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Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon oil sands project.

Alberta's NDP government took heat from the oil patch for its corporate tax hike as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. blamed it for a deep quarterly loss.

Canadian Natural, among early vocal critics of the new provincial government's fiscal policies, said it took a $579-million non-cash charge in the second quarter to account for future tax liability.

The two-percentage-point increase in the corporate rate, one of Premier Rachel Notley's first moves after her government was sworn in, is aimed at helping to fill a yawning budget gap due to the collapse in oil prices and the resulting industry slowdown. The NDP have said their first budget in the fall will have a deficit of around $5-billion.

Canadian Natural, the country's largest independent oil company, said the increase in the rate to 12 per cent means it will have less money in future to reinvest into drilling and other operations, hampering future employment.

The company said it reduced its 2015 capital spending budget by $245-million, based mostly on lower industry costs. In total, its annual budget has shrunken by $3.1-billion, or 36 per cent, since late last year as conditions have worsened. Unlike many of its rivals, Canadian Natural has not laid off staff.

Canadian Natural said an Edmonton-based research firm had calculated that the tax hit – which brought the rate back to the level during the tenure of late Conservative premier Ralph Klein in the 1990s and 2000s – could mean 4,100 fewer person-years of direct and indirect jobs. It did not specify the time frame.

Steve Laut, Canadian Natural's president, said his company's relationship with the Alberta government is good, and that he believes both sides want capital invested and jobs created.

"Clearly, if the industry is not healthy enough to invest, then there will be less jobs, and obviously commodity prices have a big impact," Mr. Laut said in an interview. "But also taxes, royalties and greenhouse gas charges impact the amount of cash the industry has to reinvest."

Apart from the tax hike, Ms. Notley's government is doubling the levy on carbon emissions over two years and is close to announcing the members of a panel that will study the contentious issue of energy royalties.

Mr. Laut said he is unable to project his company's spending levels in 2016 until the government finalizes its intentions on royalties.

Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. and Imperial Oil Ltd. are among other energy companies that took multimillion-dollar second-quarter charges related to future tax liabilities.

Shares in Canadian Natural climbed more than 1 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday, despite the hefty charge. The company reported a sharp rise in natural gas production, lower operating costs and progress in the expansion of its Horizon oil sands project.

"They probably have some valid points – that if you assume a higher tax rate going forward, there's less cash flow to reinvest, but the market's kind of already discounted it," said Chris Cox, an analyst at Raymond James.

In the second quarter, it lost $405-million or 37 cents a share compared with a year-earlier profit of $1.1-billion or 97 cents. Without the charge and other one-time items, it would have earned $178-million or 16 cents a share.

Ms. Notley said on that Thursday that it should be no surprise that higher corporate taxes will bite into profits. The issue was a factor in the spring provincial election and voters determined that the corporate sector should help bolster revenues during the downturn, she said.

The fall in crude prices has put much more pressure on the industry than the higher tax burden, she said, playing down industry complaints.

"Both my Environment Minister and my Energy Minister have been having good discussions, and of course I've been reaching out to leaders within the oil and gas industry since pretty much the day after I got elected," the Premier said at a news conference in Edmonton. "For the most part I've been quite pleased with their willingness to work with us on these things."

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Canadian Natural Resources
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
Imperial Oil Ltd
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