After weeks of warring words about the economic influence of Western Canadian oilsands development on the crumbling Central Canadian manufacturing sector, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair will visit Alberta on May 31 to meet with business and political leaders. This will be Mr. Mulcair’s first visit to Alberta since being selected as his party’s leader in March (he visited Alberta at least once during the NDP leadership contest).
In a media release distributed this morning, provincial NDP leader Brian Mason was quoted as saying “Tom and I had a conversation over the phone a couple of days ago, and I invited him to come to Alberta. I’m pleased that he agreed to come.”
Mr. Mulcair’s comments that “Dutch Disease,” caused by Western natural resource development, is to blame for Central Canadian economic woes drew harsh criticism from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Premier Redford accused the Official Opposition leader of being “wrong and misinformed” on the issue. Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Diana McQueen accused Mr. Mulcair of “old-style politics — trying to pit one part of the country against another.” (on another note, Minister McQueen admitted today that Alberta has likely missed its greenhouse gas reduction targets).
The federal NDP currently have only one Member of Parliament from Alberta and it is likely that Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan will play a prominent role in Mr. Mulcair’s day-trip to Alberta. During the recent provincial election, a number of NDP MP’s, including Olivia Chow, Jack Harris, Niki Ashton, and Peter Julian, visited the province to campaign alongside their provincial colleagues.
While the provincial NDP recently made electoral gains in Edmonton, doubling their caucus from 2 to 4 MLA’s, the party still faces tough criticism for perceived anti-oilsands positions. During the campaign, Mr. Mason argued that Alberta’s economy would benefit from building bitumen refineries in-province rather than shipping unrefined product internationally through pipelines and ocean tankers.
Mr. Mulcair’s visit will take place only days after the Premiers of Canada’s western provinces and territories meet in Edmonton for the Western Premiers’ Conference. The annual meeting is being held on May 29 at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald in Edmonton.
While Mr. Mulcair’s comments will be a topic of small chat amongst the Premier’s and their staff, the topic of pipelines and international markets will likely be a hot topic on the agenda. As the only current NDP leader in government in western Canada, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger might be the closest person Mr. Mulcair has as an ally at this meeting.
Faced with plummeting poll numbers, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has expressed concern about the shipment of oilsands bitumen using the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern BC. Riding high at 50% in the polls, BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix is opposed to the proposed Enbridge pipeline and is assembling a legal team to halt its construction.