'I hope they can hear us in Ottawa': 1,500 attend Alberta oilpatch rally

More than 600 vehicles, ranging from pickups to semis, convoyed through Grande Prairie in northwestern Alberta on Sunday as part of a rally supporting the province’s oil and gas industry.

More than 600 vehicles, from pickups to semis, convoyed in a show of industry solidarity

More than 1,500 people gathered in a park in Grande Prairie, Alta., on Sunday in a rally showing support for the oil and gas industry. (William Vavrek Photography)

A rally in a northwestern Alberta city Sunday drew more than 1,500 people — and featured a convoy of more than 600 vehicles — all sharing one goal: to tell Canadians and their political leaders that the oil and gas industry needs their support. 

"I hope they can hear us in Ottawa," said Wayne Drysdale, MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, to the crowd that gathered in Grande Prairie's ​Muskoseepi Park.

"Families in this region depend on oil and gas industries and lots of them work in it. If they don't work in it, they depend on it."

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Following the rally at the park, drivers hit the road in a convoy that RCMP said had more than 600 vehicles. With lights flashing and horns honking, the line of vehicles ranging from pickups to semis headed into downtown from the airport, slowly drove in a loop, then returned to its starting point.

RCMP said the convoy lasted about 90 minutes.

The event was organized by pro-oilsands groups Oilfield Dads and Rally4Resources, which say government regulations are suffocating the Canadian oil and gas industry.

Grande Prairie is a hub for oil production in northwestern Alberta, known as Peace Country. Like the rest of the province, it has felt the pinch as the province's oil industry struggles from a price differential that's in part due to a lack of capacity to transport its oil to markets.

'We provide opportunities'

The organizers are concerned about political activities on the federal and provincial level that could affect the industry. A key target of the protest is Bill C-69, which would overhaul the environmental assessment process for major resource projects.

The bill, which is currently making its way through the Senate, has been widely criticized with opponents saying it could slow down many important projects and drive away investment in the energy sector.

Rob Petrone, head of the Grande Prairie Oilmen's Association, said the convoy was three times the size that was expected, showing how deeply the worries are running in the rapidly growing city of more than 62,000.

Petrone said young Albertans shouldn't be faced with a future that has no jobs and high debt.

More than a dozen speakers addressed the crowd, many of whom were holding signs bearing slogans such as "Alberta is in Canada, too," "I Heart Alberta Oil & Gas," and "We need jobs."

Among the speakers was Bernard Hancock, known as Bernard the Roughneck, who describes himself as an unofficial and unpaid spokesperson for the oilpatch. He delivered a message that the rest of Canada needs to be thankful for the prosperity Alberta provides.

"We aren't just a monumental cash cow for the government. We provide opportunities for families across the country," he told the crowd.

"It puts chicken in the pot in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. It puts a roast in the oven in Miramichi, New Brunswick. It puts tortiere on the fork in Granby, Quebec. And it puts tofu on the table in Toronto and Vancouver!"

Hancock noted that the industry offers enormous opportunity as well as income to what he calls "Roughneck Nation."

In recent weeks, the Alberta government has introduced a temporary 8.7 per cent oil production cut, or decrease of 325,000 barrels a day, in the production of raw crude oil and bitumen. This measure will begin on Jan. 1, 2019.

Premier Rachel Notley has also urged the private sector to consider building refineries that would use the oil extracted in Alberta.

A convoy of more than 600 vehicles was part of a rally in Grande Prairie on Sunday to draw the attention of Canadians and political leaders to the needs of the oil and gas industry. (Supplied/Ron Potts)

Trudeau government criticized

Alberta's Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, who spoke at the event, slammed the federal government for not doing more to help.

"There is not a road, a bridge or hospital that does not owe something to the Alberta energy sector and we need the prime minister to wake up to that," he said.

Bilous also made a dig at a recent call by the council of Whistler, B.C., for the oil industry to share in covering the costs associated with climate change.

"The people of Whistler need to tell the truth: that they are using Alberta gas for their cars for their petrochemical products, and they're using our oil and it's time to smarten up," he told the rally.

Whistler's mayor, Jack Crompton, apologized in a Facebook video last week.

Alberta sells its oil at a discount due to a lack of pipeline capacity to get its oil to market, leading to a loss of $80 million a day, according to the government. The difference in the price of Western Canadian Select oil relative to the benchmark West Texas Intermediate climbed above $50 in late October

A rally in Grande Prairie on Sunday drew more than 1,500 people who want to tell Canadians and their political leaders that the oil and gas industry needs their support. (Supplied/Ron Potts)

Alberta's Opposition Leader Jason Kenney, who typically criticizes the NDP government's carbon tax during public appearances, limited his salvos mostly for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and what he called "foreign money" that opposes Canada's​ energy sector.

While Quebec Premier Francois Legault, speaking about the proposed Energy East pipeline, recently said there's no "social acceptability" for a pipeline that would carry what he called "dirty" energy through his province, Kenney blamed Quebec politicians rather than Quebecers.

"The vast majority of Quebecers are hard-working women and men who support our resource industries. They work in the forestry sector, they work in mining, they understand the people of the Peace Country," Kenney told the rally.

"But they have political leadership that is saying they will take $13 billion in equalization money, largely from your industry, largely from this province."

Grande Prairie is located about 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

With files from The Canadian Press