What would it take for the Liberals to do more to help the Alberta oil sector?
Consensus, according to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson airing on Nov. 25, Morneau said that the government understands the “long term importance” of the oil industry but said that recent calls for the government to invest in moving oil by train as a stop-gap will not be an easy answer to the problem of bottlenecked supply.
“If there’s a consensus from the industry on other initiatives that we should be thinking about, we’re always going to be listening to that consensus,” he said.
WATCH: What would it take for the Liberals to do more for the oil sector? ‘Consensus,’ Morneau says
“We know how important this issue is. We know that the challenge is enormous. We understand that the sector and industry players and the Alberta government are in discussions. If they have some consensus that we should listen to, we will.”
Morneau’s remarks came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced a frosty reception complete with boos and protests upon his arrival in Calgary on Thursday.
Trudeau was there to take part in a discussion organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and faced tough questions from business leaders on whether the government is doing enough to address a steep discount in oil prices that he acknowledged is “very much a crisis.”
Alberta oil is selling at a discount compared of American light oil, mainly due to the province being captive to the U.S. market and unable to export oil to international markets where it could get a higher price.
Lack of transport is the key problem behind that and is why the province has fought so hard to move the Trans Mountain expansion forward.
That expansion of the existing pipeline would triple the capacity of oil able to reach tankers on the coast of B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
But concerns about environmental damage to sensitive marine ecosystems and lack of adequate consultation from Indigenous communities have plagued the project and after years of delays, the Kinder Morgan company behind the project gave up and sold the pipeline to the federal government earlier this year.
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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called last month for federal investment in shipping crude oil by rail as a stop-gap to get the province’s oil to other markets until pipelines are either built or expanded. Some senior energy industry officials have cast doubt on whether doing so would solve the problem.
Trudeau dismissed a question over the crude-by-rail issue put to him on Thursday by Sandip Lalli, the CEO of the Calgary Chamber.
“You think there’s a super-simple easy answer and there’s not,” he said.
“There’s a multifaceted complex issue and as much as there is a tendency out there in the world to give really simple answers to really complex questions, unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that.”
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Morneau echoed those remarks.
“Our view now is that the single most important thing we can do is make sure that the Trans Mountain pipeline moves forward in the right way and that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
There is currently no timeline for when construction will resume on the stalled pipeline.
A Federal Court judge ruled in August the government had failed to adequately consult Indigenous communities and also said a review by the National Energy Board done under the former Conservative government did not take into account the issue of marine impact from increased tanker traffic.
As a result, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced in September the government had ordered the National Energy Board to look specifically at the marine impact of the increased tanker traffic that will come from expanding the pipeline and set a deadline of mid-February 2019.
Several weeks later, Sohi also announced the government would not appeal the ruling that it had failed to adequately consult Indigenous stakeholders and would instead redo its consultations with no set timeline for when those discussions should wrap up in order for construction to begin.
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That has raised questions about whether the government is willing to let the pipeline lose another season of spring and summer construction just months ahead of the federal election in October 2019.
So far, though, there are no answers on when Canadians can expect work to resume on the project.