Alberta Politics

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 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.

7 replies on “Notley NDP’s latter-day conversion to Keystone XL boosterism”

“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).”

Only those living with great privilege are in that position. How can Liberal governments expect folks to stand up against divisive politics in their own backyards when their own response to outright leadership built on bigotry, racism, and violent misogyny is complacency and silence.

Thanks for the comment, Jenn. This was in specific reference to Mulcair’s pipeline comments. How would you suggest the Canadian government act differently in reaction to Trump’s approval of Keystone XL, and what would this accomplish?

The entire political situation in the United States is very troubling. Trump is a misogynist bully who was elected on a platform that purposely appealed to racist and anti-immigrant feelings in the US electorate. I think at this point in time the Canadian government should be cautious and very purposeful in its responses to the new Trump administration on these issues but Prime Minister Trudeau also needs to ensure that Canada’s best interests are kept in mind. I don’t think getting into a fight over Keystone XL, as Mulcair called for, would accomplish anything of benefit for Canadians.

What benefits does Keystone provide to Canadians? How many jobs will be created here, in Alberta to building that pipeline? What rate will the oil sands expand production, and how many long term, stable jobs will it create here? Will they be union jobs, will those folks have health and dental benefits or family benefits? At what point do we also silently bury emission cap policy when there is an excess of pipeline space but a lack of product to send south?

But, about the broader point.

Being cautions and purposeful is one thing. Being silent is another. The Prime Minister calls himself a feminist, but yet there is a stunning silence from our leaders on Trump’s funding freeze for access to reproductive rights internationally. This is particularly noticeable for those of us who were called to electoral arms over the same actions by Harper’s government. Are reproductive rights only important when they are electorally advantageous?

I want to challenge you Dave, and other folks with platforms and influence, to be cautious and purposeful as well. You send a message when you advocate “keeping out of the line of fire”. Many others don’t have that privilege. They don’t pass as white, or male, or middle-class. They will live the consequence of rhetoric, especially when it is unchallenged. They will see fewer and fewer safe spaces or safe people to go to. They will see the shrinking pool of allies. They will be isolated, because they are in the way whether they like it or not.

Thanks for the comment, Jenn. On the benefits of Keystone XL to Alberta, those are all good questions that should be asked of Rachel Notley and the NDP MLAs who form the government in Alberta because their answers today would be different than how they may have answered in May 2015.

I would like to hear from the federal and provincial governments about what their long-terms plans are for the oil sands, and what comes after the oil sands. I think it’s actually the duty of our political leaders to start thinking beyond what we currently depend on to drive our economy and fill government coffers to what Alberta might be like if the world demand for oil dropped. As we’ve seen over the past 3 years, it does not benefit us to put all of our eggs in one basket. It does not mean phase out the oil sands tomorrow, but we should start to think about what might come next for Alberta. How do we ensure we can preserve our prosperity and high quality of life in 25, 50 and 100 years from now? I’m not convinced that more oil is the ultimate answer.

As for “keeping out of the line of fire,” I was referring to the Government of Canada’s relationship with the new Trump administration. How do you think the Canadian government should respond to Trump? How can they respond effectively?

It is a matter of privilege but also a matter of consequences, especially as Trump moves forward with plans to renegotiate trade agreements like NAFTA that will directly impact Canadian jobs. As I wrote in the post, Trump is erratic and unpredictable so taking a cautious and diplomatic approach at this moment is probably the smartest path I believe the Canadian government could take at this moment in time.

How individual Canadians should respond is something that has also been on my mind. Obviously stepping up and speaking out against some of the more egregious policies being implemented by Trump is encouraged but what can actually be effective? Not travelling to the US? Boycotting companies that support Trump? What would you suggest individual Canadians do?


Pragmatic progressive leadership requires flexibility! This is what Premier Notley displays when she supports the Alberta oil and gas industry and the responsible development of our resources!

I suspect Keystone is the pipeline really least wanted by the Alberta and Canadian governments, but currently by far the easiest to get politically. Getting pipelines built to other Canadian provinces seems to have become a very daunting process.

While the pipeline to BC now has the support of both Provinces and the Federal government, there is still strong opposition in BC. It may now be more likely than not to happen, but far from certain yet. Energy East still has many hurdles to clear and there is some also strong opposition to it in the politically important Montreal area. If the Federal government is lucky, with Keystone now likely to go ahead they may not need Energy East at all.

There has been a lot of frustration, anger and economic anxiety in Alberta with the efforts of some in BC and Quebec trying to block pipelines. With Keystone and Kinder Morgan seeming to be on track now hopefully some of that will dissipate.

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