Following the federal government’s fiscal update given in the House of Commons last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau made two separate visits to Calgary, Alberta and were met with angry protestors. Chanting "Build that pipe!", over two thousand Calgarians protested outside the hotel where PM Trudeau gave a lunch address to a subdued business community, and Minister Morneau attracted hundreds of protestors to his own address. There are currently over 100,000 unemployed Calgarians, in a city of over one million, as a direct result of the debilitated energy sector and its broader impact on the economy, as people lose homes and businesses and an increase in suicide rates.
Speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon, PM Trudeau blamed the current low price of Canadian oil, calling it a "crisis" for Alberta, for the prolonged economic hardship though he offered nothing in the way of new help. The provincial government and critics say the federal government isn’t doing enough to help Albertans and the energy sector, pointing to the federal government’s immediate reaction to the announcement GM is closing its Oshawa plant and the lack of a specific line-item in the fiscal update for the sector.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley responded to say the oil price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select, which averaged around USD $45 per barrel last month, is costing the Canadian economy CAD $80 million a day. Alberta’s oil sells for a lower price in the United States (U.S.) partially due to the lack of pipeline capacity to move Canadian crude to market. Leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party Jason Kenney, who is expected to win the spring 2019 provincial election, called Trudeau's visit to the province "an insult" and blamed the prime minister for policies that hurt the energy industry, saying, “It is no longer adequate to come out here, pat us on the head and tell us he feels our pain. It's time for action."
PM Trudeau reiterated the federal government was doing what it could to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, which would triple its capacity to carry oil to tankers on the west coast. The federal government bought Trans Mountain and its expansion project for CAD $4.5 billion last summer, but the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal struck down its approval, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation and failure to consider impacts on marine ecosystems.
The PM pointed to his government’s fiscal update, which included a measure that lets companies write off capital expenditures more quickly, and a tax benefit related to asset depreciation, which he claimed will help businesses. Energy industry leaders, Albertans, and provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci criticized the Liberal government's fiscal update, saying it failed to include any direct line items that would bolster Alberta's ailing energy sector and help close the price gap between benchmark oil prices and Alberta's oil.
Joining the crowd of protestors, MEG Energy CEO Derek Evans said, "We're already shutting down rigs. We're already pulling back on capital. Until we've got good visibility that we're gonna be able to move this production, either by rail or by future pipelines, capital activity — the investment into the economy — is going to drop dramatically in western Canada."
After his speech to the Chamber, PM Trudeau met with executives from a number of oil and gas companies behind closed doors to discuss the importance of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and concerns over Bill C-69, which includes Ottawa's plans to revamp the assessment process for major energy projects. Executive Vice Chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Steve Laut said, “The accelerated capital cost allowance doesn't matter if the differentials are where they are because no one is going to spend any money."
At Minister Morneau’s speech, he refused to commit to a date when the Trans Mountain pipeline project would be built, saying, "I can't give you an exact timelines because that would not be consistent with the goals that we are trying to achieve.”