CALGARY—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a sympathetic ear to major players in Canada’s oilpatch Thursday, but didn’t provide any assurances on the fate of the pipelines Alberta so desperately wants to move its product to the coasts.
Trudeau, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took part in one-hour roundtables with oil and natural gas producers and their suppliers.
The province’s oil sector is looking for signals that Trudeau is serious about seeing pipelines built that will move its commodity to where it can be shipped to foreign markets.
The Energy East project is seen as a key plank, but the controversial pipeline has drawn the ire of many along its route through Central Canada to the Atlantic coast.
The prime minister was asked after the meeting if he told the industry that the federal government would approve Energy East if approved by the National Energy Board.
Trudeau repeated his criticism of the previous Conservative government and its politicization of pipelines. He said he would not do the same.
“I’m not going to prejudge or shortcut the NEB process as it goes forward,” Trudeau said. “It’s important that we have confidence in our regulators. It’s important they do their job and we’re going to allow them to do their job without political interference.”
The president and CEO of Suncor Energy (TSX:SU), Steve Williams, said the meeting with Trudeau was encouraging, but there were no guarantees about pipeline approvals.
“I think assurances is too strong a word. I think what we agreed was that we understood the need for them and we’re all going to go away and work towards that end,” Williams said.
Mark Salkeld, president of Petroleum Services Association of Canada, also found a reason for optimism after the meeting. He said industry players asked Trudeau to “be our champion” because energy is Canada’s economic engine.
“We weren’t looking for handouts. We weren’t looking for incentives to get us through to the next stage. We’re looking for things that will put our employees back to work,” said Salkeld.
Action is needed quickly, Salkeld added.
“It’s critical. I mean this industry is essentially on its knees right now in Canada. If we don’t get things moving relatively quickly there’s going to be a generational loss,” he said.
Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said Trudeau was paying close attention.
“We just had a great conversation that talked about the urgency of some of the challenges we’re facing,” she said. “There was no particular ask (from the participants).”
As he did in Edmonton on Wednesday, the prime minister continued to signal that changes are coming to make employment insurance easier to get for laid-off Albertans.
“We are working very hard, the minister of Employment is looking into it,” he said.
“As you know this was a commitment we made through the election campaign to strengthen EI to make it more responsive to people who actually need it … and now Alberta is facing some real challenges in needing it and we’re going to make sure that it’s there for them.”