It’s not easy to cover a six-week campaign when you’re a monthly newspaper. So instead of getting into the daily issues of the campaign, this month Pipeline Newsasked essentially one question of most of the people we spoke to:
“What are the issues facing the oilpatch in this federal election?”
We asked that question across the spectrum, from small business owners to chamber representatives to municipal, provincial and federal elected officials. Well, we tried federal officials.
We put in requests to the campaign offices of three incumbent MPs in Saskatchewan representing the three parties currently representing Saskatchewan. We spoke or had email conversations with the campaign teams of Conservative Rosemarie Falk, Battlefords-Lloydminster, Liberal Ralph Goodale, Regina-Wascana, and NDP Sheri Benson, Saskatoon West. All were told we were asking this primary question: what are the issues facing the oilpatch in this federal election?
All were given five days to respond, and we made ourselves available evenings and weekends, with the deadline being the evening of Sunday, Sept. 22. Not one of those three candidates did so by our deadline.
Similarly, the same request was put in to provincial NDP Leader Ryan Meili’s office, with no response.
Those who did respond are in this edition, with additional stories on pipelinenews.ca that we did not have room to print.
Curiously, many of the people we spoke to, especially in Weyburn, did not specifically mention names, i.e. Trudeau, Scheer, Liberal, Conservative, or if they did, it was minimal. Instead, they referenced a change in government instead.
To that end, there was near-universal expectation, or desire, at minimum, of a change in government. And we’re not talking about the Green Party forming government, either.
One other thing came up in this election coverage that we have never seen in the numerous federal and provincial elections we have covered over the past 11.5 years. Several organizations were skittish about what they could say, both to us, and to the outside world, due to the recent changes to the Canada Elections Act. One person felt they could not live tweet an event because of the Act. Another felt their organization had to cage their remarks since they were registered as a third party under the Act. This, despite the fact their organization is at the very heart of some of the key issues in this election.
In effect, whether intentionally or not, debate has been effectively muzzled. You, the voter, are not getting the full-throated message from those, and likely many more, organizations and people because of the Elections Act. And you probably don’t even realize that.
There’s a reason there’s so much discontentment with the federal government. Yes, the oilpatch understands things are cyclical, and oil prices are down. But consider this nugget. North Dakota’s oilpatch, centred just two hours drive south of Estevan, has achieved this miracle over the same time Saskatchewan has barely kept pace.
North Dakota’s oil production dropped from 1.23 million barrels per day (bpd) in December 2014 to 942,000 in December 2016, but is now 1.44 million bpd, as of July 2019, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. You can see for yourself here https://www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas/stats/historicaloilprodstats.pdf
While they do have better geology, this was achieved with the same oil price, and the same market. The most significant difference has been federal governments on each side of the border. The dip in North Dakota production happened weeks before Donald Trump was sworn in. Since then they’ve added 498,000 barrels production in less than three years – which is a little over what Saskatchewan produces (the most recent numbers we have is 460,000 bpd). They’ve added the equivalent of our entire oilpatch in the first two years under Trump. In the meantime, industry people in Saskatchewan are telling Pipeline News, “We’re just barely trying to keep our doors open as we go through this downturn.”
What is wrong with this picture?
It’s not hard to see why pretty much everyone is calling for a change in government. That could be us. Instead of billions of dollars flowing out of Canada, into North Dakota and Texas, we could be the ones booming. We could be generating more jobs, more revenue for the economy, more taxes for health care and schools. It could be us.
But it’s not. A little over a year ago, the differential on heavy oil was costing us so much, Saskatchewan lost something to the tune of $300 million in royalties, never mind GDP. We were nearly giving our oil away. That’s $300 million that will never come back. And we continue to do this to ourselves every day.
Energy East was supposed to be in service by 2018. So was Northern Gateway. But they’re not. And Trans Mountain Expansion could still be tripped up in the courts any day.
That’s why the oilpatch is crying out for change. Can you blame them?