There were many detailed promises contained in the federal Throne Speech, including much-needed plans for getting women back to work and to ramp up COVID-19 testing. But a glaring absence was anything that would suggest the Liberal government prioritizes an economic future for Canada’s oil-producing regions.
While inclusive for many groups, the Speech from the Throne on Wednesday left out vast swaths of Canada’s economic landscape. The address from the Governor-General Julie Payette did little to bolster the federal Liberal assertion that Alberta is “vital” to Canada’s clean energy future.
In the speech, the federal Liberals promised to legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s a step forward from what has been, until now, an aspirational climate pledge. There are Canadian oil company executives that are able to read the room, and they have made similar, albeit still vague, commitments to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
There will also be a campaign to create a million jobs to replace those lost in the pandemic shutdown. The jobs push is climate-focused, with a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products, and promised corporate tax cuts for companies that “create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology.”
The Liberals could have pledged national projects or goals to get behind, even for those who are reluctant. But in the absence of words directed at the people living and working in oil-producing regions of the country, it’s more likely some voters here will see the commitment to a carbon-neutral future as another slight – and another impediment to being competitive with the United States and other major oil producers.
It was already abundantly clear that the Liberals, with a shaky minority government, cannot pin any political hopes on the Prairies. But the speech highlighted that Canada is sometimes like a collection of separate solar systems that have little understanding of one another. Ms. Payette spoke about Canada entering the pandemic crisis “in the best fiscal position of its peers” – a description that might have applied to certain parts of Canada, but certainly not the Prairies or Newfoundland and Labrador.
In its discussion about extending the existence of the wage subsidy, the government said it will take additional steps to bridge vulnerable businesses to the other side of the pandemic by introducing further support for the hardest-hit industries, “including travel and tourism, hospitality, and cultural industries like the performing arts.”
There’s no doubt those sectors have been battered. But the list also omitted any mention of the oil and gas industry, a massive part of Canada’s export-focused economy devastated by the drop in fuel demand caused by the shutdown.
The speech’s reference to oil was that Canada cannot reach its net-zero goal without the energy know-how in provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador, and the government will “support manufacturing, natural-resource and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net-zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs." There was also a mention of support for investments in renewable energy, and next-generation clean energy.
Where the rest of the speech had more meat on the bones, this part was vague. There was no talk of the possible common points between Ottawa and Edmonton, including leveraging the massive infrastructure of Alberta’s oil and gas industry as part of a national hydrogen strategy, or carbon capture technology.
There was also no mention of items that could give a leg up to the province, unrelated to oil and gas. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has long made the argument, with agreement from the other premiers, his province should receive billions more in support through the federal fiscal stabilization program due to the precipitous drop in energy revenues in recent years.
Even with the province’s dismal financial picture, and the Premier’s domestic missteps (including his government’s war of attrition with the province’s doctors), Albertans voted for Mr. Kenney in 2019 – and could do so again in 2023. This is because he voices the frustrations of an unemployed or uncertain constituency that has little sway in national politics.
The thrust of the speech could also present an opportunity for Erin O’Toole to differentiate himself. The new Conservative leader has a lighter, more human political touch than his political ally who governs Alberta, but also says Ottawa needs to take a more practical approach to energy and the environment, and have “every cylinder” of the economy firing to climb out of the pandemic hole.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.