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.
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?
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).
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.