It was a simple question: Why didn’t the Liberal government include $500 million in the budget to clean up inactive Alberta oil wells?

I tried twice to get an answer from Alberta MP and Infrastructure Minister Sohi, with no success.

The first time, when I asked the Minister at the Senate Transportation Committee, he said my question “distressed” him.

This was my question:

senator-Unger-Minister-SohiWith regard to shovel ready and shovel worthy projects, Minister, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada asked the Trudeau Liberal government for the reasonable amount, I think, of $500 million in infrastructure money to clean up inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta. There are more than 75,000 of those gas wells across the province that need to be decommissioned. This would give a much needed boost to an ailing industry and would give jobs to several hundred Albertans at a time when we need them, as you know. It’s difficult to understand why, when there is an opportunity that would yield immediate work for the economy and long term environmental benefits, your government chooses to thumb its nose at Albertans by not allocating any money in the current budget for oil and gas well clean up. Why did your government choose to take that approach to Albertans?

And this was (in part) his non-answer:

Well, Senator, with due respect, I would say our government is very responsive to the needs of Albertans… I am a little distressed that you don’t perceive it that way.

Say what? There’s no need to be distressed.  It’s a simple question: Why did your government not provide the $500 million that was asked for from many different sectors?

But, not easily dissuaded, I tried again when the Minister appeared before the Senate for Question Period:

Minister Sohi, I asked you this question at Transportation Committee last week but did not receive an answer. I’m asking it today hoping that you will answer it for all Albertans.  Prior to the budget being tabled, there was a clear request from many sources, that your government include $500 million in infrastructure money to clean up inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta.  There are more than 75,000 abandoned wells across the province that need to be decommissioned. This would give several hundred shovel-ready jobs to desperate workers and a much-needed boost to an ailing industry.  Here is an opportunity which would yield instant results for the economy and create long-term environmental benefits – but your government will not respond.

I am asking again why your government did not support this initiative, and whether you, as Minister of Infrastructure and a Member of Parliament from Edmonton, will commit today to go back to your Minister of Finance and ask him to reconsider his decision not to provide this much needed help?

And here again is his non-answer, clipped for the sake of brevity (you can hear the whole exchange here if you like):

Thank you so much, honourable senator, for your question. The particular file you’re referring to is not within my portfolio…

Wait, what?! You’re an Alberta Member of Parliament in the cabinet of a government that got elected promising to put people back to work and this is not part of your job?!

Ah, I see. Okay.  One more try.

Minister, will you commit to advocating for Albertans to the Minister of Natural Resources on this issue?

I mean, surely Minister Sohi you can at least do that, can you not?  Apparently not.

No. Our government advocates on behalf of all Canadians…  

Seriously.  That was his response. Clipped for brevity, but you can listen to the entire exchange here and see for yourself.  For some reason Minister Sohi just won’t answer the question.