Alberta business leader scolds prime minister for driving off investment

One of Alberta's most prominent business leaders lashed out at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, blaming federal policies for scaring away investors and questioning his leadership.

ATCO boss Nancy Southern says decline in Canada's competitiveness is 'heart-breaking'

ATCO CEO Nancy Southern, left, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's policies are scaring away investors. (CBC)

ATCO chief executive Nancy Southern, one of Alberta's most prominent business leaders, lashed out at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during her company's annual meeting on Tuesday, blaming his policies for scaring away investors and questioning his leadership.

Speaking on the same day Trudeau arrived in Calgary to make a civic funding announcement, Southern told shareholders and employees that watching Canada's economic competitiveness decline is "heart-breaking" and makes her want to cry.

Southern pointed to increased regulations, labour laws and taxes as reasons why companies would rather invest outside of Canada.

ATCO, best known for its utilities business, continues to spend in Alberta on infrastructure projects but is diversifying through major acquisitions and expansion in South American, Australia, Mexico and the United States.
ATCO CEO Nancy Southern told shareholders and employees Tuesday that watching Canada's economic competitiveness decline is 'heart-breaking' and makes her want to cry. (The Canadian Press)

"I believe it takes real leadership and courage to pave the way for a better Canada and a better Alberta. That means you're not going to make everyone happy," said Southern in an interview with CBC News.

She specifically pointed to the delays in Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion as an example where the prime minister needs to take action. 

Last month, Kinder Morgan put the future of the controversial, $7.8-billion expansion in doubt by setting a May 31 deadline for a decision on whether to continue the project or drop it. 

"The ability to get to tidewater, be competitive and sell products and services in other markets — is critical," said Southern. 
ATCO's CEO lashed out at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, blaming federal policies for scaring away investors. 1:14

Trudeau visits Calgary

Speaking Tuesday to reporters in Calgary, Trudeau also said that finding new markets for Canadian is vital.

"Getting our resources to new markets safely and sustainably is therefore an imperative, not just for Albertans, but for the Canadian economy," the prime minister said.

Trudeau maintained that the project is the national interest, but did not offer any insights into discussions between the federal government and the company about its future.

He said the federal government is looking at legislative, legal and "a range of financial conversations."

With Kinder Morgan Canada's annual general meeting being held Wednesday in Calgary, Trudeau was asked whether he would be meeting with the company's top executives, Steve Kean or Ian Anderson.

"I am very confident that all of our officials and our finance ministers and the folks involved in direct discussions with Kinder Morgan are extremely engaged with all necessary parties," he said.


Trudeau was in Calgary to confirm $1.5-billion in federal funding for a new light rail transit in the city. Following the public announcement, he faced chants of "build that pipe" from a group of pro-pipe supporters.

Trudeau said there is  probably no "magic phrase" he could say that would satisfy "critics and skeptics."

But he reiterated his position the expansion would be built. He said despite all of the "boosterism" of the previous government, the Conservatives failed to deliver "a single kilometre of new pipeline to market."

"We continue to work very hard every day, visibly, but also behind the scenes, to ensure that it's going to get built," Trudeau said. "And I'm very, very confident this pipeline will get built."

Oilpatch hopeful of new pipeline

Though much of the oilpatch has been frustrated with the Trans Mountain saga, there are industry leaders who believe the line will be built despite opposition from the government of British Columbia.

Alex Pourbaix, CEO of Cenovus Energy, said at the company's annual meeting recently that the general public's growing interest in the project gives him reason to be hopeful.

"In the past, when we had these pipeline issues, my experience was that the great balance of Canadians just yawned and ignored the issue," Pourbaix said.  
'I don't deny it's a challenging situation, but I do see, ultimately, a positive outcome," Cenovus president and CEO Alex Pourbaix said following his company's annual meeting in late April. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"This is the first time in my experience that when I open up a paper and I see this pipeline issue and the impact on Alberta and the Canadian economy, I think for the first time we're getting a lot of support from Canadians."

He believes the project has the backing of the Trudeau government as well.

"The support that we've received from the federal government, that support would not have been evident a few years ago," he said. "I don't deny it's a challenging situation, but I do see ultimately, a positive outcome."

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