SAINT ANDREWS, N.B. — The sinking price of oil hasn’t deterred the Liberal government from the ever-elusive goal of figuring out how to get Canadian energy to tidewater, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said.
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Battered by the plunging price of crude, the market is now bracing for what experts predict will be a flood of Iranian oil after the United States and the European Union lifted economic sanctions against Iran.
Paired with the steady decline in the value of the Canadian dollar, the drop in commodity values has delivered a financial one-two punch to resource-rich provinces like Alberta.
“We’re looking for a sustainable way of getting our resources to tidewater. That’s been our position all along,” Carr said before a cabinet meeting Monday in the seaside tourist community of St. Andrews, N.B.
“We don’t control the price of oil. It’s an international situation. Commodity prices are at a low. It’s a reality that we’re having to deal with.”
Canadians must be able to have confidence in whatever review process is ultimately approved, said Carr, who acknowledged the effect of the commodity crisis on families, investors and businesses.
It’s one Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government intends to address in its first budget, expected in March.
“It’s important for us to continue to pay attention to the economy and we’re paying close attention, and with that we’ll be formulating our budget plans with that in mind,” Morneau said.
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The Liberals vowed during the election campaign not to run deficits of greater than $10 billion this year and next, largely on the back of billions in new infrastructure spending designed to act as economic stimulus.
Rona Ambrose, the interim Conservative leader, urged the government to come up with policies to deal with lower energy prices and their economic fallout.
“The government has been in office long enough to have a clear plan to deal with the current economic situation, but the sense of urgency from the Trudeau Liberals has been completely absent,” Ambrose said in a statement.
The government is already trying to fast-track spending on approved projects waiting in the queue for federal dollars, and has heard concerns from provinces and local governments about capacity issues that may require the federal government to pick up more of the construction tab.
Morneau said the government’s challenge now is to fund projects that are shovel-ready and meet the government’s long-term economic goals.
“If we find projects that are responsible, that can help us with long-term productivity, that are also ready now, we’d like to move forward.”
Morneau is expected to give his cabinet colleagues an update on what he’s been hearing in budget consultations, what finance officials have forecasted for 2016 and what it could all mean for the federal budget.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Sunday he was going to outline the framework for getting extra spending out the door quickly on public transit, “green” projects like water and wastewater facilities, and social infrastructure like daycares and affordable housing.
The presentations are part of a cabinet retreat in New Brunswick to help the Liberals set the overarching goals for 2016 and lay the strategy the government will use to deal with issues facing the country.
Cabinet ministers will have a full day of meetings Monday before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a handful of ministers travel overseas to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.