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Alberta Politics

Notley should avoid getting dragged into oilsands election trap

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

When Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper claimed on the campaign trail last week that Alberta’s new government was “a disaster,” Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci calmly and cautiously responded.

But when Mr. Harper again criticized Alberta’s new government during a brief stop in Edmonton this week, Mr. Ceci delivered a sharply worded response criticizing the federal Conservatives eight consecutive years of budget deficits.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede
Stephen Harper

The decision to stay out of the personal fight was typical of Ms. Notley, who already demonstrated her ability to fly above the political fray when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall attempted to goad her into a political war of words last month.

Mr. Harper’s bluster is a sign of larger problems for the Ottawa Conservatives across Canada. Nationally, they are in a three-way race with the NDP and Liberals. Provincially, the political environment in Alberta has undergone a seismic shift and the Conservatives no longer have natural allies sitting in government in Edmonton.

Should Notley respond to McQuaig?
Linda McQuaig Oilsands Alberta
Linda McQuaig

Acting as if the topic of natural resource policy should be taboo in election campaigns, Conservative politicians and columnists have wasted no time pilling on Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig and other NDP and Liberal candidates for comments made about Canada’s oil sands .

Ms. McQuaig is known for her strong opinions about Canada’s natural resources, she should not be demonized for staking a position in the public debate (well-known public deviants such as former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and former Premier Peter Lougheed also questioned the speed of growth and environmental impact of oil development).

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

While support for the oilsands and pipeline construction is high in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is significant public opposition in other parts of Canada.

A lax approach to environmental concerns has cost Alberta in political currency and a visceral reaction to these criticisms will not help build a successful public case for oilsands expansion and pipeline construction across Canada.

Having already described the oilsands as a “tremendous public asset,” Ms. Notley should not get caught in the trap of rebutting every political candidate or commenter who criticizes the province’s natural resource track record. The appointment of an expert panel to recommend a new approach to climate change has the potential to have a more positive impact on public opinion.

But what Ms. McQuaig’s comments do suggest is that a future divide between elements of the federal NDP and Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP over the future of natural resource development is almost inevitable. And when it comes to national debates about energy, Albertans will rally behind their Premier, regardless of who sits in office in Ottawa.

15 replies on “Notley should avoid getting dragged into oilsands election trap”

It really concerns me that Notley is not willing to stand up and be counted for Alberta’s main industry. She should be taking the gloves off and fighting for Alberta jobs, not hiding under a political rock.

Our Premier is taking the right approach in letting experts speak (the anticipated review panel report in this case) rather than shouting her views at every opportunity. That is a Conservative tactic. Just look at Brian Jean’s comments about the federal building, or the big federal shouters Polievre, Calandra, Del Mastro.

It is time for Premier Notley to stand up and take a stand for Alberta.! Anti oilsand rhetoric from from one of the “chosen” Mulcair candidates should be responded to. We are talking about our livelihood here and also the economic engine for all of Canada.

Tens of thousands of Albertans have lost their job and Rachel Notley’s only reaction has been to tax job creators in the industry more.

We also have two reviews going on that will only scare away timid investors.

And all for ideology. Nothing practical about taxing an industry and adding uncertainty when they’re down – this is all about Rachel Notley and ideology. And the insensitive thing is tens of thousands of alberta families have to pay the price.

Oh, and politicians who say we should “land lock the tar sands”, “stop energy east” and “keep it in the ground” – she believes we should vote for them. It’s unbelievable.

Stand strong my Premier. Notley is doing a great job cleaning up the mess left by years of corrupt and incompetent Conservative Party government. She does remind me of Peter Lougheed. she’s the first premier since Lougheed who will put Albertans first and stand up to foreign owned corporations who are only here for our resources and will leave us to clean up the mess when they’re done. Stand strong my premier!

I’m not sure that I’m with you on the inevitability of a divide between the provincial and federal NDP on natural resources, Dave.

The best reason not to demonize McQuaig for taking a more extreme position is because her position is not at all extreme.

These stories all describe this well:
http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/business/11286622/story.html
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/13/mark-carney-fossil-fuel-reserves-burned-carbon-bubble
http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/08/11/in-our-politics-telling-the-truth-gets-you-in-trouble.html

The main upshot is that even just accepting that McQuaig or the federal NDP has said anything anti-oilsands or out-of-the-mainstream at all is to reject objective fact and to swallow the conservatives’ manufactured outrage hook, line and sinker.

As a result, while an intra-party clash might happen, I suppose, I don’t think that anything about this event demonstrates that.

That Linda McQuaig’s comment about most tar sands oil being left in the ground caused any sort of divide illustrates the deplorable state of the discussion about climate change in this country. What she said wasn’t her idea, nor was it the NDP’S, it’s the scientific consensus.

Increasing our reliance on a resource that will have to be phased out is economic nonsense. Yet the Conservatives have so successfully immersed the discussion of tar sands in political correctness, we hardly dare refer to science.

McQuaig’s position is flawed for all the wrong reasons. First of all, OF COURSE a portion of the oilsands will stay in the grounds. A portion of every single oil and gas field ever produced will stay in the ground. The oilsands formation holds about 1.7 trillion barrels of estimated total reserve (in AB and SK). Of that, they can only reasonably expect to produce a fraction, a couple hundred billion barrels or so (with current technology). The rest – you guessed it – will stay in the ground. Technology and economics will dicate that.
McQuaig’s error was that she linked oilsands production to climate change. According to the most recent GHG inventory, the oilsands is responsible for about 9 per cent of Canada’s GHG production. So even if they completely shut down the oilsands, they’d still be about 70 per cent short of their reduction targets. So they’d make a minimal difference to climate change but kneecap Canada’s economy while doing it.

As for Notley, she has to stand up for Alberta’s interests. She wasn’t elected to work with other premiers, that’s icing on the cake. We elected her government to promote our interests. So if a national politican – be they Conservative, NDP or Liberal – says something counter to our interests, she should feel obligated to stand up, even if it means getting your feed muddy in a national election.

If it isn’t recoverable by current technology, it isn’t a reserve. The best science suggests that we will have to leave most fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Considering that the tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, they should be high on the list.

Notley best stands up for Alberta’s interests, and everybody else’s, when she works to wean us off fossil fuels.

And Bill how exactly is it in Alberta’s – or Canada’s – best interests to shut down the oil sands? Take your head out of the “Socialist Worker” magazine and give it shake.

I agree, Dave; getting down in the mud of the federal election campaign won’t help Premier Notley protect the oil industry here, no matter what she says. There is real and actual work for her administration to do, including the consultations with the environmental and royalty review panels. And as Bill mentioned upthread, McQuaig’s quote isn’t even something to argue against, given that she was just referring to a well-recognized international study and not making a statement about the federal NDP’s policies. Shaking a fist at her would just make our Premier look like an idiot!

Getting up in the news and swinging her figurative fists at other politicians won’t protect a single Albertan job. The locals who are decrying her for not ‘standing up for Alberta’ are really just angry that she isn’t displaying the belligerent, symbolic tribalism that they’ve come to expect from their representatives. Personally, I’m glad to see that my Premier is focusing on actually doing her job, not grandstanding.

Motley is just being wise by letting critics blow off steam while withholding a response because a lot of critics are ignoring the fact that Alberta can’t live on oil in the long term. Just because someone spouts off (and without evidence doesn’t mean you have to fire back.

Hold your fire Rachel. There is lots of time to give an evidence based reply.

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