Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate it.
Minister, thank you very much for taking the time to be here.
I'm going to go off softwood lumber to a different issue. I want to talk about some of the things you had in your presentation.
You talked about more money to help Canada's natural resource sector become globally competitive. You talked about the uncertainty in the industry. You talked about creating good jobs for the middle class. I would argue that everything you are doing, and especially everything in this budget, is accomplishing exactly the opposite.
It's very timely that you're here today, as yesterday ConocoPhillips announced another 300 people being laid off, the majority of those in Calgary. ConocoPhillips joins Royal Dutch Shell, Marathon Oil, Total, and Statoil, which have all left Alberta. They have all left Canada. That's $80 billion in capital that has already left my home province. The vacancy rate in downtown Calgary is well over 30%, and if you go into the downtown and take a look, it probably is higher than that. More than 125,000 Albertans are out of work in the energy sector.
During the constituency break, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of unemployed engineers, geologists, and geophysicists. They have started a group called the Calgary and Region Unemployed Energy Professionals Association. There are more than 100 members. These are people who have been unemployed not just for months but, for some of them, for close to two years. Two years—and they have no idea where to go.
You talked about the uncertainty in the industry that is causing a lot of these issues. Well, Mr. Minister, a lot of the uncertainty in the industry has been caused by you in making political decisions when it comes to projects such as the northern gateway pipeline and by adding uncertainty to the regulatory process and the approval process. These companies' international investment doesn't leave if there is a good environment for them to be successful. When they don't see a clear pathway to approval or success, they will go where they're will get a return on their investment, where they are welcome, and where business is going to be.
I'm going to finish with a pretty easy question for you. For us in Alberta, what we want to see is whether the federal government wants an energy industry. Do you want an oil and gas industry or not? It's time to let us know. Is this something that you do support or that you don't support? We are getting very mixed messages.
You've put in a carbon tax. It was supposed to give us this elusive social licence so that we would be able to have projects such as the Trans Mountain one and the Line 3 reversal, but you're very possibly going to have an NDP provincial government winning an election in B.C., and they have been quite open about the fact they will block the Trans Mountain pipeline from being built, so I don't see the social licence. It just doesn't exist. This hasn't purchased us any leeway or support from a potential new provincial government in B.C.
What really concerned me in this budget was the elimination of the Canadian exploration expense. When Alberta and our oil and gas sector are hurting, rather than finding a policy that would give that sector some assistance or at least leave it alone, in my opinion—and certainly in the opinion of my constituents in Alberta—you took another opportunity to kick us while we're down. That may seem harsh, Mr. Minister, but that is a fact. That is how people in Alberta feel, especially those in the energy sector.
I took a look at Finance Canada's data this week just to see what the impact of eliminating that exploration expense would be. According to Finance Canada, “from 2007 to 2012, approximately $1.4 billion per year in public equity for the oil and gas, mining and clean energy sectors was raised” through the flow-through share program, including programs such as the Canadian exploration expense, which is available to all companies eligible for expenses. They say that “flow-through shares assist primarily junior exploration companies whose access to other sources of financing may be limited”. This has a huge impact in Alberta.
Tim McMillan, the president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said, “I am disappointed and I think it sends a bad signal and further puts us at a disadvantage in terms of the capital we are trying to attract from global markets, compared to the [United States]...”. You talked about making us globally competitive. This makes us globally uncompetitive. The United States is our biggest competitor for capital.
This government is very concerned about the middle class. Well, our industry hires the middle class.
Mr. Minister, did you do any consultation with industry before you made this decision to remove the Canadian exploration expense from the budget?