'What's the hold-up?' Alberta senators want to know when help for the energy industry is coming

Two senators from Alberta say they aren't satisfied with answers they've received from the federal government to questions about when help for the energy industry could be on the way.

Finance minister has said help was on the way but recently said any aid would be 'sector agnostic'

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said help is on the way for the oil and gas sector, but senators from Alberta are hoping for a firmer timeline. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Two senators from Alberta say they aren't satisfied with answers they've received from the federal government to questions about when help for the energy industry could be on the way.

Sen. Doug Black told CBC News he's asked Finance Minister Bill Morneau twice in recent weeks for a timeline on when a promised support package will be on the way.

"I was told on both occasions 'it's complicated' — I get it's complicated — 'we're working on it and we hope to have something announced soon,'" Black said.

"[Morneau] went one step further yesterday which is to say we're hoping to find some kind of programs that are agnostic to the industry. By that I presume he meant that there could be one-size-fits-all. Well, there isn't one-size-fits-all for industries in this country. … I am concerned."

Canada's energy sector has been hit by an unprecedented drop in demand due to the global coronavirus pandemic and falling prices linked to an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. On Sunday, OPEC+ announced a global pact to cut production by possibly as many as 20 million barrels per day but markets barely moved in response to the news on Monday.

3 weeks ago, help was promised within hours or days

On March 25, Morneau had said help for the sector would be coming soon.

"I'm not talking about weeks. I'm talking about hours, potentially days, that we can ensure that there's credit facilities for especially the small- and medium-size firms in that sector," he said, nearly three weeks ago.

"This has been a month now and the industry demands liquidity. So what's the hold-up?" Black said.

Sen. Paula Simons said she was taken aback by Morneau's "sector agnostic" comment after specific aid was promised.

"There isn't an expectation of a straight-up bailout, that's politically unpalatable and economically not very viable … but I think people are still hoping there will be some kind of creative solution," she said on CBC's Power and Politics Monday, adding that a fix could possibly include a way to transition to more renewable sources of energy.

Simons said she was also disturbed to see attitudes on social media from people across Canada who implied Alberta should be able to take the hit to the oil and gas industry on the chin.

"Alberta's energy sector doesn't just power Alberta's economy, it drives a lot of the federal economy. … This is not just an Alberta problem, it's to an extent a Saskatchewan problem and to a huge degree a Newfoundland problem," she said. "So we need to come up with solutions that are transnational, that help all of our key sectors."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Power and Politics on Monday that while he doesn't want to be pessimistic, he expects oil prices to stay low for at least 18 months and help is necessary. 

He said the province has been proposing a partnership with Ottawa for months to put oil and gas employees to work remediating orphaned wells.

"People in the industry here are getting increasingly concerned as the clock ticks," the premier said.

With files from Lucie Edwardson, CBC's Power and Politics


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