Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which has trimmed its 2015 budget three times in six months, says it cannot finalize spending decisions until Alberta's left-leaning Premier clarifies her plans to implement new environmental and fiscal regulations for the energy industry.
The announcement came after Premier Rachel Notley, who leads the newly elected New Democratic Party, spoke on the phone with CNRL co-founder and chairman Murray Edwards.
In a statement Wednesday, CNRL said it is cancelling its annual day-long seminar with investors until the Alberta government provides more policy information. But the oil sands company said it will host a conference call in June detailing its strategy.
CNRL's decision to cancel its so-called investor day is the strongest public sign of discord between an energy company and Ms. Notley's majority government. While energy executives are nervous about how new policies may affect their business, CNRL's peers have tried to take a more conciliatory approach.
Canada's energy industry has long enjoyed easy access to government officials in Alberta as the Progressive Conservative Party ruled the province for 44 years. This access and ability to influence policy disappeared immediately after Albertans elected a swath of unknown NDP representatives in early May.
"Everyone has their interests, and this is a political debate as well as an economic debate," Ms. Notley said when asked about CNRL's decision to defer its investor day.
She has been vague on the timing of a royalty review, but repeatedly stressed that she will not roll out a new royalty payment structure or other policies without extensive discussions with energy leaders, including CNRL. Alberta is widely targeted for what environmental champions and pipeline opponents view as a lax approach to regulating the energy industry.
"To suggest that we never change anything ever, ever, ever going forward, I don't think is particularly responsible, given the pressures being faced by industry as a result of the worldwide conversations around climate change," she told reporters in Calgary during a break of her first cabinet meeting. "As a government, we have an obligation to the people of this province to periodically test to make sure we're doing the best that we can for them in terms of our royalty regime."
Ms. Notley also campaigned on a promise to increase corporate taxes by 2 per cent.
The Premier said she has spoken "at length" with Mr. Edwards on the phone, but has not met him in person. Mr. Edwards is a powerful figure in both business and politics. He did not return messages seeking comment.
In announcing the cancellation of its investor day, CNRL said that "due to the current uncertainty surrounding the government of Alberta's review of royalty, taxation, environmental and greenhouse gas policies, detailed future capital allocation plans for each of the company's assets cannot be finalized at this time."
CNRL's 2015 budget has never been, or broadcast to be, a final document. The company boasts about its ability to adjust quickly to changing market conditions and has cut its 2015 budget to $5.74-billion, down 33 per cent from its original estimate of $8.6-billion. It also expects to recoup a significant chunk of its tax bill this year.
Other companies have taken a more measured tone.
Doug Suttles, Encana Corp.'s chief executive officer, said Ms. Notley called him shortly after she was elected and his firm offered help. The executive, speaking at Encana's annual meeting two weeks ago, said it is important to recognize that the U.S. no longer needs as much energy from Canada because of the explosion in oil and gas shale production south of the border. As a result, he said, Alberta must remain competitive, and as American demand dwindles, Canada must open new markets by building pipelines.
"I think these things are understood, and we need to give the new government a chance to first get formed and then hopefully engage with them so that at least if they do make changes, they understand the implication of those changes," Mr. Suttles said.
CNRL expects to recover between $240-million and $290-million from international and petroleum revenue tax in 2015, according to guidance it released May 7. The firm calculates it will pay between $25-million and $31-million thanks to the Saskatchewan resource surcharge and capital taxes; and between $275-million and $375-million in income taxes in North America. CNRL says its effective income tax rate on adjusted earnings will clock in between 25 and 27 per cent.