Morneau says Trans Mountain best solution for Alberta's energy sector woes
Federal finance minister was in Calgary less than a week after prime minister toured city
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a Calgary audience on Tuesday that the government is focused on building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the one thing he thinks would have the biggest impact on the beleaguered energy industry.
He was in Calgary five days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the city and nearly a week since he introduced the government's latest fiscal update.
"We will continue to listen to the business sector and focusing our attention where we can have the biggest impact," he said, adding decisions have to be made with the larger Canadian economy in mind.
That said, he called the struggles facing the Alberta energy sector a Canada-wide problem, not an Albertan one.
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Some in Alberta were critical of Morneau and his update for not including a separate line item focused on helping the energy sector.
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, for one, said the lack of a specific line item for the province's oil and gas sector showed Ottawa "is living on a different economic planet."
The update did include tax breaks that allow businesses, including those in the energy sector, to write off equipment costs.
The tax breaks
Trudeau made no new announcements related to the energy sector when he was in Calgary and neither did Morneau. But the finance minister was perhaps more direct in his pitch about the benefits of accelerating capital depreciation and writing off investments in equipment.
He called it a $14-billion decision.
"This is the sort of tough balancing decision that we think is appropriate for this stage in our economic cycle," he said.
Morneau said the breaks are designed to help companies plan for new investments that would help bolster the Canadian and Albertan economy.
Morneau repeatedly said the Canadian economy, while facing threats, is strong and that the country has one of the strongest balance sheets in the world.
The finance minister was interviewed by University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon following his speech and faced questions ranging from Trans Mountain to the government's proposed changes to industrial project reviews — Bill C-69.
The latter is a point of contention in the oilpatch, with some in the industry claiming it would be a fatal blow.
"I know there's anxiety in this room and it's been expressed to me pretty directly," he said of concerns around the bill, which is not yet law.
He said the government is working with industry and listening to their concerns and that the process for addressing those concerns is ongoing.
When it came to Trans Mountain, Morneau said he could not commit on a date when the project might be built.
"I can't give you an exact timelines because that would not be consistent with the goals that we are trying to achieve," he said.
Specifically, he said putting a deadline on the process would not be consistent with a court ruling that called for meaningful engagement on the project.
Trudeau was met by protesters when he spoke to a business crowd last week, with an estimated 2,000 people crowding onto Centre Street in Calgary's core to call for more pipelines.
And by 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the Telus Convention Centre, where Morneau spoke.
Many blame a lack of pipeline capacity for low oil prices in Alberta.
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