'Heightened sense of concern': Morneau discusses economy, oilpatch troubles in Calgary
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Friday, January 15, 2016 7:18AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 15, 2016 11:04PM EST
As a topsy-turvy week for the Toronto stock market came to a dismal close, Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he got a clearer picture of the troubles facing Canada’s hard-hit petroleum industry during a visit to Calgary.
Morneau, who has been travelling across the country as part of his pre-budget consultations, met with oil and gas industry executives, as well as the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, on Friday.
"They heightened my sense of concern, which was already pretty high, about making sure that we deal with (the) challenging economic situation in Alberta," he told reporters after the meetings.
The province has been shedding jobs and experiencing huge spikes in unemployment since oil prices dropped.
Moreneau’s discussions in Calgary included employment insurance, which he called “an important buffer” for Albertans struggling with the sparse job market.
When asked about Calgary’s housing market, which has also suffered from the oil aftershock, Morneau said his consultations did not address the subject.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also spoke with Morneau and urged him to push forward with the Liberal government’s promised infrastructure investment plan.
“I impressed upon him (that) the election promise to spend money on infrastructure is even more important now than it was during election and more important now in Alberta,” Nenshi said.
Morneau told reporters that the government is listening to stakeholders’ and Canadians’ concerns, but “won’t rush” its work on the upcoming budget and infrastructure investments.
Morneau didn’t offer any specific plans for national infrastructure investments Friday, but insisted that the government will continue carrying out “a very serious set” of pre-budget consultations across Canada before making decisions “in a responsible way.”
The Liberals touted a $60-billion infrastructure plan during their election campaign, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently called such investments “the key” to curbing Canada’s ongoing financial woes.
“We intend on introducing a significant infrastructure plan in our budget,” Morneau said Friday afternoon. “We’ll have more details when we get a little further along in our process.”
The budget is expected sometime in mid- to late-March.
But Morneau also suggested that certain projects are shovel-ready and said the government hopes to get working sooner rather than later.
“We recognize that there are projects that are available for us to embark on in the near term, projects that can not only improve the economy over the long run but that can stimulate the economy in the shorter run. So our aspiration is to get going on some projects as rapidly as possible,” he said.
The finance minister’s comments came shortly after the Toronto stock market closed at its lowest point since June 2013, with the loonie and the price of oil continuing their downward spiral. The Canadian dollar ended the week at 68.82 cents U.S. – a low not seen since 2003 – while the February contract for benchmark crude oil fell $1.78 to US$29.42, a major drop that hasn’t been seen in over 10 years.
Morneau’s Alberta consultations come two days after Prime Minster Justin Trudeau visited Toronto city hall to discuss transit, housing and infrastructure plans with Mayor John Tory.
And while the prime minister did not provide specifics on the government’s plan, Tory told CTV’s Power Play that Trudeau reasserted numbers used in his election campaign -- $60 billion for infrastructure, with $5 billion spent in the first two years and $3.45 billion over the following two years.
With a report from CTV’s Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks and files from the Canadian Press