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Alberta Politics

alison redford attends the bilderberg. thomas mulcair visits the oilsands.

Bilderberg Redford
Premier Alison Redford is attending the 2012 Bilderberg Group conference.

There are no shortage of internet conspiracy theories about the mysterious Bilderberg Group conference, but now Alberta Premier Alison Redford will know the truth about the invite-only private annual meeting of the world’s top neo-liberal financial, business, and political elites.

Premier Redford has been invited the the event, which is being held in Virginia from May 31 to June 3. Only a small group of Canadian political leaders have been invited to attend, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, and former premiers Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell, to name a few.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith: Outraged.

As the emperors of industry behind the Bilderberg Group continue to push failed neo-liberal economic policies that have helped create crumbling markets across the globe, the unbounded potential of Alberta’s natural resource wealth will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion.

Premier Redford’s decision to attend this meeting earned immediate¬†denunciation from Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith criticized the Premier for not staying in Alberta to confront NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who was in the province yesterday to visit Fort McMurray and tour an oilsands operation. Reaction to Mr. Mulcair’s visit drew a supportive comment from Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake, who told the Edmonton Journal:

“It seems like his interests are not necessarily out of alignment with what most Canadians would be interested in – a healthy sustainable environment.”

Breaking from the cries of outrage displayed by many of her Conservative counterparts, Premier Redford has taken a nuanced approach to responding to Mr. Mulcair’s comments that Alberta’s natural resource wealth has contributed to a high Canadian dollar and the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing industry.

Thomas Mulcair NDP Leader
Thomas Mulcair: It's a trap!

Rather than playing into Mr. Mulcair’s strategy to leverage a wedge issue among many voters outside of Alberta (especially in the economically depressed and voter rich southern Ontario) who are uncomfortable with the West’s economic growth and resulting environmental issues, Premier Redford has largely played it cool when responding to criticisms of the oilsands.

For all the criticism of Mr. Mulcair’s strategic play, it provides further evidence that the NDP Official Opposition under his leadership are prepared to use the same type of wedge politics that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives have successfully used over the past eight years. It should be noted that Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party attempted to emulate the same type of wedge politics in the recent provincial election.

Premier Redford’s calm response is a break in style from recent political leaders like former Premier Ralph Klein, who expressed little interest in taking a leading role on the national stage.

As well as a change in tone, Premier Redford has made a number of political moves that suggest a shift toward Alberta’s provincial government becoming a serious player on the national stage, including beginning discussions with other provincial leaders about a [still vaguely defined] National Energy Strategy.

Earlier this month, Premier Redford announced the opening of an Alberta Office in Ottawa. Ms. Smith criticized the announcement, suggesting that the 27 Conservative Party Members of Parliament were doing a good enough job advocating for Albertans in the national capital. As both Ms. Smith and Premier Redford know, many of those Conservative MPs showed various levels of support for the Wildrose Party in the recent election. As a former lobbyist herself, Ms. Smith will undoubtedly be aware that successful lobbying includes more than meeting with politicians.

One person rumoured to be in line for the appointment as the Alberta government’s lobbyist in Ottawa is former Finance Minister Ted Morton, who is a former colleague of now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In Ottawa yesterday, Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Lee Richardson announced he had been hired as Premier Redford’s Principal Secretary and senior strategist. Before first heading to Ottawa in the 1980s, Mr. Richardson was the Chief of Staff to Premier Peter Lougheed, who may have been Alberta’s last provincial leader who was also a significant player on the national stage.