Trudeau de­clares Al­berta ‘cri­sis,’ does noth­ing about it

Fort McMurray Today - - COMMENT - DON BRAID [email protected]­

The NDP govern­ment had a bucket list of things Ot­tawa could do to quickly ease the mas­sive oil price dif­fer­en­tial.

It got a drop in the bucket. Fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau de­creed cap­i­tal cost write­downs of 100 per cent for Cana­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing, in­clud­ing oil and gas.

That will be help­ful, over time.

But there was noth­ing else in Wed­nes­day’s fed­eral fiscal up­date.

And there was less than noth­ing when Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau came to visit Thurs­day.

No rail cars, no lo­co­mo­tives, noth­ing to speed up pipe­line con­struc­tion, no spe­cific in­dus­try-tar­geted mea­sures for a busi­ness and prov­ince in deep trou­ble.

I am try­ing very hard to imag­ine Trudeau declar­ing a gen­uine eco­nomic cri­sis in On­tario or Que­bec, and do­ing noth­ing about it. Frankly, it’s unimag­in­able.

On Tues­day I wrote a column say­ing the Trudeau govern­ment is in­ten­tion­ally man­ag­ing down Al­berta’s oil and gas in­dus­try, just a bit quicker than they ex­pected be­cause ex­ter­nal forces they en­cour­aged have run out of con­trol.

By fail­ing to use this trip to out­line or at least prom­ise spe­cific help with the price cri­sis, Trudeau ac­tu­ally en­cour­ages that view.

Al­berta Fi­nance Min­is­ter Joe Ceci said af­ter Wed­nes­day’s fiscal up­date came out:

“It’s clear the fed­eral govern­ment isn’t speak­ing the same eco­nomic lan­guage as Al­ber­tans. Ot­tawa is liv­ing on a dif­fer­ent eco­nomic planet.”

Through the an­noy­ance, Ceci was quite fair: “I’m pleased to see the fed­eral govern­ment move to 100 per cent write­offs for man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries and the oil and gas sec­tor.

“This im­proves our com­pet­i­tive­ness and is a win for Al­berta work­ers and com­pa­nies. I am pleased the fed­eral govern­ment lis­tened to our ad­vice.”

He’d sent fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau a let­ter, along with just about ev­ery other prov­ince spooked by busi­ness tax cuts in the U.S.

Ceci’s gripe is that there was no spe­cific mea­sure aimed at the most dan­ger­ous eco­nomic prob­lem in the coun­try. (On Nov. 20, Hardisty Light oil was priced at a mis­er­able $7.40 per bar­rel.)

“We have asked for in­creased rail ca­pac­ity,” Ceci said. “And while ca­pac­ity is­sues are men­tioned in the re­port, no ac­tion was taken.

“This is dis­ap­point­ing to Al­ber­tans. As own­ers of the oil and gas, we will con­tinue to be ship­ping this prod­uct out of our prov­ince at a deep dis­count.

“The fiscal up­date doesn’t take into ac­count what’s go­ing on in our en­ergy in­dus­try. I think they need to re-eval­u­ate.”

Also on Thurs­day morn­ing, Premier Rachel Not­ley an­nounced an ex­ten­sive car­bon-tax hol­i­day and re­bate for drillers, as well as a plan to buy rail cars and en­gines, per­haps in con­cert with Ot­tawa. Don’t count on the last part.

In a CBC in­ter­view with Vassy Kape­los, Morneau claimed the cap­i­tal cost write­off will help the dif­fer­en­tial right away.

“By def­i­ni­tion it will have an im­me­di­ate im­pact,” he said.

“But I don’t want to sug­gest that we’ve found a so­lu­tion for that prob­lem.

“That is a re­ally dif­fi­cult long-term prob­lem and I think it’s some­thing that clearly the sec­tor is work­ing to­gether with the Al­berta govern­ment on.

“We’re go­ing to con­tinue to be res­o­lute in our goal of as­sur­ing that we can get the clean­est re­sources in the world to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. We think that’s im­por­tant. So we’re on it.

“It’s the rea­son we stepped for­ward with the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line pur­chase. It’s one we’re com­mit­ted to work­ing through in the right way.”

That way is “to en­sure that we ac­tu­ally con­sider the is­sues around the West Coast that the court asked us to do, and that we ac­tu­ally have mean­ing­ful con­sul­ta­tions with In­dige­nous peo­ple.”

He’s al­lud­ing to the big fail­ure af­ter the pur­chase; the Fed­eral Court re­jec­tion based largely on the las­si­tude of fed­eral of­fi­cials who didn’t re­ally talk to First Na­tions, just sort of lis­tened and took notes.

Morneau seems to be say­ing that an even­tual pipe­line ap­proval is all the prov­ince is go­ing to get.

Al­berta needs im­me­di­ate eco­nomic EMS. The feds prom­ise to build a hos­pi­tal.

The ex­pan­sion wouldn’t be op­er­at­ing for years. The price dif­fer­en­tial will per­sist un­til then, un­less the prov­ince comes up with mag­i­cal solutions. There’s no doubt that Morneau’s cap­i­tal cost break will help busi­nesses hop­ing to ex­pand. But Morneau con­stantly stressed that this pol­icy is for the whole coun­try, not just Al­berta.

Why this re­luc­tance to of­fer spe­cific help? The Lib­er­als may cal­cu­late that af­ter spend­ing $4.5 bil­lion to buy the pipe­line, there’s lit­tle na­tional tol­er­ance for more Al­berta aid.

But Al­berta didn’t screw up that ap­proval. Ot­tawa did. This prov­ince needs the kind of emer­gency help the fed­eral govern­ment rou­tinely spouts for autos or Bom­bardier air­planes.


Pro­test­ers out­side an event at­tended by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in Cal­gary, Alta. on Thurs­day, Nov. 22, 2018.

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