Trudeau shows no sense of urgency for Alberta economy during Calgary visit, says chamber CEO

The head of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce says she expected more than just the promise to listen and formulate ideas when the prime minister toured through Calgary on Thursday, speaking to a business crowd in the afternoon, amidst frustration with ongoing energy industry challenges.

Sandip Lalli interviewed the prime minister Thursday, but expected more than a promise to listen

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to a Calgary Chamber of Commerce crowd on Nov. 22. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau missed an opportunity to talk about solutions to the systemic problems plaguing Alberta's economy when he rolled through Calgary on Thursday, according to the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

"The overall sentiment was the sense of urgency was still not there," Sandip Lalli told the Calgary Eyeopener Friday.

"This is still very much about listening and you know forming plans and things like that, but really we needed clarity and concrete action as to what's going to happen."

Lalli conducted a Q and A with Trudeau Thursday at a downtown Calgary hotel, while an estimated 2,000 people protested outside. 

"You know, I guess this protest was a signal of just the frustration that has built up here in Calgary," said Lalli.

Tax changes

There was the expectation that the prime minister, visiting on the day after his government released its latest fiscal update, would bring news of a plan for Alberta's beleaguered energy industry.

Instead, Trudeau touted the announcements made a day prior by his Finance Minister Bill Morneau, which included tax write-offs for equipment and the ability for a faster write-down on assets, which will also help with tax burdens. 

"The expensing on machinery and equipment was well received across the board and that was a recommendation that came out of the Calgary Chamber and others and industry, so that was very well received," said Lalli. 

"So there is some foundation things that are definitely positive for moving the economy forward. It just seemed such a miss to not address this root systemic issue for Alberta."

Province wants oil by rail support

Alberta oil is trading at basement prices, almost $50 below benchmark crude prices, due to a combination of factors including constrained pipeline capacity. 

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the time is now for solutions to the ongoing economic pain. 

"And let me say, if Ottawa won't come to the table, then we'll get it done ourselves … and if it takes buying trains to do it, well then that's what we're going to do," she said.

She said she wanted capacity for 120,000 to 140,000 more barrels of oil moving on tracks. 

Complexity of rail shipments

Kevin Birn, Western Canadian crude oil market analyst with IHS Markit in Calgary, said that's a viable alternative to more pipelines, albeit one with its own set of complexities.

He said Notley's desired increase would require two or three dedicated trains.

"You physically have to have … the facilities that you can bring your crude oil to and then fill these cars with," he said. 

"Then you need the railroads to deliver the equipment, which is human capital, and the engines required to move this stuff to market and you need the rail cars to fill. And typically those are leased, most cars in North America at leased. And then you physically have to move it to where you're going to go and then unload it."'

He pegs the cost of a oil rail car at around $90,000 and the lease price around $1 to $1.50 per barrel — but those costs are heavily influenced by the things like the type of car, demand and availability. 

Oil by rail was an issue the prime minister did not want to discuss while in Calgary. When asked by reporters about support for oil by rail, Trudeau dodged the question. 

Finance minister coming to Calgary

Morneau will be in Calgary next week and will also address the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, but Lalli doesn't expect anything will change between now and then. 

"You know what, they actually want to hear next steps, not how we got here, and so hopefully that's what we'll get on Tuesday," she said. 


Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop:


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