Justin Archer joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on this remotely recorded episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, how our political leaders are responding to the pandemic and crashing oil prices.
We also discussed the Alberta government’s investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline and the need to support economic diversification and the tech sector in Alberta.
Justin Archer is partner at Berlin Communications and a professional communications strategist based in Edmonton, Alberta.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While Mr. Trudeau has not publicly supported TransCanada’s other major pipeline project, the Energy East pipeline, new Natural Resources Minister Jim Carrfaces 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.
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.”