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‘He came here to listen’: Alberta energy minister ‘very encouraged’ by meeting with federal counterpart

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage met with newly-appointed Federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O'Regan. Doug Vaessen has more.

Alberta’s energy minister said she has an optimistic outlook on the future after meeting with Canada’s newly-appointed natural resources minister in Calgary.

“He listened, he heard he understood. I was very encouraged with the tone and the direction and the relationship ahead,” Sonya Savage said after her Friday morning meeting with Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan.

READ MORE: Alberta allows producers to drill new conventional oil wells without production limits

Alberta was O’Regan’s first stop after being appointed to his new post on Wednesday.

Savage said she feels O’Regan has a good understanding of the position Alberta is in, and what it means to have the province’s resources “under siege.”

“Having a minister from Newfoundland, where there’s oil and gas production already, and from Newfoundland where a province understands what happens when your primary industry is under siege and under attack, I think it’s helpful,” she said.

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“He came here to listen, he came here to understand. I think he’s going to be here in Alberta a lot and that in and of itself is encouraging because we have a lot of tough files to work on ahead and we have a lot of real, deep concerns in Alberta that need to be understood and addressed.”

Among those tough files, Savage said she has the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, bills C-69 and C-48, and methane emissions equivalency on her list. But the current CN Rail strike is her top priority.

“Every day is 170,000 barrels of oil that are not being moved out of Alberta,” she said. “I think we’ve heard from a number of provinces and industries with concerns, so CN strike is top of mind.”

READ MORE: Alberta government calls on feds to resume Parliament to address CN Rail strike

Savage said while she was encouraged by Friday’s meeting, she still plans to hold the minister to account on the changes Alberta needs to see at the federal level.

“It’s two days in — I don’t believe he’s been briefed on all the files and issues by his department yet, so it was a great opportunity to explain the very real problems that Alberta is facing,” Savage said. “He listened, for sure, and I believe he understood.

“In the months ahead we’ll have to see whether there’s action. We need some corrections, we need some changes over what has happened over the last four years.

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“Alberta has been treated unfairly over the last number of years and we need to see some serious course change, direction change and some changes to some of the policies over those past four years.”

READ MORE: Cenovus boosts oil output plans on Alberta move to curtailment relief for crude-by-rail

A drilling forecast from Petroleum Services Association of Canada (SPAC) suggested the number of wells drilled will decline in 2020 — saying there will be 4,500 wells drilled next year, which is 500 less than in 2019.

PSAC CEO Gary Mar said the drilling sector has had a multitude of challenges due to the downturn, including layoffs before the spring breakup, which is typically the busiest time of year for drilling activity.

“If you’re laying off people during your busiest time, that means there isn’t enough work to go around,” Mar said.

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Mar also encouraged the federal government to step in to resolve the CN strike, saying the job action is having an impact on multiple sectors like oil and gas as well as agriculture.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was also encouraged by the immediacy of Friday’s meeting.

“It’s a good sign that he’s ready to get working on the many tough issues facing the energy industry,” CAPP spokesperson Jay Averill said in a statement to Global News. “CAPP is looking forward to meeting with the minister in the coming weeks as he settles into his new role.”

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Friday’s meeting is another step the federal government has taken to make Western Canadian interests a priority within the cabinet following an election victory that saw the Liberals shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, according to School of Public Policy professor, Lisa Young.

“There are seats that are available to them in Quebec, there are seats that are available to them in Ontario, they didn’t have to make it clear that they took the Western situation seriously, but they have chosen to,” Young said. “I think that’s a positive signal for people in Western Canada.”

“I think it’s very important symbolism,” Mar said. “But you need to be able to follow up symbolism with action.”

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While O’Regan didn’t speak to the media following Friday’s meeting, he did say on Wednesday following his appointment to cabinet that he had “no choice” but to make the oil and gas sector a top priority in his new role.

Savage told reporters on Friday that the ministers hope to meet again in December, but details have not yet been worked out.