Edmonton

Open letter to PM urges oilpatch bailout money go to unemployed workers, not energy companies

The request comes in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released Tuesday morning and signed by environmental organizations, faith and labour groups that the signatories say represent about 1.3 million people.

Money to companies 'will not help workers, only prolongs our reliance on fossil fuels'

A letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a coalition of environmental, faith and labour groups says any bailout for the oil industry needs to direct money to workers and not to companies. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Some Canadian organizations are asking the federal government to focus any bailout of the oil industry on workers and families, not corporations.

The request comes in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released Tuesday morning and signed by environmental organizations, faith and labour groups that the signatories say represent about 1.3 million people.

"Giving billions of dollars to failing oil and gas companies will not help workers and only prolongs our reliance on fossil fuels," the letter says.

It comes in response to a media report that Ottawa is developing a multibillion-dollar bailout package for an industry buffeted by record low prices for its product.

Published reports have said industry executives want a program that would purchase distressed assets, suspend federal carbon and income taxes, and provide no-interest loans and loan guarantees.

But Rev. Cheri Di Novo of Toronto's Trinity St. Paul's United Church said that's poor policy.

"If you pour money into the wealthiest people in the country and the biggest corporations, it doesn't trickle down to the workers," said Di Novo, a former Ontario New Democrat politician.

"It tends to stay at the top."

Direct money to other priorities

Any oilpatch bailout is likely to be one of the biggest federal spending programs in recent memory, said Julia Levin of Environmental Defence.

She said such spending should be aligned with other federal priorities, such as helping workers transition from the fossil fuels industry and fighting climate change.

"They can use this opportunity to actually put in place the kinds of investments that are aligned with the commitments they've made."

The letter calls for immediate income support for oil and gas workers, including increased access to unemployment insurance. It also suggests money for retraining workers for what it calls "emerging low-carbon sectors like energy efficiency, technology, health care and renewable energy."

As well, it asks for money to hire workers to clean oil and gas wells left abandoned by energy companies no longer able to pay for them.

That money, it says, "should also be tied to regulatory change in Alberta to ensure the province puts in place a polluter-pays program so the public is not left with these liabilities in the future."

'Cut out the middleman'

Robin Edger of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment rejected the argument that bailing out companies would bail out their employees.

"Why don't we just cut out the middleman? If our concern is the workers, we should just support the workers directly," Edger said.

"We have oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up. We have industries with real futures that we need workers to be trained into."

Di Novo pointed out that massive bailouts of the auto industry didn't help in the long term.

"Clearly, giving all that money to (General Motors) — and I was in government when they did it — did not save those workers' jobs," she said. "As soon as the company could make more profit by moving their operation somewhere else, they did."

In 2009, the federal government spent $13.7 billion to bail out auto manufacturers. Much of that loan was never repaid and nearly 2,700 jobs will be lost in Oshawa, Ont., alone.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now