Protesting trucker blames the Canadian government for oil industry nose-dive

Ken Husband, 56, drives a tanker truck based in his hometown of Strathmore, Alberta, to pump jacks in a 100-mile-radius to collect oil. But he took two weeks off without pay to make the 2,000-mile trek to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, to protest the federal government’s energy policies – among a long list of complaints.

“The oil industry has gone from a loss of altitude to a nose-dive,” Husband said from the cab of a white Peterbilt truck hitched to a tanker as it idled in front of Parliament. “What’s this country going to live on, apples and maple syrup?”

The mustachioed trucker was among 200 protesters who made the final leg of the cross-country convoy dubbed United We Roll. They blasted their horns and blocked traffic with a collection of semi-trucks, pickups and other vehicles and rallied on Tuesday and Wednesday (February 19-20) in below-freezing conditions. Their grievances against the government of Justin Trudeau include energy regulation, lack of pipelines, carbon taxes, immigration and foreign aid.

 Slogans adorn the cab of husband’s truck during a protest outside parliament in Ottawa, Canada.
Slogans adorn the cab of husband’s truck during a protest outside parliament in Ottawa, Canada.

Alberta’s oil industry has plummeted in recent years, crippled by a combination of plunging prices and insufficient pipeline capacity. The provincial government recently announced that it was investing C$3.7 billion to increase oil shipments by rail, which follows the production cuts it ordered in December to shore up prices.

Husband has seen ups and downs in his 40 years working in the sector – and when the oil patch is booming, he typically does construction work in the petroleum industry. He can make C$100,000-C$150,000 in construction versus C$40,000 as a tanker driver.

“I’m fortunate to stay working. I don’t have a lot of sad stories, but I know a lot of people who do.

I’ve witnessed it, people losing everything,” Husband said, as he smoked a cigarette. “When you go to Alberta, there’s a huge lineup of equipment. These big, huge oil patch shops, they’re closed.”

 The view from husband’s truck as the protesting convoy assembled outside parliament in Ottawa.
The view from husband’s truck as the protesting convoy assembled outside parliament in Ottawa.

While Husband and other protesters blame the Trudeau government for the lack of pipeline capacity, the reality is more complicated. For instance, the government’s plan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline System is stalled because of a federal court ruling.

But to Husband, an existing carbon tax and two bills that would add regulations to the energy sector speak to the government’s neglect of the energy sector. The tax especially bothers him because according to Husband, “Carbon is not the problem.”

The protest also included a strong contingent from the Yellow Vest movement, some of whom sported “Make Canada Great Again” hats. It also drew counter-protesters, who accused the United We Roll group of fomenting racism.

Husband said the Yellow Vest members didn’t reflect his own views, and noted “Canada is already great.”

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Nate Tabak, Canada Correspondent

Nate Tabak is a journalist, editor and producer in Toronto. He covers Canada for FreightWaves, with a keen interest on the cross-border economic relationship with the United States. Nate spent seven years working as an investigative editor and reporter based in Kosovo. He covered everything from corruption to the country’s emerging wine industry. He also reported across the Balkans and investigated Albania’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Nate grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He enjoys exploring Toronto with his wife and is always looking forward to his next meal.

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