Canada's oil industry 'in the middle of a battle,' Brad Wall tells Calgary Petroleum Club

Canada's oil industry is under pressure from a coalition of forces looking to divest from fossil fuels, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told a Calgary business crowd Wednesday.

'The other side has the glamour of Daryl Hannah, and we've got Rex Murphy,' Saskatchewan premier says

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaks to members of the oil and gas industry at the Calgary Petroleum Club. (CBC)

Canada's oil industry faces an "existential threat" from a coalition of forces that includes Hollywood stars, proponents of the Leap Manifesto and universities, churches and public pension funds looking to divest from fossil fuels, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told a Calgary business crowd Wednesday.

"That might seem alarmist, or overly dramatic, except that it's not," Wall said in a speech at the Calgary Petroleum Club. 

The event was organized by the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, which advocates for industry-friendly government policy.

"We are in the middle of a battle and, frankly, we haven't been winning very many battles," Wall said. "When I say 'we,' I mean this sector and the resource importance of Western Canada."

Wall's comments came as thousands of members of the oil and gas industry gathered in Calgary for the Global Petroleum Show.

The Saskatchewan Party leader has been at odds in the past with Rachel Notley — Alberta's NDP premier — over energy policy.

While he didn't mention Alberta's new carbon tax by name, Wall re-iterated his opposition to any added price on greenhouse-gas emissions, saying the already beleaguered fossil-fuel industry can't afford it right now.

"Can you imagine if premiers, or a prime minister or industry groups, would have proposed a new car-manufacturing tax in 2009 when that sector was reeling?" he said.

Us-versus-them scenario

Wall characterized the political discourse over energy policy as an us-versus-them scenario, with himself and the oil and gas industry on one side, and those who pose the "existential threat" to that industry on the other.

"It's posed by some who just aren't comfortable that we have all this oil and what oil might mean," he said. "And it's also posed by some who just want to shut it down completely."

Those people include "an ever-growing matrix of activists," the Saskatchewan premier said, including advocates of the Leap Manifesto, who want to see an immediate shift away from fossil fuels in order to combat climate change.

Wall also pointed to Hollywood environmentalists, like Daryl Hannah and Neil Young, as those who pose a mortal threat to the industry.

"It also comes from the divestment movement, which we don't actually talk about very much ... where pension funds and universities and faith-based organizations are trying to direct investment away from a sector based, I think, on not entirely factual evidence," Wall said.

Facts are 'on our side'

Wall criticized supporters of domestic carbon pricing for imposing extra costs on Canadian oil and gas producers while other countries are not.

He also accused pipeline opponents of ignoring the amount of oil being shipped by rail, which he said is a more dangerous way to move potentially flammable and toxic material.

But, despite having "facts on our side," Wall said the fossil-fuel industry is losing the battle for public opinion and government policy.

"I fear we're in danger of losing more battles if we're not vigilant," he said.

"We're at a disadvantage in some ways. The other side has the glamour of Darryl Hannah, and we've got Rex Murphy."

Rex Murphy |The Leap Manifesto and the NDP

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Point of view: Rex shares his thoughts on what effect the Leap Manifesto has had on the NDP.