Trudeau announces billions in aid for energy, rural business and arts sectors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced $1.7 billion to clean up orphan wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, as well as aid for rural businesses and people working in the arts and culture sectors.

The aid is expected to help maintain 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone.

“Our goal is to create immediate jobs in these provinces while helping companies avoid bankruptcy, and supporting our environmental targets,” Trudeau said.

During today’s daily briefing outside his residence at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau also announced the government will establish a $750 million emissions reduction fund, with a focus on methane, to create jobs through efforts to cut pollution. The fund includes $75 million to help the offshore industry cut emissions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Just because we’re in a health crisis doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Friday 4:05

Trudeau said the government is also working to expand credit for medium-sized energy companies so they can maintain operations and keep their employees.

He also announced $962 million for regional development agencies to help smaller employers in rural areas that do not have access to traditional financial institutions like banks and credit unions.

He also announced $270 million for a program for entrepreneurial and industrial research and another $500 million to support Canadians who work in the arts, culture and sports sectors.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was quick to praise the move, thanking the federal government for helping to fund the cleanup of orphaned and abandoned wells.

“This is critical to getting thousands of people in the energy sector back to work immediately,” he tweeted.

There are now more than 3,400 orphan wells in Alberta left behind by bankrupt companies, most of them located on the properties of rural landowners.

There are another 94,000 inactive wells in the province that may eventually become orphaned.

Speaking at his own news conference before the government’s announcement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Conservatives have long supported the idea of providing assistance to clean up orphaned oil wells, but urged the government deliver the help fast.

“I remind you that (Finance Minister) Bill Morneau said that help for the energy sector would be hours or days away, certainly not weeks. He said that over three weeks ago. People suffering from this pandemic and the other hurdles that are in place in the energy sector are suffering in real time,” he said.

“They were promised help almost a month ago. So we’ll see what happens today or in the coming days. But we’re very disappointed at the pace that this program is being rolled out.”

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said matching oil and gas aid with environmental cleanup is the right approach and a “win-win” for employment and the environment.

“It sends an important signal that the federal government doesn’t intend to back away from its climate plan, but rather is inclined to orient relief, and we hope, subsequent stimulus efforts, towards activities that are aligned with their climate commitments and will reduce pollution,” she said in a statement.

The new measures announced today are in addition to previously announced programs to support struggling businesses, including a 75 per cent wage subsidy for businesses of all sizes, charities and non-profits.

The federal government is also backing loans of up to $40,000 for businesses that have a payroll between $20,000 and $1.5 million a year. Up to $10,000 of the interest-free loan is non-repayable.

To date, 220,000 loans worth $8.8 billion have been approved.

Trudeau has warned that reopening the economy too soon could run the risk of increasing the spread of COVID-19, but some premiers have been considering ways to gradually get people back to work.

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