Canada’s battered oil industry is rooting for the opposition in next month’s election in energy heartland Alberta, investors said on Wednesday, but a brewing scandal involving the party’s leader could derail its hopes of an easy victory.
Alberta contains Canada’s vast oil sands, home to the world’s third largest crude reserves. With an economy nearly the size of Ireland, the province contributes almost 15 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product.
But billions of dollars of foreign capital have fled the sector since 2017, partly because of lack of pipeline capacity.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) came to power in a shock victory in traditionally conservative Alberta in 2015 in the midst of a global oil price collapse that slashed energy company revenues.
But critics say Notley’s government exacerbated the crisis by raising corporate taxes, launching a review of royalty rates and introducing a carbon tax at a time when firms were already struggling.
Polls indicate the NDP is headed for a drubbing in the April 16 election.
The NDP trails the United Conservative Party (UCP), led by former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 53 to 35 percent in an Ipsos/Global News poll published this week.
The energy industry would likely cheer a UCP victory as the party has promised to reverse unpopular NDP policies.
The sector accounts for 30 percent of the province’s economic activity and supports 415,000 Alberta jobs, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
“A Kenney government would be very strongly welcomed by the oil industry,” said Rafi Tahmazian, a senior portfolio manager specializing in energy investing at Canoe Financial in Calgary. “(In 2015), the sector was already on its knees because of commodity prices being low and the government entered into its role really not showing recognition of that.”
Kenney promises to cut corporate income taxes, a key CAPP recommendation, scrap the carbon tax, slash red tape, and fight for new export pipelines to bring Alberta’s landlocked crude to market.
Regulatory delays have stalled new pipeline proposals for years. Last autumn the discount on Canadian heavy crude versus U.S. barrels hit record levels as production outpaced pipeline capacity, leaving crude sitting in Alberta storage tanks.
The Alberta government responded by imposing crude production cuts to shore up prices and leased 4,400 rail cars to bring more oil to market. Some companies criticised the measures as unnecessary government intervention in a free market, but others supported them.
“Our members are on their last legs,” said John Bayko, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, who added his organization would back any party that offered a strong vision for the energy sector.
Premier Notley has become increasingly vocal in support of pipelines. Last year she fell out with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over delays to the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.
But industry participants recall her opposition to Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway project, which has since been scrapped.
Kenney casts himself as a far more forceful oil industry advocate. Appealing to some Albertans’ sense of western alienation from national politicians in Ottawa, he vows to “stand up to Justin Trudeau and those attacking Alberta.”