Three years ago this week, Conservative Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford warned that a pipeline bottleneck and a dramatic drop in the price of oil would rob the provincial government of up to $6 billion in natural resource revenue.
Ms. Redford spent much of her two and a half years in office focusing on pipelines, as did her successor Jim Prentice during his short eight months in the Premier’s Office.
One of the jobs Mr. Prentice left when he decided to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 2014 was as liaison between the (now moribund) Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and First Nations in northern British Columbia. Despite this experience, there was little evidence of pipeline advancement during his brief time as premier before the PCs were defeated in the May 2015 election.
The politics of pipelines continue to dominate Alberta’s interprovincial agenda under Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government. Riding the success of the National Energy Strategy accepted at the Premier’s Meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer, Ms. Notley secured the tentative approval from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline.
As AlbertaPolitics.ca publisher David Climenhaga noted last week, “Premier Rachel Notley, after less than nine months in office, secured the tentative approval of the premier of Ontario and the enthusiastic endorsement of the prime minister of Canada, both members of a different political party than hers, for a pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for refining.”
What we are witnessing is unfamiliar: an NDP Premier advocating for this approval of a privately-owned, privately-operated pipeline that would ship oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a privately-owned and privately-operated refinery in New Brunswick. This is hardly characteristic of the radical marxist socialist extremist that Ms. Notley’s more fanatical critics claim she is.
This pipeline will not save the Alberta government from the revenue shortfall caused by the drop in the international price of oil, which is intensified due as a result of poor long-term planning during the previous 44 years of conservative governments. But it could narrow the price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select and provide a new point of export for Canadian oil while also keeping refinery jobs in Canada rather than exporting jobs to refineries overseas.
The decision to approve this pipeline will be up to the federal Liberal government, which includes strong representation from Alberta Members of Parliament.
Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault reiterated his support for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline last week. “Our government is committed to ensuring our natural resources have access to market. This process will include a credible environmental assessment process based on science, facts and evidence,” Mr. Boissonneault said in a statement.
Building a national consensus around climate change and the transportation and export of Canada’s oil will be helpful for future projects. It also gives Ms. Notley an opportunity to highlight her government’s climate change plan, which includes the phasing out of dirty coal fired power plants by 2030, a move that could significantly reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions.
While Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean squabbles with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre over the municipal politician’s opposition to the pipeline, it would appear that Ms. Notley’s quiet diplomacy might be showing results. These type of public spats distract from the reality that Mr. Jean supports TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline but would cheer if Ms. Notley’s bid fails.
If TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline is approved before the 2019 Alberta election, Ms. Notley will be able to make the claim that an NDP Premier was able to accomplish something her conservative predecessors could not: get a new pipeline built from the oil sands to an ocean port.