Justin Trudeau: The oil patch’s fall guy

You have to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau some credit for showing up in a city in which he is so detested.

But show up the PM did this week in Calgary, to offer less-than-soothing assurances that he understands the depth of the pain the city, and province of Alberta generally, is experiencing. Not surprisingly, those attending the Chamber of Commerce speech that he gave were in no mood to offer the federal leader anything resembling a warm and hearty reception.

The atmosphere in the room was as icy as that outside, where 2,000 protesters screamed for a pipeline to get built.

There is justifiable anger in the province. The oil industry is in tatters at the moment. The discount that Alberta crude is suffering at the U.S. border is at historic highs. The situation will undoubtedly improve, but likely not for a few months. Meantime, the province’s economic pain is real, and not to be diminished.

Not surprisingly, much of the rhetoric coming out of the province is laced with anger and vitriol. Some of the viewpoints are reasonable. Many are not, the most common one among those being that if this were Ontario or Quebec suffering this same fate, action would have been taken by now.

I find that take on the situation somewhat bewildering. If I’m not mistaken, it was Mr. Trudeau who spent $4.5-billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline and the rights to the expansion of it. If it gets built, Ottawa will deserve some credit for rescuing the project when its original proponent, Kinder Morgan, decided it wanted no part of it. I mean, that has to count for something.

People want to blame the Trudeau Liberals for the recent Federal Court of Appeal decision that put the pipeline expansion on hold over a lack of proper consultation with Indigenous groups, among other things. Well, sure, condemn Ottawa all you want if it makes you feel better. But we are living in far different times than we were even 10 years ago. The Supreme Court of Canada has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to building resource projects in this country. And governments, including the one in the nation’s capital, are still trying to figure out how to proceed, and what, precisely, constitutes fair and reasonable consultation with First Nations.

If the federal government hurries the Trans Mountain process again in a bid to get shovels in the ground soon, then the whole matter is going to end up back in court again, with likely the same outcome. They need to get it right this time.

While likely no one at his Chamber of Commerce speech wanted to hear it, the one undeniably true thing Mr. Trudeau said Thursday afternoon was this: “It’s like you think there’s a super simple answer. There’s not. This is a multifaceted, complex issue."

One option being discussed for providing the province some relief is increasing rail capacity. Obviously, that’s not an ideal solution, but it’s something. Premier Rachel Notley is hoping Ottawa will become a willing partner (see: provide financial help) in increasing the number of locomotives that are shipping Alberta oil to the coast. Mr. Trudeau was noncommittal.

New tank cars would have to be ordered. It would take a year or more to see any benefit from this plan. I’m not sure how that gives Alberta the instant support it’s looking for from the feds.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced changes to capital cost write-downs in his recent economic update that should provide almost immediate aid to the oil and gas industry in Alberta. But while that is viewed as a positive step, it’s not nearly enough to save the oil industry from its current depths of despair.

I have enormous sympathy for those whose livelihoods are being severely impacted by the oil slump. There are thousands of jobs at stake. The province’s finances are reeling. But the fact remains there is no easy fix, despite all the pleas from Albertans looking for exactly that.

People can point the finger at Justin Trudeau all they want for what is taking place. But remember when you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

TheGlobeandMail

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