As concern grows among workers and politicians over Alberta’s embattled energy sector, a massive rally got underway in the city of Grande Prairie, Alta., to support the resource industry and to call for pipelines to be built.
A Global News reporter at the demonstration said “there are easily hundreds of people” who gathered in Grande Prairie’s Muskoseepi Park to have their voices heard. The RCMP told Global News they estimate at least 1,500 people showed up.
The event was organized by the pro-oilsands groups Oilfield Dads and Rally4Resources, which say government regulations are suffocating the Canadian oil and gas industry.
Grande Prairie is a hub for oil production in northwestern Alberta, known as Peace Country. Like the rest of the province, it has felt the pinch as the province’s oil industry struggles from a price differential that’s in part due to a lack of capacity to transport its oil to markets.
A boisterous crowd, many carrying signs, could be heard chanting “build that pipe,” a refrain that was followed by loud cheers. Many at the rally said they wanted to know if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can “hear us now.”
“We aren’t just a monumental cash cow for the government. We provide opportunities for families across the country,” Bernard Hancock, known as Bernard the Roughneck, told the crowd at a park in Grande Prairie, Alta., on Sunday.
“It puts chicken in the pot in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. It puts a roast in the oven in Miramichi, New Brunswick. It puts tortiere on the fork in Granby, Quebec. And it puts tofu on the table in Toronto and Vancouver!”
Many who attended Sunday’s rally held signs denouncing the federal government’s Bill C-69 to revamp the National Energy Board, which opponents say will make it impossible to build new pipelines.
The event’s organizers said they work at a local oilfield company and that they want the rally to highlight to politicians and ordinary Canadians how important the oil and gas sector is to the country.
Rally attendees came from as far as Fort Nelson, B.C., which is located about 600 kilometres northwest of Grande Prairie.
“People in Alberta feel like they haven’t been heard lately, and we’re frustrated,” said Cole Murphy, who helped organize the rally.
“We just want to spread some awareness that we’re good, hardworking Canadians that are just trying to provide for our families, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The RCMP said that after the rally, a convoy of 600 vehicles travelled, with police assistance, from the Grande Prairie Airport, “east on 100 Avenue, east on the bypass, south on 102 Street” before returning west on 100 Avenue.
“Traffic was disrupted for approximately 90 minutes and continues to move slowly,” the RCMP said late Sunday afternoon.
Over a dozen speakers addressed the crowd from a stage in the park on Sunday. Among those expected to give remarks were Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.
“We are investing in the energy sector because we know the energy sector is the backbone of this province,” Bilous told the crowd. “When the Peace Country does well, Alberta does well. And when Alberta does well, Canada does well.
“We stand with you, proud of our energy sector.”
Kenney thanked the crowd for “standing up for Canada” and “ordinary working women and men who, for too long, have been without a voice.”
“Today, by the thousands, people in Alberta’s Peace Country are giving their voice and are fighting back for what is right,” he said.
“This is the fight for Canada.”
Representatives of both parties said they want to call on Trudeau to stand up for Albertans hurting financially because of the low price Alberta gets for its oil and the lack of pipeline capacity to get the resource to markets other than the U.S.
Earlier this month, a large rally was held in Drayton Valley, Alta., which also called for the immediate construction of new pipelines to help Alberta’s economy.
Watch below: On Dec. 4, 2018, a large group of people gathered in Drayton Valley to call for more support for the oil and gas industry and for pipelines.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has indicated the oil price differential is in large part due to a lack of pipelines able to carry significant volumes of Alberta bitumen to Canada’s coasts and then on to markets other than the U.S.
Earlier this fall, Notley announced her government is temporarily imposing an 8.7-per-cent cut to oil production in the province in order to address the growing backlog of oil that she says isn’t being moved because of insufficient pipeline capacity.
LISTEN: Minister Deron Bilous and two protestors, Jarvie Dawson and Chad Miller, join Ryan Jespersen to discuss the protest in Grande Prairie
The premier has also announced that in the short term, her government plans to buy rail cars to move more oil that way until the long-term solution she is seeking — increased pipeline capacity — comes to fruition.
“We’ve had some curtailment in our work,” said Robert Lauze, an oil and gas worker who showed up to Sunday’s rally. “We’ve actually shut in some wells because they’re not profitable at that price.
“We’re concerned with layoffs… it’s very concerning. It’s a scary time in our industry right now.”
Watch below: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wouldn’t commit to an oil sector bailout or money for rail cars, saying a pipeline is the best way to get Canadian oil to market.
Several days ago, Notley also announced she is seeking expressions of interest for building a new oil refinery or to expand an existing one.
Alberta’s premier has been taking an increasingly tough tone with the federal Liberal government to demand action on problems plaguing her province’s energy sector.
Watch below: Global News coverage of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley
Earlier this month, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the federal government is willing to consider buying tanker cars to help Alberta move oil by rail but it isn’t ready to commit to such a plan just yet.
A major pipeline project Alberta wants to see completed is the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would triple the amount of Alberta oil the pipeline transports to the West Coast.
Its approval was thrown out by a federal judge earlier this year, in part because of what were highlighted as shortcomings in the process through which the project was first approved. A new round of consultations is now underway in a bid to have it approved once again.
Grande Prairie is located about 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census data, the city has a population of just over 62,000 people.
—With files from Sarah Kraus, Global News, and Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press