Virtual Q&A with the Hon. Seamus O’Regan – June 2020

July 28, 2020

On June 18th and 22nd, 2020, the Hon. Seamus O’Regan participated in two virtual events with Liberals in Alberta and Saskatchewan – the following is a transcript of his responses to some of the most pertinent questions discussed!

In April of this year, the federal government announced that it would provide significant funding to clean up Canada’s abandoned and orphan wells. What will this investment mean for Albertans?

As you know, Canada’s oil industry was hit with multiple crises at the same time – a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and then Covid, which caused a massive reduction in demand. No-one was flying; no-one was driving.

We had been working on the abandoned and orphan well issue already and once we saw how hard the oil and gas industry was going to be hit, we made this a top priority. We wanted to focus on workers and their families, while doing the right thing for the environment as well. Cleaning up orphaned and inactive wells requires people with skill and experience, and we have them in abundance in Alberta. This program provides a way of retaining the talents and abilities of oilfield workers while providing them with meaningful work. At the same time, we help the economy recover and we protect the environment too. Our program was very well-received by Premier Kenney, Premier Moe and Elizabeth May – that doesn’t happen every day!

What steps has the government taken to balance creating economic opportunities for Albertans with protecting our environment?

When you look at what has happened over the years, it’s clear that the prairie provinces have experienced a worsening of extreme weather events, costly storms and floods, droughts and wildfires. We need to take strong action to address climate change – and in doing so we can reduce risks and create new economic opportunities and good jobs. Our comprehensive Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change recognizes the diversity of provincial economies, like Alberta’s, and we know that we need to help create a business environment that lets companies capitalize on opportunities and create jobs.

We need to adapt and prepare for climate risk too – we have put a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Program in place and it will provide $8.7 million for flood-mapping for Drumheller, Medicine Hat, Siksika Nation, Red Deer and Edmonton. This program will help communities better prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

From an overall perspective, though, I believe we are really looking at developing a more equitable form of prosperity. We want economic development to continue, but how we balance that with the climate crisis is our mission right now. As part of my work, I speak to leaders from around the world (right now, from my den on my laptop!) about how we are going to meet this global challenge. And I can tell you that people from other countries look to Canada for inspiration, because they know that we are focussed on dealing with the climate crisis and they know that we are going to try to get it right.

The past weeks have seen a groundswell of protests and discussions around the world. Can you comment on systemic racism and the stigmatisation of marginalized groups in Canada?

Growing up in Labrador, I saw the discrimination and poverty that existed for the Inuit people and when I reflect on it now, I wish I had been able to do more. I am committed to doing my part to help overcome the significant injustices that people in marginalized communities face. And I believe more and more Canadians are as well.

As a government, we have taken some very concrete steps. Splitting the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in half, so that one deals with services and the other with nation-to-nation relationships, has put us on a better path.

And the mandate letters of each and every single Cabinet minister in this government – whether you’re in the Department of Finance or Health or National Defence – contains a commitment to further reconciliation. That’s the first time that has ever happened.

More broadly, we are committed to merit-based, open appointments and we have doubled the number of federal appointments of visible minorities and Indigenous peoples. And in November of 2019, the Prime Minister appointed the first Minister of Diversity and Inclusion, Bardish Chagger; her mandate incudes the development of policies that tackle systemic discrimination.

We still have a long, long way to go. But people have opened their eyes in a major way and we are seeing a younger generation take us all to task. I am so moved by the passion and thoughtfulness of the young people who participated in rallies across Canada – and I believe that they are going to help make us an even more inclusive country.