Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a Calgary crowd Tuesday that he and the Liberal government must do more to talk up the importance of Canada's energy sector in other parts of the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – and whose visit, like Trudeau's, was met by large crowds of pro-oil demonstrators furious with the hikeing of the Alberta crude – said he has heard from business leaders that the Canadian government is not "vocally as supportive of the industry" as it should be.
"From my perspective, the decision to purchase Trans Mountain, the expansion, was clearly intended to replace actions for words," said Morneau. "But I committed last night, and committed again this morning, to being part of trying to make sure we are delivering that message across our country. . . We need to be thinking about how we can be more demonstrably supportive, in ways that make people in this room agree that we are representing them well. "
Last week, Morneau expressed deep concern about the difference in Canadian crude – which he acknowledged causing "acute anxiety" in Calgary and costing the Canadian economy an estimated $ 80 million per day.
Also like Trudeau, Morneau did not propose any new solutions for the problem, saying only that the federal government is working hard to get to the building and built into other ways to help.
"If there were an easy answer, we would have taken it," Morneau said. "But we do not see an easy answer."
Mark Scholz – president of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) – called Morneau's acknowledgment that the federal government could voice more support for the industry an "incredible step forward."
"This industry, for some time now, has felt that the government has done no service, so to speak, in terms of language it describes in describing our industry," Scholz said.
Scholz said the government's tendency to refer to "Albert's" oil and gas sector rather than "Canada's" oil and gas sector, or the fact it has not vocally championed and defended the country's regulatory system, are sore points for industry.
"Tone at the top matters," Scholz said. "The little things and the signals and the language that is chosen by our political leaders, they matter a great deal."
However, Calgary Chamber of Commerce spokesman Mark Cooper said while the federal government does not promote the energy industry in other parts of Canada is welcome, it is now time for more concrete solutions.
"We need urgent action," Cooper said. "I think what the business community wants from Ottawa is really good to acknowledge that these market access issues are we experiencing are caused by a large part by its policies, and the constant shifting of the regulatory goalposts."
Both the municipal and provincial governments on Tuesday reported a closure of a General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., As an example of the perceived disconnect between the Trudeau government and what is happening on the ground in Alberta .
"We lost two-and-a-half GM plants every month in Alberta since the economic downturn has started," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, in reference to the job losses in the oilpatch. "There was an emergency meeting of parliament last night over those 2,000 (Oshawa) jobs."
"They (the federal government's) actions thus far indicate they are tone-deaf to the importance of the Canadian energy sector to Canada and its impact," said provincial economic development minister Deron Bilous. "We've seen the prime minister react very quickly to the news in Oshawa. . . We'd like to see the federal government move just as quickly for Alberta's energy sector. "
However, Explorers and Producers Association of Canada president Tristan Goodman said while he believes the federal government needs to do more to address the differential crisis, he is willing to give Morneau and his counterparts some credit.
"The fact is we have a prime minister who's been out to Alberta 20 times since he's been elected. And he has put several billion dollars into the issue (by buying a pipeline), "Goodman said. "It would be an error to say the federal government has done nothing."
– With files from Chris Varcoe and Meghan Potkins