Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a rally at Calgary City Hall in support of pipeline development and the energy sector.
To state the obvious, 2018 has been a challenging year. After plumbing the depths of unsustainably low oil prices and then seeing a recovery, years of inaction in terms of pipeline approvals and development resulted in a wave of new production overwhelming the existing export capacity. As a result, differentials ballooned to unprecedented levels, cash flow and royalties plummeted, and the province entered crisis mode.
After much consternation and teeth gnashing, the Government of Alberta stepped in and implemented a production curtailment starting January 1, 2019. Though differentials have recovered somewhat, the actions still felt like a doctor handing a band-aid to someone with hemophilia, dealing with the symptoms (too much supply) versus the underlying problem (not enough takeaway capacity).
Layered on top of this is the commentary that has been coming from across the country. Out east we have the Quebec Premier, François Legault, saying last week: “there is no social acceptance for a pipeline that would pass through Quebec territory.” Mr. Legault meanwhile seems perfectly at ease to have multiple oil tankers navigating their way up and down the St. Lawrence every day. Out west, we had the Mayor of Whistler, Jack Crompton, telling Canadian Natural Resources to pay its “fair share of the costs of climate change” while at the same time not recognizing the hypocrisy associated with 3.2 million annual visitors and the clear-cut mountains upon which they play. Finally, Prime Minister Trudeau stated on the weekend “there is clarity that under the current approach, there is no support for a pipeline through Quebec.”
All that said, you can start to understand why the Journal of Clinical Psychology may well come up with a new diagnosis – Battered Energy Worker Syndrome.
The rally yesterday was a high watermark in terms of local participation, with almost 3,000 people showing up. I still dream of the day when tens of thousands show up and this registers at a national level, but for now I will take it. Cody Battershill, founder of Canada Action, was the organizer of the event and all of City Council and the Mayor were there to speak up in support. For that I say thank you.
Unfortunately, at times the event was challenged by two things. First, there were those who were intent on making their voices heard, and not in a constructive way. Whether it was through yelling out and interrupting the speakers, or booing at certain times, it wasn’t helpful and ultimately debases the event. To be clear, the number of people I would associate with this group was reasonably small and likely represented well under 5% of the crowd. The second, and in my mind more challenging issue, were the comments from some of our city leadership. Specifically, when Councilor Demong was interrupted, after recommending we support the Quebec dairy industry and buy more cheese, rather than trying to deescalate the situation he called out: “Wow. Really? And you guys call yourselves Canadians? Wow.” From there Councilor Demong did a mic drop and walked away. Frankly, this comment hearkened back to the line “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or “let them eat cake” and reflected a somewhat tone-deaf approach to the situation at hand.
This morning I woke up to the headline that the federal government is announcing a $1.6 billion aid package for Alberta. It is comprised of $1 billion in funding through Export Development Canada to invest in new technologies; $500 million in commercial financing initiatives over three years from the Business Development Bank; $50 million from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program; and $100 million through Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund for diversification-related projects.
To be clear, we are not looking for another band-aid, we are looking for leadership. We are looking for governments to work together, from a municipal, provincial as well as federal basis, to find a way to get our resources to market through the development of pipelines and associated infrastructure.
Like it or not, Alberta is one of the key economic drivers of this country, whether you measure it in terms of the contribution to the nations GDP, or our overall contribution to federal taxes and the resultant impacts on equalization.
We are a proud member of confederation, but we are hurt. We are one of the global leaders in terms of environmental and regulatory oversight of the resources we develop, and the demand for these resources continues to rise. Now is not the time to hand out more band-aids. It’s time to show leadership and to build projects that are in the national interest of all Canadians.
William Lacey is the Chief Financial Officer of Steelhead Petroleum