Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has announced a slew of new funding initiatives, including a $1.7 billion investment to clean up orphaned oil wells that could maintain 5,200 jobs in Alberta.
The announcement on Friday morning comes after the Canadian energy sector repeatedly requested specific measures from Ottawa to aid them in the face of both COVID-19 and a global slide in oil prices as Russia and Saudi Arabia engage in a price war.
Trudeau’s announcement for the energy industry is aimed at supporting the oil and gas sector while also maintaining Ottawa’s current focus on environmental goals, the prime minister said. Also announced today was a pollution reduction fund of $750 million that will go to cut emissions from places like offshore oil rigs in Labrador. That program should maintain about 10,000 jobs across Canada, Trudeau added.
"Right now, many energy firms are experiencing a cash crunch, so they don't have the funds to invest in technologies to reduce emissions or fix methane leaks," he said. "Today's announcement will allow this type of work to be done and create jobs that people need during this difficult time."
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had previously sent a letter to Ottawa requesting authorities to relax environmental restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak, but Trudeau said that will not change Ottawa’s focus on its priorities.
“Just because we are in a health crisis doesn’t mean we can ignore the environment crisis,” Trudeau said at his daily press conference Friday morning. "This is an opportunity for us to make sure that Albertans are getting to work cleaning up their province at the same time as we've gotten commitments from the government of Alberta to strength regulations so we see fewer orphaned and inactive wells in the future."
When asked about the oil and gas industry perhaps expecting more direct support (such as Ottawa subsidizing or buying shares in Canadian energy firms), Trudeau said the policies have a focus on directly helping Canadians who are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak instead of certain companies. He also noted that Ottawa is still looking at other options to support the sector in the future but did not commit to any specifics.
Also announced Friday by Trudeau is a $962 million investment in regional development agencies and the Community Futures Network that, Trudeau said, will aid small businesses’ employees in rural areas that may not have access to traditional financial institutions for previous subsidies. There was also a $330 million investment to the Futurepreneur Canada to support entrepreneurs who do not qualify for previously announced support funding.
There is also a new set of funding valued at $500 million, to be distributed through Heritage Canada, that specifically supports the arts, heritage and sports sectors.
"From the beginning, we recognized that moving quickly and broadly would leave gaps," Trudeau said. "That's why, over the past weeks, we have been announcing almost every single day new measures that tweak the proposals we've made and expand other proposals that create new initiatives that make sure we are getting help to everyone who needs them."