Corbella: Buying us with our own money doesn’t work in Alberta, Mr. Trudeau

If you needed additional evidence that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t understand Alberta, you got more of it Tuesday.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr announced $1.6 billion in potential funding to Alberta’s oilpatch — with emphasis on the word potential.

“Our government always has and always will stand with the oil and gas sector,” Sohi said. “Because we understand that when Alberta hurts, so does Canada.”

One billion dollars of the funding will ostensibly help companies invest in new technologies, $500 million is available in commercial financing initiatives over three years from the Business Development Bank, $50 million is up for grabs from Canada’s Natural Resources Clean Growth Program, and another $100 million is available through Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund for diversification-related projects.

What Trudeau and his government don’t understand is Albertans don’t want handouts. They want pipelines and sound policies that don’t scare away capital investment. Instead, on Tuesday, Albertans got more bad policy in the form of federal incentives using our own money.

While it’s not polite to look a gift horse in the mouth, the feds are really just returning one of our own horses — this one on its last legs — while it keeps our metaphorical herd of thoroughbreds.

(left to right) Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr take part in a press conference where the Federal government announced $1.6 billion in support for Canada’s oil and gas sector, at NAIT in Edmonton Tuesday Dec. 18, 2018. Photo by David Bloom

As recent Statistics Canada figures show, in 2017 Albertans paid $50.3 billion in taxes to the federal government and received $28.5 billion back in federal spending, leaving a whopping $21.8 billion net for the rest of Canada — the largest per-capita contribution to Confederation by far.

People in the oilpatch say this possible $1.6 billion of funding will do little to help our beleaguered industry, since nobody wants to invest in Alberta owing to the uncertainty caused by Trudeau government policies — particularly Bills C-69 and C-48 — coming down the pipe.

The only way to get investment to return to Alberta is if some of this money were used for memory-zapping electro-shock therapy or mass hypnotization of the whole world with regard to what Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley have wrought on Alberta’s business climate.

When Trudeau unilaterally cancelled the Northern Gateway pipeline in 2016 (with no objection by Notley) — after Enbridge and its partners spent $1 billion jumping over countless regulatory hurdles and even after the project passed approval in the House of Commons under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government — he shook the confidence of global investors in the reliability of Canada’s regulatory processes.

As Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in a recent interview, “the cancellation of Northern Gateway was the most damaging thing that’s been done to our economy,” as it proved that our regulatory system is not predictable but contingent on the political whims of a prime minister. Or, if Bill C-69 passes, on the whims of the environment minister as well.

Sandip Lalli, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said while “encouraged by the changing tone” from the federal government, “we have seen investment flee Canada due to uncertainty.

“We continue to advocate that the federal government listen to industry and investors by making the necessary amendments to Bill C-69 and adding more efficiency in the regulatory process,” said Lalli.


Premier Notley, who was in Calgary making another announcement, said most of the money available are loans.

“We didn’t ask for the opportunity to go further into debt as a means of addressing this problem,” she told reporters. “What we asked for was for them to remove the handcuffs.

“What we can only assume is that this is a first step and that there is more to come,” she added.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney said the announcement does “nothing to help the thousands of families in our provinces that are left unemployed as the result of Trudeau Liberal policies and actions.

“If the Trudeau Liberal government was serious about helping support workers in our energy industry, they would pull their devastating ‘No More Pipelines Law’ Bill C-69 and pull their Tanker Ban Bill C-48 — legislation that discriminates against Alberta oil but gives foreign oil a free pass.”

On top of killing Northern Gateway, Kenney also points out that Trudeau’s government “also killed the Energy East pipeline, further land-locking Alberta’s resources.”

By having nowhere to go, Alberta’s oil is selling at a huge discount compared with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate — and actually fell to a devastating $11 per barrel last month. Premier Rachel Notley announced that starting in January oil output will be curtailed, which immediately helped raise Alberta oil prices, but the differential is still huge, costing the Canadian economy about $80 million every day.

In other words, the differential, caused by a lack of pipelines (which is a federal responsibility) will cost $1.6 billion in just 20 days. Put that in your government’s cancelled pipes, Minister Sohi.

Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau, who has been quoted as saying he wants to “phase out” the oilsands, doesn’t fool anyone with his feigned empathy.

“Today’s handout is nothing more than a desperate, election-year attempt to trick western Canadians into thinking he cares. He is trying to save a handful of Liberal seats, nothing more. I know Canadians will see it for what it is,” he said.

“As prime minister,” added Scheer, “I will end Justin Trudeau’s war on the energy industry. I will repeal Bill C-69. I will cancel the ban on shipping on the B.C. coast. I will scrap the carbon tax, clean up the regulatory regime and end foreign meddling in pipeline approvals.”

Sounds like heaven to this Albertan’s ears. Scheer, however, should add one more thing to that list — he should remove all political meddling in pipeline approvals. Government should simply set up a robust regulatory system, which we already have, and not allow politicians to have a say in killing them once they’ve received approval in the House of Commons. Period.

If Trudeau really wants to get some holiday cheer from Albertans, he would announce the scrapping of bills C-69 and C-48.

Trying to buy us with our own money doesn’t work in Alberta. If he was really listening, he’d know that already.

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia opinion columnist.

[email protected]

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