Alberta Premier Jason Kenney assured the construction industry he will do everything in his power to bring investment to the province as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is hard to overstate the challenges we are facing, but nevertheless, I am honestly optimistic about the future,” Kenny said as he opened a virtual town hall discussion hosted by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA).
“In the early days of crisis, it felt overwhelming,” he said. “We didn’t know how deep the trough would be.”
Kenney explained Alberta has been hit with a “triple whammy” of COVID-19, five years of economic fragility and oil prices so bad that at one point they were negative.
This prompted a massive reduction in capital spending in the oil and gas industry.
The premier noted despite these challenges, he has seen oil prices rebound to a “survivable level” far quicker than anticipated. And as global demand continues to return, Kenney sees an opportunity for Canada’s oilsands to step up to meet it.
The shock that hit us was deep and probably deeper than most industries,
— Tim McMillan
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
“What we have is a much more durable industry and one that has learned to operate much more efficiently. Our producers have reduced costs by 35 per cent over past few years while also shrinking carbon intensity, so I am optimistic that when global demand recovers 12 to 18 months from now, they will have to turn to Canada.”
But to reap the benefits, said Kenney, Canada must work to provide market access with pipelines and demonstrate it is a world leader on environmental, social and governance factors (ESG) – an important factor for investment decision-makers.
Despite the opposition projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion and Keystone XL are making progress and some are passed their most perilous legal challenges said Kenney. He is confident at least one major pipeline will be completed.
In addition to a series of legislative changes to slice through red tape, Kenney said he is working to try and restore the country’s ESG reputation, which he said has been unfairly trashed by opponents.
“We are going to tell the truth about the Canadian oilsands,” said Kenney. “We have found that many international investors have been misled by a bad faith campaign by green organizations.”
The town hall then shifted to a discussion with Black Diamond Group CEO Trevor Haynes, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Tim McMillan and Surerus Pipeline president Sean Surerus.
McMillan echoed the premier’s statements and said he appreciated the optimism.
“The shock that hit us was deep and probably deeper than most industries,” said McMillan, adding that following the early days of the crisis the industry worked hard to be deemed an essential service and struggled to quickly access funds.
“It will take the federal government being clear that they support energy investment. This has been a barrier over the years to attract investment. We have had more dialogue though recently, but we must build on that. We must sharpen our pencils. Canada can’t sit by while the whole globe chases limited investment dollars.”
Haynes said that Black Diamond – a modular space and workforce accommodation solutions provider in Canada, the United States and Australia – has found the crisis to be a mixed bag with demand for modular structures in education and other areas keeping stable. But in the resource-rich West it has seen a massive exodus of capital as projects have reduced their headcount and budgets have been slashed.
“What we need is policy that will support activity,” said Haynes. “Provincial support of major pipeline projects and getting field-level jobs going will be critical. And in the long-term, we need to create an environment to attract business and capital.”
Haynes added the business community in Western Canada is entrepreneurial and only needs to be given the opportunity to rise to the challenge.
Surerus said that his company, which has been tasked with building one section of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and two sections of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, has seen the communities along these routes weather the crisis well with a similar entrepreneurial spirit. Now Surerus is working to ensure that work camps and communities coexist safely and that workers can have a comfortable time away from their homes.
“We want to keep families comfortable with having their loved ones in camp and address concerns from nearby communities, and we are working to make sure the worker experience is positive,” said Surerus.
He added in the months ahead, the advocacy of groups like the ICBA and others will be crucial.
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