SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday fossil-fuel subsidies could be cut as part of his plan to find $1.5 billion in savings from corporate handouts — just a few hours after suggesting he wouldn't target them because the world and Canada need more Canadian oil and gas.
Scheer said earlier this week he intends to help pay for more than $9 billion in spending and tax cut promises by eliminating at least $1.5 billion in federal subsidies that help profitable corporations or support foreign investors rather than Canadian workers.
At a news conference Friday morning in Saint John, N.B., Scheer was asked directly whether fossil-fuel subsidies would be among them, and in response stressed the need for Canada to produce more oil and gas.
"As long as there is international demand for oil and gas, I believe that Canada should be the one supplying it," Scheer said in front of a Saint John hospital.
"The projections for consumption of oil and gas well into the future are only expected to rise and I believe it's much better for the world, much better for our environment, for Canada to be supplying that energy."
Later in the day he issued a statement saying fossil-fuel subsidies would be among the things a Conservative government would review to find the savings.
"A Conservative government will conduct a review of all business-subsidy programs and eliminate those with no benefit to Canadians — including those in the oil and gas sector," he said. "We are going to take money away from already profitable, rich or foreign companies and then put money back into Canadians' pockets."
The NDP and Green party both have pledged to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies entirely.
Previous Conservative and Liberal governments have promised to eliminate inefficient subsidies by 2025 as part of pledges through the G20 and G7 economic groups of nations, annually since 2009. The Liberals under leader Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to follow through in 2015.
But it wasn't until June 2018 that Canada made any progress on the file, signing an agreement with Argentina to review each other's energy subsidies to identify what can and should be cut. A draft consultation report suggested Canada couldn't itself identify any inefficient subsidies from Ottawa for fossil fuels.
However, advocacy group Environmental Defence said in a recent report that Canada's $3.3-billion annual federal and provincial subsidies for fossil-fuel production amount to Canadians paying oil and gas companies $19 per tonne of greenhouse-gas emissions, and undermine climate-action efforts. The federal portion of that is nearly $300 million, not including the $10 billion or more Export Development Canada lends to help Canadian companies finance oil and gas production in other countries.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development says Canada spends more per capita on fossil-fuel subsidies than any other G7 nation.
Scheer's environment plan includes a pledge to export more Canadian oil and gas, which he said are produced with stricter environmental regulations and are therefore cleaner the same fuels produced in foreign companies.
Scheer added another $1.5 billion to his campaign-promises list Friday, with a pledge to spend that over four years to help provinces buy new MRI and CT scanners to cut wait times in health care.
Scheer said a Conservative government would buy the imaging machines to replace aging ones, which he says would reduce the time Canadian wait for those tests.
Scheer cited a Conference Board of Canada report that found there are excessive wait times for those tests, costing the economy billions of dollars.
"Today, medical-imaging equipment across Canada is falling behind," he said. "We don't have enough equipment to meet the growing demand for potentially life-saving tests and the wait times for important tests and treatments are too long as a result."
He says that with Canada's aging population, the demand for diagnostic tests will only increase.
The Conservatives said the money would give provinces more spending flexibility, with the federal government footing the bill for replacing out-of-date medical imaging equipment.
Scheer also said he wrote to each premier before the election campaign to tell them a Conservative government would not cut federal transfers for health care and education, and would increase them by at least three per cent a year. Some say that's not enough to keep up with inflation and increasing demand.
Scheer is campaigning in Atlantic Canada for the first time since the election call last week, in a region where he is trying to carve back out seats for his party after a Liberal sweep in 2015. There are at least a dozen seats in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island the Conservatives are eyeing, particularly after several high-profile and long-serving Liberals opted not to run again.
New Brunswick is home to Canada's largest oil refinery, which almost exclusively processes imported oil. Scheer and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs are pushing a plan to lay an energy corridor across the country where pipelines and hydroelectricity could be built quickly, in part so New Brunswick could process Canadian oil rather than foreign products.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.