Conservatives slam government over Buffett exit from LNG project, but Liberals say sector still strong

Conservatives slam government over Buffett exit from LNG project, but Liberals say sector still strong
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OTTAWA — Conservative MPs slammed the Liberal government on Monday over the revelation Warren Buffett’s company has pulled out of a $9-billion Quebec liquid natural gas project, with the company building the project saying political instability is to blame.

The Conservatives said the government allowed the rail blockades to linger long enough to scare off future investors, but the Liberals insisted the natural gas sector is still strong and the project isn’t dead, as an environmental review will go forward while the company, GNL Quebec, searches for new investors.

“We are very aware of the GNL Quebec project, and let me say very clearly our government believes in the natural resources sector and we are working hard to support workers in this sector and investment,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in the House of Commons on Monday.

Last week, Quebec newspaper La Presse revealed Berkshire Hathaway had bailed on a proposed $4-billion stake in the project in the Saguenay region, 230 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. The project would see a new pipeline extended across Quebec and a marine terminal built to export natural gas from Western Canada.

A GNL Quebec spokesperson told the media that the “current Canadian political context,” such as the rail blockades over a different natural gas project in British Columbia, is to blame.

The Conservatives repeatedly brought up the GNL Quebec project during Monday’s question period, alleging the Liberals have poisoned the investment climate in Canada due to inaction over the blockades and other energy policies.

“Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most influential investment firms, is abandoning an energy project in Quebec because of the political instability created by the prime minister,” said Leona Alleslev, the Conservative deputy leader. (Neither Conservative leader Andrew Scheer nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were in Parliament on Monday.)

Conservative MP Richard Martel, whose Chicoutimi—Le Fjord riding is in the Saguenay region, accused the government in French of creating “an atmosphere of unprecedented uncertainty in Canada,” and outlined the project’s economic benefits for his area, including 1,100 permanent jobs. Alberta MP Stephanie Kusie said the pulled investment shows “another major investor has had enough of the Liberals’ job-killing policies.”

Liberal MP Peter Schiefke, a Montreal MP and the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment and climate change, responded that a review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency “will move forward while GNL Quebec looks for other investors.” Quebec’s provincial agency will also be evaluating the project.

“We know that investors all around the world are looking for projects that find that balance between economic growth and giving them return on their investment, while also putting in place sustainable methods by which to do that,” Schiefke said. He added in French that he’s convinced the “rigorous process” of the environmental reviews will be what determines whether the project is built.

Speaking to reporters, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau declined to comment on whether the rail blockades may have contributed to the decision by Buffett’s company to bail out of the project in his home province. “I haven’t spoken to him, so I don’t know,” he said.

The Bloc Québécois, who hold many of the ridings in the region, did not raise the subject during Monday’s question period. Party leader Yves-François Blanchet — a former provincial environment minister — has walked a careful line on the GNL Quebec project, saying in last year’s federal election campaign that he would wait until he sees what Quebec’s environmental review agency has to say before taking a firm position.

Over the last month, a clear signal has been sent to businesses across Canada that the rule of law will not be upheld

Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, who represents the Lac-Saint-Jean riding, told Quebec media last week that he was not surprised to see investors pull out of a fossil fuel project and said he believes the region can find a more environmentally-friendly project to support.

In defending the government’s support for the natural gas sector, Freeland pointed to the $40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, B.C. Last year the federal government announced $275 million in support for that project, which includes a liquefaction facility, a 670-kilometre pipeline from Dawson Creek and a marine terminal.

Freeland described it as “the largest private sector investment in Canadian history, LNG Canada, which is strongly supported by this government.”

However, the pipeline involved with it is the Coastal GasLink project that has caused the wave of protests and rail blockades over the past month — the very issue the Conservatives argue the government has bungled.

“Over the last month, a clear signal has been sent to businesses across Canada that the rule of law will not be upheld and that major projects cannot get built,” said Martel, the Chicoutimi—Le Fjord MP, in a statement to reporters.

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