Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
The news this week that Encana is moving its head office to the United States could not have come at a worse time for Alberta and its oil sector. The mood within the industry is already incredibly grim, five years into a downturn that has struggled to show real signs of recovery. The federal election last week has fuelled a spike in anger toward Ottawa (and even calls for independence on the fringes). The Liberal government is now struggling to figure out how to deal with a province where it was completely shut out.
And now this.
Encana says the move, which will happen next year pending approval from shareholders and regulators, is about access to investment – specifically U.S. index funds. The company, which will soon be renamed Ovintiv Inc., rejects the suggestion that the decision was related to politics, and insists there will be no job losses at the current head office or in the field.
Those assurances have not stopped politicians and others in Alberta from casting the announcement as yet another blow to the province’s oil patch, drawing a straight line to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The province’s Energy Minister, Sonya Savage, immediately blamed the move on last week’s election result. Premier Jason Kenney says it is the culmination of years of federal policies that are hostile to the oil-and-gas sector. Gwyn Morgan, who led the merger of two of Canada’s largest oil and gas firms to create Encana in 2002 and is now a conservative commentator, blamed it on the federal government.
It’s also difficult to overstate the symbolism of Encana no longer calling Canada home. The company traces its roots to the the 1880s and the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. A CPR crew drilling for water near Medicine Hat instead hit natural gas, accidentally launching Canada’s multibillion-dollar energy industry.
Carrie Tait put together a detailed timeline of that history, from CPR’s creation of the Canadian Pacific Oil and Gas Co. in the 1950s through a series of mergers and name changes that eventually became Encana.
The news has sparked a lot of debate about what it means for the industry and the fraught political realities of Western Canada. Here are some highlight’s from The Globe’s writers:
Jeffrey Jones writes that what’s happening with Encana is largely of the company’s own making, casting it as the latest in a series of moves (not all of them successful) from CEO Doug Suttles to make the company more American.
Kelly Cryderman argues that Encana’s relocation should prompt the re-elected Liberal government to step up efforts to address anxiety in Alberta: “Encana’s name is bigger than the company’s current standing. It means more to Alberta and Canada than its shrunken share price. Mr. Trudeau has to take the news seriously. And his promise to do ‘a lot of listening’ in the West must soon have some meaning.”
And Gary Mason says we should just ignore Mr. Kenney’s inflammatory claims that Mr. Trudeau is to blame, condemning those accusations as “reckless and irresponsible.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
ALBERTA TECH: Calgary has spent years attempting to foster a tech industry, hoping that video-game studios, app developers and web designers could make up some of the gap left by the oil downturn. Progress has already been slow, but people within the industry say the provincial government’s decision to cancel a number of lucrative incentives for the industry will only make matters worse.
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS: British Columbia has introduced legislation that would allow it to end daylight savings time in the province, but it says it will wait until other jurisdictions catch up before making the change.
HARPER’S ADVICE FOR TRUDEAU: Stephen Harper was the last prime minister to lead a minority Parliament, and now he’s got some advice for Justin Trudeau after the Liberals lost their majority. Mr. Harper, who appeared in Calgary at an event with former prime minister Jean Chrétien, says Mr. Trudeau should do what he did: don’t seek formal arrangements with opposition parties and focus on keeping the public’s support rather than cutting deals with other leaders.
TRUCKING: The Saskatchewan government is asking Ottawa to give prospective truckers access to the student loan system to finance a strict new training program brought in after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
PREMIERS MEETING: Canada’s premiers will meet later this year in Saskatchewan, where they’re expected to talk about contentious issues such as equalization, resource development, and an apparent increase in regional alienation.
MENG WANZHOU: Prosecutors are accusing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s legal team of dragging out court proceedings by pursuing baseless and changing defence theories. Ms. Meng was arrested at Vancouver’s airport last year and now faces extradition to the United States.
PENGROWTH: The company that once held the naming rights to Calgary’s Saddledome arena has agreed to be taken over in a deal with a small fraction of what it was once worth. Pengrowth says privately held Cona will pay 5 cents a share for the company. That puts the equity price in the deal at about $28-million, a sharp decline for a company that once enjoyed a market capitalization of $4-billion.
DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE HOTELS: The City of Vancouver is recommending that councillors approve a plan to expropriate two dilapidated hotels on the Downtown Eastside and offer the owners $1 for each for the buildings. The Balmoral and Regent hotels once housed hundreds of low-income residents, but both were ordered closed.
CANNABIS: Alberta has taken the lead in the legal cannabis market, with hundreds of stores that have expanded at a pace unmatched anywhere else in the country. Our Calgary-based cannabis reporter, Marcy Nicholson, explored what’s happening in the province and how its long experience with private liquor sales made the shift to marijuana smoother.
Roger Epp on Alberta alienation: “All of this suggests that Albertans, Westerners, indeed all Canadians will be tested severely in the months ahead, whether through the polarized politics of pipeline construction, or the shadow-boxing of an equalization referendum, or some other crisis that is still to appear on the political horizon.”
Gary Mason on John Horgan’s approach to pipelines: “There are a couple of things that struck me about my conversation with the B.C. Premier. The first is his apparent resignation that the Trans Mountain expansion will go ahead. While his government certainly poked sticks in the wheels of the project in an effort to thwart its progress, his words now suggest it’s too far along to stop.”
Adrienne Tanner on infrastructure spending: "Until it fails, infrastructure is a word that makes most people’s eyes glaze over. But having just spent a week in the San Francisco Bay area, which was crippled by power shutdowns, I was struck by the importance of investing in this unsexy area. "
Glenn McGillivray on wildfires: “But the thing about wildfires – all natural hazards really – is that one needn’t experience them firsthand in order to learn from them. So we can learn from the fires in California but be spared from experiencing their grief.”