Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. has its task force in place to help the oil industry. PCs wonder what's taking so long

Three weeks after the federal government wrote a $320-million cheque, the provincial government has updated its plans on how to spend it.

Federal funding earmarked for helping workers, reducing carbon emissions

The Terra Nova floating production, storage and offloading vessel is just one offshore oil facility in the province with its fate in limbo. (Suncor Energy)

Three weeks after the federal government wrote a $320-million cheque to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to aid workers in the struggling oil and gas industry, the provincial government is setting out the task force to figure out how to spend it.

On Thursday, the province released the names of the 21 volunteers on the task force: a mix of academics, oil industry experts and executives, and union and worker representatives.

The force now has 30- and 90-day deadlines to figure out how to best spend those millions of dollars, with the province emphasizing there is an emphasis on speed.

"Right now we need immediate actions. Basically, we're talking about survival here," said Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons.

The chairs of the task force were announced on Sept. 25, when federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan announcing the $320 million in federal help that industry groups, unions and workers had lobbied for. The groups had called for federal help for an industry battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and volatile swings in global demand.

"We all want answers yesterday, when it comes to this, because we've already seen the impact it's having on people," said Parsons.

The task force has several objectives which come as big asks to a complex industry. It's been told to provide recommendations to stabilize and grow the sector, create timelines for action, and collaborate with stakeholders to figure out what those actions are.

Parsons anticipates a full report back in 90 days, meaning any possible actions for the sector won't come into effect before early 2021. But he said if the team comes up with solutions earlier, the process will move quicker. 

"Ninety days in and of itself is not a long period of time, especially when you're undertaking pretty complex work," he said.

Minister Andrew Parsons says 90 days isn't a long time considering the complexity of the task force's mandate and requirements. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

More urgency: Opposition

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie was not impressed by the length of time it has taken to reach this point.

"This hardly shows a sense of urgency on the part of the Liberal government towards the people who are losing their jobs, day after day," Crosbie said, calling the government "deeply dysfunctional."

The federal cash does have strings attached to its package. The money must be used to support workers and to reduce carbon emissions.

To figure that out, the task force is split into four areas: policy and regulation, exploration and development, energy transition as well as the supply chain.

"This is a case of working with the task force, to identify, OK, what's out there that can be done to fit these parameters?" said Parsons.

Parsons was hedging his bets that an outcome would please everyone.

"I'm well aware there is no silver bullet to the problems we face which are global in nature. We have a pandemic combined with an industry in peril due to actions that are far outside our control, so I don't expect some kind of home run here," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler

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