J’accuse! Thomas Mulcair’s treason and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

"Treason" was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

“Treason” was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

The rhetoric is running high this week with President Barack Obama expected to soon decide the fate of the controversial TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.

In Washington D.C. last week, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair criticized the pipeline that would ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Texas. Mr. Mulcair also took the opportunity to criticize the deconstruction of Canada’s environmental regulations by Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government and told the media that the pipeline would export jobs from Cnaada and would pose a threat to our country’s energy security. Mr. Muclair’s treasonous words were printed in the National Post:

“According to object studies, Keystone represents the export of 40,000 jobs and we think that is a bad thing for Canada,” Mulcair said in an interview. “We have never taken care of our energy security. We tend to forget that a 10-year supply to the U.S. is a 100-year supply to Canada. We are still going to need the energy supply to heat our homes and run our factories, whether it comes from the oilsands or it comes in the from natural gas. Fossil fuels are always going to be part of the mix.”

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

If you do not find these words abhorrent and treasonous, you may be surprised by the whiplash reaction from Mr. Mulcair’s political opponents.

In Alberta, where a political consensus is tilting towards approval of the pipeline, Premier Alison Redford took to the floor of the Legislative Assembly to attack Mr. Mulcair and NDP leader Brian Mason for their opposition to the pipeline.

Treason” was the word Mark Cooper, the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister’s Press Secretary, used on twitter this week to describe the NDP position on the pipeline. While his tweet should be taken somewhat in jest, that word set the tone for the pipeline debate this week.

On the floor of the Assembly, Energy Minister Ken Hughes criticized the NDP by boasting about having created a  “coalition of the willing” in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Minister Hughes’ comment was an unfortunate reference to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which marked its ten year anniversary this week.

Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes

Mr. Mason was more than happy to pull quotes from recently deceased former Premier Peter Lougheed, who voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in favour of refining bitumen in Alberta. This happens to be close to the NDP position.

This is not a clear left/right issue. Prominent labour unions, including the AFL-CIO in the United States, have voiced their support for the pipeline for the jobs it would create in the bitumen refineries in Texas. Pipeline critics, like Alberta Federation of Labour‘s Gil McGowan, argue that refining oilsands bitumen in Alberta would create more jobs in-province.

Also joining the debate is former Premier Ed Stelmach, who spoke in favour of local refining today telling the Edmonton Journal “…it is in our interest to promote as much pipeline capacity as possible to move products to existing markets, and of course, new markets. But to close that differential in price, we need to sell a higher-value product.”

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

To the east in Saskatchewan, the partisan divide over the Keystone XL Pipeline in not so sharp. Premier Brad Wall, the province’s most popular leader since Tommy Douglas, has trumpeted the benefits the Keystone XL Pipeline could bring to Canadian and American economies. His main opponent, newly selected Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten, has broken from his NDP colleagues and given his timid support for the pipeline’s construction.

The Alberta government purchased a $30,000 advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. While widely read, the ad was meant to respond to an anti-Keystone XL editorial widely circulated on the internet. The factual arguments made by the Alberta Government in the ad will likely fall flat in this highly emotional debate. While the ad generated significant earned media in Alberta, this one-time ad-buy will likely have little impact on the large debate happening in the United States.

Recognizing that Conservative Parties are seen by many Canadians as ‘weak’ on the environmental issues related to pipeline construction, the Conservative movement is putting significant energy toward finding the key messaging needed to convince Canadians otherwise.

At last week’s Preston Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, speakers presented their analysis of the Oilsands Pipeline debate. As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, “the most creative minds in Canadian conservatism are applying their brainpower to moving forward pipeline projects – extending from Alberta, the centre of their political and economic universe, to all points of the compass.”

More on this later.

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