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.

Alberta Politics

Albertan Graffiti: Jim Prentice buys a 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti
The 1956 Ford Thunderbird is a great car and was made iconic in the film American Graffiti.

After months warning Albertans that declining oil prices will have dire consequences unless we ‘tighten their belts‘ and make ‘tough choices,” Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has made some tough decisions of his own.

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti 2
Jim Prentice, at the car auction in Arizona.

Returning home from an official government visit to Houston, Texas last week, Mr. Prentice made a side trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he bid $54,000 on a classic 1956 Ford Thunderbird at a Barrett Jackson auction. It must have been a day of tough choices, but through persistence and determination Mr. Prentice walked away as the proud owner of this classic American car.

You can probably detect a hint of sarcasm by now. And as you can imagine, the optics and timing of Mr. Prentice’s new purchase are not great.

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti 1
A 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Some people will argue what Mr. Prentice does in his personal time is his business. I have nothing against a hard working private citizen, or wealthy bank vice-president, who decides to purchase classic cars as a hobby. But Mr. Prentice is not a private citizen, he is the Premier of Alberta. And when his recreational activities and personal purchases contrast what he is saying in public, then Albertans deserve to know.

Only ten days ago, Mr. Prentice told reporters that Alberta could be facing its worst economic situation in 25 or 50 years and signalled that he may look to public sector workers for cuts or salary freezes. Why there is some hyperbole to his messaging (politicians always claim Alberta is in tough economic times), it is mind boggling that Mr. Prentice would not have the political sense to postpone this personal purchase. After nearly 30 years in politics, it is hard to believe he would not recognize how bad the optics could look.

It is also notable that the trip from Houston to Arizona was not included in Mr. Prentice’s official itinerary. It is common for “private time” to be listed on a public itinerary when the premier or a cabinet minister decides to assume personal cost to take a day or two as personal time during official travel outside the country. It is perfectly reasonable for Mr. Prentice to have taken this private time, so why was the side trip to Arizona not listed on his public itinerary?

In his short time as Premier, Mr. Prentice has proven himself to be a shrewd and skilled politician. A boost in the polls and the mass-floor crossing of Wildrose MLAs demonstrate that he has strong appeal among conservatives in this province. Just as frequent visits to the golf club undid Don Getty and a taste for overseas travel and luxury penthouses helped undo Alison Redford, it would not take much to undo Mr. Prentice’s image as Alberta’s competent “new management.”

As Premier, he needs to lead by example. And if we are indeed facing tough economic times, this $54,000 purchase in Arizona definitely sends the wrong message.