Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Alberta PIpelines

Notley NDP’s latter-day conversion to Keystone XL boosterism

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

It has been fascinating to watch the Alberta New Democratic Party transition from being skeptical of oil pipelines as opposition to fairly effective advocates for pipelines as government.

While the approval of the Trans-Canada Keystone XL Pipeline from Hardisty to Texas Nebraska has nothing to do with the Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, the more diplomatic approach taken by Premier Rachel Notley’s government has translated into overall success in pipeline expansion approval.

Alberta’s action on climate change and drive for social license played a key role in the federal government approving the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. The action on climate change was even lauded by former president Barack Obama during his visit to Parliament Hill last year.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

Notley was supportive of the Trans-Mountain pipeline and the TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline but not supportive of the Keystone XL pipeline when she led the NDP Opposition before the 2015 election. The NDP election platform even took the Progressive Conservatives to task for focusing so much energy on Keystone XL and exporting raw bitumen, and jobs, to Texas. The old PC government, especially under premier Alison Redford, was harshly criticized for spending so much time travelling to Washington D.C. and other big American cities, to lobby for pipelines.

Public opinion and pressure from corporate leaders would make it tough for any elected officials in Alberta to be unsupportive of oil pipelines these days. Support for pipelines in this province feels like it ranges somewhere close to 100 percent on some days.

Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck is said to have coined the phrase “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best,” as David Climenhaga of AlbertaPolitics.ca fame reminded me today. That seems true of the Alberta NDP and their pro-pipeline conversion.

Approaching two years in office, Notley’s NDP government has become more pragmatic and centrist than one might have predicted, on pipelines specifically and most government policy in general. This probably bodes well for the NDP in terms of appealing to broader public support but could cause trouble for Notley from the party’s more ideological supporters.

And, reminding Canadians of the deep split over pipelines between the Alberta NDP and national NDP, federal leader Thomas Mulcair called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, apparently to accomplish little more than to pick a fight with Trump.

At this moment, I can see little benefit from the Canadian government doing anything but keeping out of the new president’s line of fire (or line of Tweets).

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

According to executive orders signed by Trump today, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will have 60 days to approve the Keystone XL pipeline once the TransCanada corporation has submitted its application and the Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will have 180 days to create a plan to ensure all the steel used to construct the pipeline is manufactured in the United States.

As Postmedia columnist Paul Wells pointed out yesterday, it was probably good that Notley took a measured tone and did not do cartwheels during her press conference in response to the Keystone XL Pipeline approval. Trump has proven to be irrational and unpredictable and his government had indicated it may try to renegotiate the deal with the TransCanada corporation.

With that in mind, it might be smart for political leaders in Canada to remain cautious, even if they feel optimistic, about the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline approval.

Listening to podcasts is fun.

Podcast recommendations to start off 2017

Back in October 2015, I shared a list of podcasts that were on my regular listening feed. Each year I purposely look for new podcasts to listen to. This means removing some of my older regular listens and keeping some of my favourites.

The Expats, Radiolab, Hardcore HistorySlate’s Political Gabfest and Whistestop remain at the top of my list, but I intentionally branched out from politics-themed podcasts in 2017 in response to the saturation of coverage of the American Presidential election and Donald Trump‘s election victory.

Here are some of the podcasts new to my feed that get my stamp of approval:

Let’s Find Out: Edmonton’s Historian Laureate Chris Chang-Yen Phillips answers questions about our city’s history in this semi-regular podcast, which released its sixth episode last week.

SpyCast: An interesting podcast from the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. The two most recent episodes about a Canadian diplomat in Havana working for the CIA and the lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbour are particularity fascinating.

Don’t Call me a Guru: A podcast about social media strategy hosted by Edmontonians Linda Hoang and Tyler Butler. (I’m a guest on episode three).

Escape Plan and Horizon Line: Atlas Obscura is the definitive online guidebook and friendly tour-guide to the world’s most wondrous, weird, and obscure places and it is one of my favourite websites. They are now producing two podcasts.

The World Next Week: The Council on Foreign Relations produces a weekly podcast that provides previews, analysis and information about upcoming international events.

The Axe Files and the Ezra Klein Show: Both of these podcasts include interesting and thought-provoking interviews with some of America’s key cultural, academic and political players. David Axelrod’s final podcast of 2016 included an interview with outgoing President Barack Obama.

Can we not go a week without someone threatening to harm the Premier?

“I’ve been beating this drum for 10,11 years. I will continue to beat it, I promise. But it’s against the law to beat Rachel Notley…” – Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Speaking at a town hall forum in Fort McMurray, Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA and Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean made this ill-advised comment about Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

It appears as though Mr. Jean was trying to be funny while playing to a hometown crowd, which is no excuse for this kind of unacceptable comment. Jokes about assaulting women, even if they are off the cuff, are not funny. He did immediately apologize, twice, and quickly sent an apology directly to Premier Notley, but it is difficult to see how he can walk back this comment.

This wasn’t a joke made by an anonymous internet troll or a roughneck after a few beers at the local bar, this comment comes from the leader of the Official Opposition who presumably wants to be the next Premier of Alberta.

Mr. Jean’s recent comment is also embarrassing because of his previous call to Wildrose supporters to stop making online threats about assassinating Ms. Notley. “These kinds of comments cross all bounds of respect and decency and have absolutely no place in our political discourse,” Mr. Jean said in a note on his Facebook page in December 2015.

Women politicians in Alberta have been the target of constant online threats and harassment, which has unfortunately become almost normalized in our current political environment. Given recent threats levelled at Ms. Notley and women cabinet ministers, Mr. Jean’s comment is a mind boggling political fumble.


The drum Mr. Jean claims to have been beating for the past 10 or 11 years is related to the level of seniors care available in Fort McMurray, an issue which has a long history of causing political controversy in that community and in the provincial capital.

Back in July 2009, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA and former cabinet minister Guy Boutilier was ejected from from the Progressive Conservative caucus for publicly criticizing the government for not funding a new facility. Mr. Boutilier publicly accused Health Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” and then criticized Premier Ed Stelmach for not wanting a cabinet minister “who graduated from Harvard with Barack Obama.” (he later admitted that he never met Obama while at Harvard).

He later joined the Wildrose Alliance in 2010 along with two other PC MLAs who had crossed the floor earlier that year. He was defeated by Tory Mike Allen in the 2012 election.

At last night’s meeting, Mr. Jean is reported to have praised Ms. Notley for moving a planned long-term care facility from Parsons Creek to the downtown Willow Square site.

Postmedia columnists and Fraser Institute team up to attack the Alberta’s climate change plan

The full court press against the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan continued today as Postmedia business columnists Gary Lamphier and Claudia Cattaneo dutifully and uncritically weighed in on the latest report from the right-wing Fraser Institute. The report claims the emissions cap included in Alberta government’s climate change plan will cost Canada’s oil sands industry $250 billion and is the latest in a concerted effort by conservative opponents of the NDP to undermine its flagship policy.

Gary Lamphier

Gary Lamphier

Both columnists unquestioningly quoted in length the dire warnings of the Fraser Institute report, with Ms. Cattaneo giving the closing word in her column to Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who surprised no one by describing the emissions cap as “damaging.” Focused on attacking the government’s policy, neither columnist bothered to provide any actual analysis of the report or delve into what a Wildrose government would do, if anything, to reduce carbon emissions.

Some Wildrose MLAs do not appear to believe the science of climate change, and reportedly neither does the person managing Jason Kenney‘s bid to merge the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. The old PC government acknowledged the existence of climate change but never actually bothered to take meaningful action.

Neither columnist bothered to mention that the oilsands emission cap enjoyed rare support from both energy industry and environmental leaders when Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips unveiled the government’s Climate Leadership Plan in November 2015.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta’s climate change plan in November 2015.

Offering their support for the Climate Leadership Plan at the November 2015 press conference were industry heavy hitters like Canadian Natural Resources Limited chair Murray Edwards, who said: “The framework announced will allow ongoing innovation and technology investment in the oil and natural gas sector. In this way, we will do our part to address climate change while protecting jobs and industry competitiveness in Alberta. (Ms. Catteneo actually interviewed Mr. Edwards a few days after this announcement)

And Brian Ferguson, President & Chief Executive Officer of Cenovus Energy, who said: “We fully support the Government’s new climate policy direction. It enables Alberta to be a leader, not only in climate policy, but also in technology, innovation, collaborative solutions and energy development.”

And Steve Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor, who said: “Today we reach a milestone in ensuring Alberta’s valuable resource is accompanied by leading carbon policy. It’s time that Alberta is seen as a climate, energy and innovation leader.”

And  Lorraine Mitchelmore, President and Country Chair of Shell Canada and EVP Heavy Oil for Shell, who said: “Today’s announcement sets Canadian oil on the path to becoming the most environmentally and economically competitive in the world.”

And finally, Tim McMillan, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who said: “…the province’s climate strategy may allow our sector to invest more aggressively in technologies to further reduce per barrel emissions in our sector and do our part to tackle climate change. That’s what the public expects, and that’s’ what we expect of ourselves.”

Not to mention praise the climate change plan has received from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and a little known political figure by the name of Barack Obama.

It is not to say that these energy executives will agree with every policy the Alberta government will implement over the next three years, but these two Postmedia business columnists owe it to their readers not to omit these important facts from their columns.


Note: The results of the Fraser Institute report are disputed by the Pembina Institute‘s Simon Dyer, who told the CBC that the report “is based on unreasonable production levels that don’t consider the world making progress on climate change.” University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach, who chaired the Climate Change Review Panel, told the CBC that “given what I can tell, the study does not assume any progress in oilsands emissions per barrel and no ability to reduce emissions other than shutting in production.”

What President Obama said about Canada, Alberta and Climate Change

During his address to the Canadian Parliament on June 29, 2016, United States President Barack Obama singled out Alberta as a leader in the fight against climate change. Here is the excerpt from his speech where he spoke about climate change:

There is one threat, however, that we cannot solve militarily, nor can we solve alone — and that is the threat of climate change.  Now, climate change is no longer an abstraction. It’s not an issue we can put off for the future.  It is happening now.  It is happening here, in our own countries.  The United States and Canada are both Arctic nations, and last year, when I became the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic, I could see the effects myself.  Glaciers — like Canada’s Athabasca Glacier — are melting at alarming rates.  Tundra is burning.  Permafrost is thawing.  This is not a conspiracy.  It’s happening.  Within a generation, Arctic sea ice may all but disappear in the summer. 

And so skeptics and cynics can insist on denying what’s right in front of our eyes.  But the Alaska Natives that I met, whose ancestral villages are sliding into the sea — they don’t have that luxury.  They know climate change is real.  They know it is not a hoax.  And from Bangladesh to the Pacific islands, rising seas are swallowing land and forcing people from their homes.  Around the world, stronger storms and more intense droughts will create humanitarian crises and risk more conflict. This is not just a moral issue, not just a economic issue, it is also an urgent matter of our national security.

And for too long, we’ve heard that confronting climate change means destroying our own economies.  But let me just say, carbon emissions in the United States are back to where they were two decades ago, even as we’ve grown our economy dramatically over the same period. Alberta, the oil country of Canada, is working hard to reduce emissions while still promoting growth.  

So if Canada can do it, and the United States can do it, the whole world can unleash economic growth and protect our planet.  We can do this.   We can do it.  We can do this.  We can help lead the world to meet this threat.

Already, together in Paris, we achieved the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.  Now let’s bring it into force this year.   With our agreement with Mexico that we announced today, let’s generate half the electricity on this continent from clean energy sources within a decade.  That’s achievable. Let’s partner in the Arctic to help give its people the opportunity they deserve, while conserving the only home they know.  And building on the idea that began in Montreal three decades ago, let’s finally phase down dangerous HFC greenhouse gases.  This is the only planet we’ve got.  And this may be the last shot we’ve got to save it.  And America and Canada are going to need to lead the way. We’re going to have to lead the way.   

Mr. Obama’s mention certainly qualifies as high praise for Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, as they spearhead Alberta’s ambitious Climate Leadership Plan. The President’s speech and its affirmation of the Alberta’s government’s climate change policies is likely the type of ‘social license‘ that Ms. Notley hopes will lead to more oil pipeline construction approvals in the future.

As an Albertan, it was difficult not to feel a sense of pride when the President of the United States singled out my home province. For years, Alberta was seen as a laggard on environmental issues, but our province appears to have turned a corner. This may have increased Alberta’s cache in Ottawa and some circles in the American Capitol but it is unclear what impact the Presidential praise will have on public opinion in Alberta. Despite the government’s leap forward, our opposition politicians are still questioning the existence of climate change and environmental issues are frequently framed by the mainstream media in the context of building new oil pipelines out of the province.

A sunny day on the campus of University of California, Berkeley.

Keystone XL is dead. New government means climate change back on the agenda.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Having enjoyed the last week in the sunny Berkeley, California, it felt odd to turn on the car radio to hear the local disc jockeys discussing the tarsands and the merits of a pipeline that would pump unrefined bitumen from Canada to Texas. Being one of the most liberal areas in the U.S. – there were more than a few cars sporting “Bernie Sanders 2016″ bumper stickers – the discussion revolved around climate change and the environmental impact of the tarsands.

So, to the shock of no one who was paying attention, American President Barack Obama rejected the TransCanada corporation’s application for the cross-border permit needed to link the Keystone XL pipeline across the Canada-United States border.

It had become clear over the past few years that the project was unlikely to be approved by the American President. While counter-messages from the oil industry and environmental groups set the tone internationally, opposition to the pipeline by a handful of rural landowners in Nebraska is what ended up tying the pipeline project in the courts.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

While the rejection of Keystone XL represents a victory for the projects opponents, it also represents a failure of Canadian foreign policy. For the past decade, the federal and provincial governments have been subsidizing TransCanada by spending significant amount of time and resources providing public funding for the pipeline through lobbying activities.

Elected officials like former Premier Alison Redford and her cabinet ministers were essentially publicly-funded lobbyists as they travelled to the U.S. dozens of times to advocate for Keystone XL and other oil industry projects. The decision by Jim Prentice to appoint well-connected Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield to the post of Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. was supposed to give a boost to the government’s pipeline lobbying goals (he was later dismissed by Premier Rachel Notley). And the government led by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was reported to have paid at least $3 million to lobbyists in Washington D.C.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which was rejected by Canadians on Oct. 19, had arguably been the most pro-oil industry administration we have seen in decades. But instead of trying to build a national consensus in favour of projects like Keystone XL, the Conservative government demonized opposition to the pipelines in Canada. Opponents of Bill C-51 claimed that new spy laws passed by the former Conservative government with support from the Liberals could target Canadian citizens who oppose the expansion of oil pipelines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared his support for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in a speech to the Calgary Petroleum Club in October 2013 while also criticizing the Conservative government’s approach to lobbying for the pipeline in Washington D.C. “They have poked and prodded, annoyed and irritated the Obama administration at every turn. Largely, I suspect, because they don’t know how to work with people who don’t share their ideology,” Mr. Trudeau told Calgary’s oil elite.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

While Mr. Trudeau has not publicly supported TransCanada’s other major pipeline project, the Energy East pipeline, new Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr faces a challenging task of managing the interprovincial politics of pipelines. An Energy East pipeline that would would pump oil from Alberta to port terminals in New Brunswick or Quebec, keeping jobs in Canada, was endorsed by Ms. Notley and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant last month.

The appointment of Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and former environment minister Stephane Dion as Minister of Foreign Affairs signals that the new federal government may not be as singularly focused on pipelines as the previous government. Mr. Dion is well versed in environmental policy after serving as environment minister from 2004 to 2006 and spearheading the Green Shift policy while leading the Liberal opposition in the 2008 election.

Catherine McKenna

Catherine McKenna

One of the new federal government’s first major tasks will be to bring its ideas to address climate change to COP21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, being held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, France. Ms. McKenna will be advised by a strong Alberta voice in these matters, with former Pembina Institute executive director Marlo Reynolds, a Canmore, Alberta resident, as her chief of staff.

Ms. Notley and Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips will also be attending the conference in Paris.

The Pembina Institute may have spotted one of the biggest changes that the rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL signifies for Canada’s new foreign relations and energy strategies. In a statement released yesterday, Alberta director Simon Dyer said the “decision by President Obama reiterates that climate change is a key consideration for all energy infrastructure projects going forward.”

Guy Boots’ Fort McMurray residency challenged

Pensive Boutilier Stelmach

MLA Guy Boutilier with former Premier Ed Stelmach during the 2008 provincial election.

In the heart of oil sands country, former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, Wildrose MLA and now municipal councillor Guy Boutilier could be in trouble. As Fort McMurray Today first reported on January 7, 2015, his eligibility to serve as a councillor with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is being challenged.

“At least one person has officially sworn in court documents that Councillor Guy Boutilier did not live in Fort McMurray during the 2013 municipal election — supporting an ongoing legal challenge claiming he was not eligible to run for his council seat.

In an affidavit filed in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, Sarah MacLeod says she rented a room in Boutilier’s Thickwood home with several other people during a two-year period. However, she says the former MLA-turned-councillor was seldom seen in Fort McMurray during that period.

None of the accusations in her statement have been proven in court.”

Two more claims have since been made against Mr. Boutilier’s eligibility, as reported by Today. These allegations against Mr. Boutilier began in November 2014, when the issue of his residency was raised by a local businessman.

Unlike the provincial Legislative Assembly, which allows MLAs to live outside the constituencies they represent, municipal residency rules are much more stringent. Section 21(1)(b) of the Local Authorities Election Act states that:

21(1) A person may be nominated as a candidate in any election under this Act if on nomination day the person:

(b)  has been a resident of the local jurisdiction and the ward, if any, for the 6 consecutive months immediately preceding nomination day, and

A fixture of Fort McMurray politics since the early 1980s, Mr. Boutilier has represented Fort McMurray councillor, mayor and MLA. But his years of public service have not been without controversy.

He once claimed that he could turn off the part of his brain where he was a cabinet minister to avoid conflicts of interest while testifying to an Alberta Energy and Utilities Board hearing.

Mr. Boutilier was ejected from the PC caucus in 2009 after accusing then-Health Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” about the construction of a permanent long-term care facility for seniors in Fort McMurray and then criticizing Premier Ed Stelmach for not wanting a cabinet minister “who graduated from Harvard with Barack Obama” (Mr. Boutilier later admitted that he never met Obama while at Harvard).

Mr. Boutilier joined the Wildrose Caucus in 2010 and was defeated by PC candidate Mike Allen in the 2012 election.

Keystone XL, Alberta Oil Sands and International Travel in 2014

Alberta MLA Redford Prentice Travel

A Google Map tracking international travel by Alberta cabinet ministers and PC MLAs since November 2011. Scroll down to find the interactive map.

As the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline dominates political debate in Washington D.C., Alberta Premier Jim Prentice announced that he will soon travel to the American capital to lobby in favour of the pipeline.

Although most politicians in the capital appear to support the pipeline’s construction, United States President Barack Obama has not made public whether he supports or opposes the project, and his final approval will be needed to allow the pipeline to cross the American border.

Demonized by Republicans to the south of the border and Conservatives to the north for not sharing their enthusiasm for the pipeline, Mr. Obama made clear that he would wait until a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling before making a final decision.

The future of the TransCanada corporation’s new pipeline has become enveloped in the larger debate around climate change, the environment and the economic expansion in Canada’s oil sands. While most politicians in Western Canada support the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, the recent decline in the price of oil has raised some questions about its viability.

Jim Prentice Rob Merrifield Washington DC

Premier Jim Prentice and former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield, now Alberta’s voice in Washington D.C.

Pipelines and oil sands are a big reason Alberta MLAs and cabinet ministers have made at least 16 official trips to Washington D.C. since November 2011. Housed in the Canadian Embassy, Alberta has a paid representative whose main focus appears to be lobbying for the oil sands and pipelines. in the U.S. capital Former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield now holds the position, which was previously filled by retired Tory cabinet ministers Gary MarMurray Smith and former Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

According to publicly available travel itineraries, Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers and MLAs logged a hefty amount of air mileage in 2014, travelling to 13 countries (down from 18 countries visited in 2013).

Alison Redford Golden Temple India

Premier Alison Redford visits the Golden Temple in India.

In 2014, Alberta politicians made a flurry of official trips to the United States, China, Japan, India, Switzerland, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Peru.

Four cabinet ministers visited Singapore last year, where the Government of Alberta opened a new trade office. China remained a popular destination for international trade missions by Alberta’s politicians.

The discovery that Premier Alison Redford hired an international travel scout caused considerable controversy in Alberta, as did her $131,000 around-the-world adventure to India and Switzerland (minus a secretly planned trip to Afghanistan, which was cancelled due to security concerns). But it was a trip to former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013 that triggered a career-ending controversy for Ms. Redford when the $45,000 cost was made public in early 2014.

The whirlwind of international travel slowed to a trickle when Mr. Prentice entered the Premier’s Office in September 2014, with only a handful of MLA trips to the United States and a trip to Peru by Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett, being released on the public itinerary.

Here is a Google Map tracking international travel by Alberta cabinet ministers and PC MLAs since November 2011:

Alberta Politics Roundup – Eve of Fall Sitting

Alberta Legislative Assembly

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will begin the fall session on Monday, November 17, 2014.

Fall Legislative Session
November 17, 2014 will mark the start of the first legislative session for new Premier Jim Prentice, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks. The 43-year old governing Progressive Conservatives have promised to introduce new laws focusing on property rights and ‘ending entitlements’ for their MLAs.

This will be Rachel Notley’s first session as leader of the NDP Caucus. And Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman will introduce a private members’ bill supporting students who want to create Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. Newly Independent MLA Joe Anglin is also expected to introduce a private members’ bill.

With the price of oil declining to the mid-$70 range and next year’s budget being prepared, Jonathan Teghtmeyer has shared 9 ways that Alberta could better manage our resources.

Constitutional Property Rights
Flanked by Lethbridge Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced her plans to introduce a motion calling on property rights to be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Wildrose motion will likely call for stronger action than will be included in Mr. Prentice’s flagship property rights bill. Also, it is almost politically impossible to amend the Canadian Constitution.

Wildrose in Red Deer
The Wildrose Party is holding its annual convention in Red Deer on November 14 and 15 (the PCs will meet in Banff). Sparks are expected to fly as activists vent their frustration about the party’s poor showing in four recent by-elections.

The departure of Mr. Anglin, a cancelled leadership review and a controversial motion to take away the ability of MLAs to remove their leader and the leader’s staff are also expected to fuel intense debate.

Government House leader
CBC reporter John Archer tweeted news that Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has replaced Municipal Affairs Minister Diana McQueen as Government House leader. Ms. McQueen was appointed to the position two months ago.

Tobacco
Mr. Mandel has announced plans to make it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children and ban flavoured tobacco, but not menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are said to be favoured by seniors, who also tend to vote in larger numbers.

In 2012, Liberal leader Raj Sherman introduced the Tobacco Reduction (Protection of Children in Vehicles) Amendment Act, which would have made it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children. Dr. Sherman’s bill was passed but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

Tailing Ponds
It has been one year since a breach of a containment pond at the Obed Mine spilled 670 million litres of toxic tailings into the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

The Alberta Wilderness AssociationMikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations  and other groups are criticizing the federal and provincial governments for laying charges against the mine’s former owners, Sherritt International, or new owners, Westmoreland Coal Company.

Pro-pipeline Democrats force Keystone XL Vote
Hoping to stave off defeat in a December 6, 2014 runoff vote, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is trying to force the United States Senate to vote on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline before the end of 2014. Approval of the pipeline’s crossing the US-Canada border ultimately rests in the hands of President Barack Obama.

Yellowhead by-election
Voters in the Yellowhead federal riding will cast ballots in a by-election on Monday, November 17, 2014. Although Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski is expecting an easy victory, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited the constituency to campaign with candidate Ryan Mahugn last week.

Calgary Liberals
November 28. Kent Hehr expected to be acclaimed as federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre. The popular MLA was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2008. It is unclear if Mr. Hehr and fellow Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Skyview will resign their provincial positions before the next federal election.

Borderlands By-election
Voters on the Saskatchewan side of the divided city of Lloydminster elected a new MLA in a by-election held yesterday. Saskatchewan Party candidate Colleen Young was elected with 64% of the vote, defeating second place New Democrat Wayne Byers, who earned 29%. It is almost impossible to image an NDP candidate receiving that much support on the Alberta side of Lloydminster.  

Ms. Young replaces former Rural and Remote Health Minister Tim McMillan, who resigned in September to become the President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

A plug…
I had the pleasure of joining the good folks at The Unknown Studio podcast to chat about Alberta politics this week. I also appeared on this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel with Edmonton lawyer Roberto Noce and Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams.

The magic of Tory reinvention. A new era for Alberta.

Social-Credit-A-new-Kind-of-leader-1971-1

“A new kind of leader,” an advertisement from the Social Credit Party published in the Calgary Herald in 1971.

As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”

If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party

A PC Party election ad used during the 2012 election.

And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.

And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.

The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.

Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.

Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.

Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.

The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.

While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.

If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.

Redford’s top advisor earns more than Obama’s top advisor, claims Wildrose

Leo McGarry West Wing Alison Redford Farouk Adatia Salary Pay

“Mr. President, I think we need to renegotiate my salary,” said West Wing chief of staff Leo McGarry upon discovering he earns less than Alison Redford’s chief of staff.

Premier Alison Redford‘s chief of staff earns a bigger salary than his counterpart in the West Wing, claimed the official opposition Wildrose in a press release yesterday.

As the salary disclosure “sunshine list” of Alberta’s senior public servants who earn more than $100,000 annually was released late last week, opposition critics honed in on Ms. Redford’s senior staff. The Wildrose opposition targeted the salary of chief of staff Farouk Adatia, whose annual salary was $316,274.69 in 2013, according to the disclosure list.

Wildrose Alberta West Wing

The infographic released by the Wildrose Official Opposition caucus.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith trotted out  numbers showing that Mr. Adatia is paid nearly double the salary of American President Barack Obama‘s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who earned $172,200 in 2013. In Mr. McDonough’s defence, this is a pitifully low salary for someone in such a senior government role.

Also on the Wildrose hit list was Ms. Redford’s director of communications, Stefan Baranski, who earned $207,829 in 2013, compared to the $179,311 earned by his predecessor in 2012.

While Mr. Adatia and Mr. Baranski may have fairly negotiated their salaries and benefits, it adds to the growing public perception that Ms. Redford is woefully out of touch with the reality faced by ordinary Albertans.

These salary increases in Ms. Redford’s inner circle occurred at the same time as the government is negotiating forcing pay freezes on many frontline public sector employees. The same frontline workers are facing government-imposed changes to their pension plans, which could drastically impact their retirement security.

A political response to a political problem
The government’s salary disclosure list is a political response to last year’s outcry over the more than $2,000,000 in severance packages that had been paid to former senior staff in Ms. Redford’s office, including  $130,000 in severance paid to former chief of staff, Stephen Carter (Mr. Carter released the amount in a tweet after Ms. Redford refused to answer media question about his severance package).

Sunshine on the CTF
The “sunshine list” has been long advocated for by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose Alberta director, Derek Fildebrandt, was somewhat ironically quoted alongside transparency minister Don Scott in the original government press release announcing the salary disclosure. The CTF is an organization that could use a sunshine of its own. While always available for a snappy quote or photo-worthy media stunt, the six-member lobby group  closely guards its own list of financial bankrollers, which continues to remain secret.

Bitumen bubble deflates as Redford visits Washington D.C.

Alberta Bitumen Oil Bubble

Photo may not reflect actual “bitumen bubble.”

Remember the “Bitumen Bubble?”

The “bitumen bubble” spin was unleashed by Premier Alison Redford during her January 24, 2013 televised address that claimed our province was in the midst of a fiscal crisis caused by the so-called “bitumen bubble” — the difference between the price Alberta can get for its heavy oil (Western Canadian Select) and what the world is willing to pay for Texas crude (West Texas Intermediate).

On the day of Premier Redford’s January televised address, Western Canadian Select sat at $59.95 per barrel, compared to $95.95 per barrel for the West Texas Intermediate.

Albertans were told this price gap was why our oil industry needs more pipelines and why our provincial government claimed it needed to institute financial cuts to public services, including a drastic 7% cut to post-secondary education funding.

As of April 8, 2013, Western Canadian Select sat at $82.97 per barrel, compared to $93.36 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

By some act of nature, the dreaded “bitumen bubble” has miraculously deflated.

Alas, this price increase has little to nothing to do with our long-ruling Progressive Conservative government. Commodity prices are determined by international markets beyond the control of any individual government or ambitious politician.

No new pipelines have been built in the meantime, but Premier Redford, along with International Relations Minister Cal Dallas and Environment Minister Diana McQueen, traveled to Washington D.C. this week to lobby for the approval of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude oil and bitumen from Alberta to refineries dotting Texas’ Gulf Coast.

I expect the Premier has left the words “bitumen bubble” out of any speeches she plans make while visiting the American capital.

During her speech at the prestigious Brookings Institute yesterday, Premier Redford argued the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline has misled Americans about Canada’s oilsands. The Premier promoted Alberta’s new proposed carbon tax, defended the province’s environmental record, and championed the investment in two major Carbon Capture and Storage project (she did not mention that two other major projects have been cancelled due to poor economic predictions).

Making a strong case for Alberta’s environmental record, Premier Redford’s economic arguments fell flat. She claimed that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create 75,000 jobs for Americans, despite the fact that a U.S. State Department reported the number of new permanent jobs could be as few as thirty-five once the pipeline is complete.

Premier Redford also argued that the Keystone XL Pipeline would lessen America’s dependance on countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for oil imports. As the proposed pipeline would end at major Texas ports, it is widely suspected that the corporations that would own the Alberta oil refined in Texas could easily ship it overseas to China or India, rather than sell it in the United States or Canada.

Premier Redford’s fact-based talk was heavy in statistics, which unfortunately will have little effect on a national discussion about the environment and economy that is driven heavily by emotional arguments on both sides of the debate (as demonstrated by the hecklers at her speech). At least Albertans can be proud our leaders have come a long way since Premier Ralph Klein compared the causes of today’s climate change problems to “dinosaur farts” sixty-million years ago.

Sitting at 29% approval in a recent Angus-Reid survey, Premier Redford is searching for a win in the American capital that could boost her popularity at home. Even if the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved, there will be no evidence that Premier Redford’s lobbying was the reason for its success. That decision will be made by President Barack Obama.

———–

The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama hit California for some fundraising this week, including stops with various billionaires who fervently oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. The visit had the virtue of showing how Mr. Obama is cross-pressured between his superrich green friends who don’t need to worry about a job and the blue-collar types who wouldn’t mind laying oil pipe for $25 an hour.

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.

Alberta has a revenue problem and a pipeline problem.

Photo of the Keystone XL Pipeline protest on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco (photo by Steve Rhodes - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From the Keystone XL Pipeline protest on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco (photo by Steve Rhodes – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One month ago, Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the revenue problem, or ‘bitumen bubble‘, the government will face in the 2013 provincial budget. The Premier cited the lack of pipelines pumping bitumen from our oilsands to external markets as a reason for the low price of Alberta oil and her government’s lack of resource revenues. Alberta had a revenue problem.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

For the first time in recent memory, Alberta’s revenue problem was at the top of political discourse in our province. The government held a symposium to hear from experts about Alberta’s fiscal framework, but at the same time ruled out the return of health premiums and denied any rumours of a provincial sales tax (which, in fairness, would have been as popular as introducing rats into the province).

Two reasonable solutions that did not get enough attention were to increase the revenues from natural resources and to replace the Klein-era ‘flat-tax’ with a progressive taxation system that could collect more revenue without penalizing low- and middle-income Albertans.

It is hard not to point out that the group of individuals currently in a position to solve this problem are also the architects of our government’s short-sighted fiscal planning: Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

But late last week, before the Premier flew to the United States in a last ditch attempt to lobby politicians to approve the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, she turned her government’s spin machine in a new direction, claiming Alberta now has a “spending problem.”

It is likely this is still part of the ongoing public relations campaign to manage Albertans expectations before the March 7 provincial budget.

Now let us shift to the pipeline debate and what the Premer says is the source of our (now former?) revenue problem: Alberta’s pipeline problem.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix

Adrian Dix (photo from @taminator on Flickr)

After years of campaigns targeting Alberta’s tarsands as a major contributor to climate change, our oilsands are an easy political target for opponents of two major pipelines. Large protests across the United States last week have put the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline in question and a near political consensus in British Columbia against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline suggests a pipeline through that province is unlikely to be built anytime in the near future.

Both Liberal Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix have adopted positions against the Northern Gateway Pipeline project in advance of the May 14, 2013 elections. A recent poll from Angus-Reid shows the BC NDP with 47% support compared to 31% for the BC Liberals.

Premier Redford’s cause is not without political allies south of the border. The Keystone XL Pipeline has the support of a dozen United States Governors and TransCanada claims the southern section of the pipeline, through Texas and Oklahoma, is already half-complete.

Many critics of the Keystone XL pipeline have focused on climate change, raised legitimate concerns about the devastating environmental impact of pipelines leaks, and poked holes in the number of jobs pipeline proponents have promised to create.

Even notorious Australian-American news media owner Rupert Murdoch railed against the pipeline on Twitter.

Representing more than eleven million American workers, the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is backing the pipeline, pitting the labour movement against environmental groups, like the Sierra Club (executive director Michael Brune was arrested at last week’s protests).

It has been speculated that having these two large and influential constituent groups on opposite sides of this debate could make it increasingly difficult for President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline’s construction over the American border with Canada.

Alberta Conservatives can relate to Tea Party “bozos eruptions.”

Tea Party

Angry Tea Party supporters rally against President Barack Obama.

Glued to my television last night, I, like probably millions of other Canadians, watched as the blue states and red states were tallied until President Barack Obama defeated former Governor Mitt Romney.

Last night and over the course of the American election campaign, I could not help but think of the similarities between the missed opportunities of the Republican Party in this election and Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party in Alberta’s recent provincial election.

Admittedly, the comparison is not perfect, but as someone who has immersed himself in Alberta politics and, for the past few months, American politics, I could not help but notice some similarities.

Both parties likely had opportunities for significant electoral gains, yet both suffered or were seen to have suffered electorally because of the extreme elements of their electoral coalitions.

Just as the “bozo eruptions” made by Reverends Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech drove moderate Alberta voters away from Ms. Smith’s party earlier this year, the cruel and mean-spirited “rape” comments made by extreme right-wing Tea Party Republicans Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Murdock in Indiana appear to have driven moderate voters away from the Republican Party. As some pundits have suggested, the American bozo eruptions may have cost the Republicans the opportunity to win back states that they narrowly lost to the Democrats in 2006.

It was promising to see that moderate American voters rejected this type of politics. It was also promising to see American voters support ballot initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage in a handful of states, turning the tide back against years of electoral attacks on marriage equality. In Wisconsin, Democrat Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay Senator, which is made more exciting because her sexual orientation does not appear to have even be an issue during the election campaign.

For those of you who did not have the energy to stay awake into the early hours of the morning to listen to President Obama’s victory speech, you can watch it in the video below.

If only our political leaders could work up an ounce of President Obama’s charisma and powerful speaking skills, Canadian politics could be so much more inspiring.