Ottawa hasn’t committed to helping Alberta buy rail cars to address oil crisis: LeBlanc

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says that the federal government is willing to consider buying tanker cars to help Alberta move oil by rail but isn’t ready to commit to such a plan just yet.

Speaking to Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block, LeBlanc said the western oil crisis was top of mind when premiers met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the first ministers meeting in Montreal this past week.

Alberta has been suffering from a glut of oil that has been trapped inland, away from buyers, because there hasn’t been enough transportation capacity to get it out.

The meeting resulted in a communique in which everyone agreed with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s call for the feds to chip in and buy rail cars to help her province get its oil into the market.

LeBlanc said that Notley was among several premiers to express concern about the western oil crisis, which he dubbed “an economic concern for the whole country.”

However, he suggested that the communique wasn’t necessarily an indication that the Trudeau government was ready to go ahead with Notley’s rail car plan, as it needed to consider the expenses involved.

“Our government wants to work, obviously, with Premier Notley and the Government of Alberta to do what we can. She has made that suggestion,” LeBlanc said on The West Block.

“She described it as a medium-term solution, but I think there are short-term sort of deadlines as to when one might have to order these rail cars. I don’t think they sell them on the shelves at Costco.”

LeBlanc said that while it’s worth having a conversation about Ottawa buying rail cars to help move western oil, the federal government needed to consider the ramifications of such a move on sectors beyond oil.

“So significant actions like that, it would represent a considerable amount of money for taxpayers,” he said.

“The rail industry in Canada is an important part of the Canadian economy itself so the government obviously needs to understand what those potential actions might mean in terms of that sector of the economy, in terms of broader effects on other sectors of the economy.”

LeBlanc added that the Trudeau government agreed to “expeditiously” examine Notley’s plan with her government, but that “we weren’t in a position today to agree to that.”

The Beausejour, N.B., MP was also asked about recent polls that have suggested an increasing feeling of western alienation among Albertans.

He said talk of western alienation was “very counterproductive” to Alberta working with the federal government and other provinces.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that we would work with the Government of Alberta,” said LeBlanc.

“But in fact, to be fair, other provincial governments are also very much interested in working with Alberta and the Government of Canada on all of these opportunities, on everything we can do to assist this [oil] sector.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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