EDMONTON – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the “rapid change and significant shock” of falling oil prices means Albertans urgently need help from the federal government and he’s prepared to provide it.
Speaking in Edmonton after his meeting with Premier Rachel Notley on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said Alberta has been Canada’s economic engine for the past 10 years and that it’s time for other Canadians to give back.
Trudeau spoke about plans to fast-track infrastructure spending to create jobs and promote growth in Alberta and said he had made a formal commitment to fast-track $700 million in previously committed federal infrastructure money. The money was allocated by the previous Conservative government in 2014 and the new Liberal government had previously indicated that it had hoped to get it out the door more quickly.
There were no specifics on what projects the money might go toward, but Notley says she expects to see it start flowing in a matter of weeks and month.
Notley said she also pushed Trudeau to make changes to Employment Insurance that will broaden access for laid-off energy workers.
Trudeau didn’t make any commitments around EI, but noted that his party campaigned on easing access to the program in times of need.
Trudeau said he also spoke with Notley about how Ottawa can work with Alberta on a plan to combat climate change and how to expand access to markets for Alberta’s oil and gas.
Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema issued a statement following Wednesday’s press conference.
“We support Prime Minister Trudeau’s and Premier Notley’s pledges to act on climate and to live up to Canada’s global climate commitments but building more pipelines will make those goals impossible,” part of Hudema’s statement said. “We simply can’t add tens of millions of tonnes of additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere for decades and call it climate leadership.”
Hudema encouraged Trudeau and Notley not to advocate for pipelines and instead develop a clean energy plan that addresses climate change while creating jobs.
Before the meeting, Notley said she was pleased Trudeau is coming to visit, but there was one thing she wanted to make crystal clear.
“The message will be delivered very, very clearly that Alberta needs the support of our federal government, we’ve truly been a fundamental part of the Canadian economy,” Notley said. “Now is the time when we need our federal government to come here and to work with us, to support us during the difficult times that we’re facing.”
The province’s oil sector is also looking for strong signals that Trudeau is serious about helping deliver its controversial commodity to tidewater.
Mark Scholz, president of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, said federal support on the contentious issue of building pipelines is crucial.
He warned if the industry can’t get its product to market, then Alberta businesses are going to fail.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau declined Tuesday to answer several questions about whether Ottawa would provide targeted assistance for Alberta.
Instead, Morneau said the federal government’s upcoming budget will include spending plans to invest in Canada’s entire economy, which he argued will help struggling provinces such as Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Alberta.
Morneau confirmed that Alberta is working on an application for up to $250 million in federal cash under the fiscal stabilization program, a plan designed to help provinces struck by big year-to-year declines in revenues.
WATCH: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will help boost Alberta’s economy with money for shovel ready infrastructure.
The Newfoundland government, which has also lost revenues in the oil-price slump, indicated Tuesday that it intends to make a claim under the stabilization program this spring. The province could be eligible for a maximum of about $32 million under the program.
Morneau said he’s unsure whether Newfoundland and Saskatchewan would qualify for the program, although they could apply.
Trudeau’s trip takes place as the regional battle over pipelines heats up.
Earlier this month, the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan expressed dismay after Montreal-area municipal leaders publicly voiced their opposition to the proposed Energy East project, which would transport Prairie oil through their territory to tidewater in New Brunswick. They argued that potential threats to the environment outweigh any economic benefits.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has questioned whether Quebecers should continue to expect billions in equalization payments if they won’t support the export of resources that help drive those payments.
On Monday, he challenged Trudeau to take a stand and support the project.
“We need a champion for the energy sector,” Wall said after delivering a speech in Regina.
Pipeline politics have also dominated debate in Parliament, where the Conservatives have accused the Liberal government of causing more harm to Alberta workers.
Last week, the federal government announced additional environmental reviews to bolster public confidence in the pipeline assessment process, including more consultations with indigenous communities.
Environmental groups argue any new pipeline approval by Ottawa would undermine the Liberals’ vow to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
After meeting with Notley in Edmonton, Trudeau heads to Calgary on Thursday to meet with leaders in the energy industry.
-with files from Phil Heidenreich