​​​​​​​Intergovernmental Affairs Minister hints at federal support for N.L. oil sector

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc hinted Thursday that details about federal support for Newfoundland and Labrador's troubled oil and gas sector could be weeks away.

After meeting with Liberal Premier Andrew Furey in St. John's, LeBlanc told reporters that strengthening the relationship between the two governments is a priority for him and his colleagues in Ottawa.

LeBlanc said Furey, who was sworn in as premier Wednesday, made a strong case during their meeting for federal support for the oil and gas sector and its workers. He said Ottawa would have ``very specific things to say'' for the sector in the coming weeks.

Oil and gas represents approximately 30 per cent of the province's GDP, Furey noted Thursday, but dropping oil prices and lack of demand amid the pandemic have hammered the industry.

A fiscal update last month reported a $2.1-billion deficit, attributing the losses largely to pandemic spending and a downturn in the oil and gas sector.

Industry groups have been calling for aid from the federal government for months as foreign interest in oil and gas exploration has faded and production has been suspended.

“There is a circumstance now which requires the governments to work together and ensure a long-term economic future,'' LeBlanc said. “That's certainly something we're wide open to doing with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

He said the pair also discussed issues about the fact electricity rates are expected to skyrocket due to cost overruns from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam, and about other fiscal and demographic challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador that existed before the pandemic.

LeBlanc said any financial support from Ottawa is not a “bailout.'' He said the country needs to recognize the “unique fiscal circumstance'' in the province and new provincial leadership is an opportunity to address that.

“We have a dynamic, articulate, aggressive, effective new premier in Newfoundland and Labrador,'' LeBlanc said. ``Our government is very excited about working collaboratively with him. Big, bold ideas are what should inspire the relationship between our two governments.''

He also argued that supporting oil and gas in the province does not mean Ottawa is backing away from its commitments to fight climate change.

Furey arrives in the job with strong connections in Ottawa despite never holding public office. He has done campaign work for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is the son of Senate Speaker George Furey.

Furey was elected provincial Liberal leader this month, replacing former premier Dwight Ball. He does not have a legislative seat in the House of Assembly, where the Liberals lead a minority government.

On Wednesday, Furey shuffled prominent cabinet positions, including finance, and expanded the natural resources portfolio to include the technology sector, calling it ``a new cabinet for a new time.''

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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