CALGARY - Western alienation bubbled up Tuesday as thousands of oil and gas industry supporters gathered on the Calgary Stampede grounds to hear speakers take turns blasting the federal Liberal government and its energy policies.
Organizers estimate 4,000 people, many wearing black T-shirts reading "The world needs more Canadian energy," came for the rally which featured a bluegrass band, free hot dogs and admission to the annual Global Petroleum Show trade show.
The crowd cheered and chanted "Build that pipe" as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called for a national conversation around federal bills C-69 and C-48, reviled by those in the energy industry, because they affect the entire economy of Canada.
He also condemned the federal carbon tax, noting that Alberta will soon likely be subject to it — as is Saskatchewan — because the new United Conservative government eliminated the provincial carbon tax soon after being elected.
"What you're seeing today is the coming together of people from across the nation in their belief of our nation," Moe told reporters as the rally ended.
"What we're seeing federally is a very divisive federal government that is putting forward policies that are dividing our nation, putting forward policies that are picking winners by the industry they operate in."
The crowd booed on cue when newly appointed Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage listed energy sector grievances from the stage — including the failures of the proposed Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, delays to the Keystone XL and Trans Mountain pipelines, and federal bills C-69 to revamp the way big energy projects are approved and C-48 to declare an oil tanker ban on the north coast of B.C.
They cheered when B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross declared that he supports Kenney's establishment of a $30-million "war room" to fight back against opponents who unfairly or inaccurately disparage the energy industry.
Earlier in the morning, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered a similar speech in a conference room at the opening of the annual trade show before leaving for a trip through Quebec and Atlantic Canada to sell Alberta's virtues to investors and other premiers.
Kenney's speech was briefly postponed when a man rushed the stage and grabbed the podium — saying the premier doesn't represent him — before the microphones were muted and he was subdued by police and security officials and dragged away.
"Well folks, there are very few energy producers around the world where you'd see something like that happen," Kenney said after order was restored.
"This is a free, liberal democracy with freedom of speech and we embrace that."
Also speaking in support of the oil and gas sector at the rally were Fort St. John, B.C., Mayor Lori Ackerman, Quebec City Conservative MP Gerard Deltell and Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford, a former federal Natural Resources minister under Stephen Harper.
Dmg Events, which mounts the annual petroleum show, says it expects to see about 50,000 attendees this week, down from nearly 75,000 at the event's peak in the spring of 2014 just before world oil prices crashed.
A lack of pipeline capacity was blamed last year for steeper-than-usual discounts for western Canadian oil, prompting the then-NDP Alberta government to impose production limits designed to draw down storage and free up pipeline space.
Kenney has indicated those quotas, which were to be lifted by year-end, may be extended into 2020 because of a recent court ruling in Minnesota that could further delay Enbridge Inc.'s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.
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