    So much for the Federation.

  • steve_d1

    In this nation, under the very feet of Canadians and sometimes in plain sight, there are ~ 120,000 kilometres of energy fuels pipeline of various sizes. These energy roadways are used to move approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.

    It would appear however that a simple commitment to say ” yes” to building a few more desperately needed pipelines to help in getting energy products to markets is too much of an ask…

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