CALGARY — Export Development Canada is setting aside $750 million to help ailing oil and gas firms make it through the industry's worst downturn in decades.
The assistance could take the form of commercial loans or guarantees, said Mark Senn, the Crown corporation's vice-president for Western Canada.
The focus will be on small an medium-sized companies, many of which provide drilling and other services to oil and gas producers. EDC said that's where the funding can have the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to jobs and the economy.
"They are probably the ones with fewest alternatives at the moment and possibly the most disadvantaged by the downturn in the price of oil,'' said Senn.
But the idea isn't to be the "lender of last resort'' for companies that have exhausted all of their financing options, he added.
"We see the energy sector as a really, really key and important economic contributor to the entire Canadian landscape."
The agency will be choosing to support firms that have a solid survival plan for the next two years.
As well, recipients would need to have an "export angle'' — whether they're active internationally or are interested in expanding beyond Canada.
EDC will be focusing on investments aimed at boosting productivity, opening up new markets for resources, advancing technology that can help firms diversify into different industries and improving environmental sustainability.
Senn said he expects the bulk of the recipients will be in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but there are many firms elsewhere in the country that have suffered because of the crude price collapse.
"We've been in this trough for quite a while now and so we recognize the need to be very expeditious in dealing with customer asks or customer requirements,'' he said.
"We see the energy sector as a really, really key and important economic contributor to the entire Canadian landscape and I just wouldn't want us to end up standing on the sidelines during this time.''