Rachel Notley’s demand for a pipeline quid pro quo demonstrates the steely side of Alberta’s premier

Posted on October 04, 2016, 2:07 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley. Below: Peter Lougheed, Alberta’s first Progressive Conservative premier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his father, the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta

Rachel Notley’s decision yesterday to make support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan put a national price on carbon conditional on getting a pipeline approved reveals something important about Alberta’s premier: just how tough she is.

Right-wing opposition parties have been screaming for a long time that Ms. Notley is too agreeable, and that her idea Alberta should seek social license by trying not to be an environmental pariah will never work, can never work, and is only evidence of weakness. They’ve said it enough times it’s started to take on a patina of truth.

peterBut Ms. Notley has always had enough steel in her spine not to feel the need to go around demonstrating how tough she is every minute of the day. When circumstances warrant, however, she can be as tough as she needs to be. Ms. Notley has obviously reached the conclusion this is one of those times.

Her government sincerely believes in the urgent need to achieve the seemingly counterintuitive goals of reducing carbon outputs to save the planet and finding markets for Alberta’s carbon-based resources to save the province’s economy. This gave rise to the idea of the NDP’s carbon levy as part of a project to win the social license Ms. Notley believes is necessary to get Alberta resources to market.

justinAs recent polling as illustrates, this is not easy to do at a time low oil prices are putting the provincial economy under extreme pressure.

So if her government is having a hard time persuading Albertans of the merits of a carbon levy of $30 a tonne, Mr. Trudeau’s plan to add $20 to that by 2022 potentially complicates her political problem.

In this context, the need for pipeline approvals becomes politically even more critical – but she must know it’s no sure thing the prime minister will see it that way. After all, her political problems aren’t the same as his.

pierreNow, whether or not having a pipeline to salt water will actually make much difference to the price of oil or even the differential Alberta can get for its bitumen resource is another matter. Supply and demand are what they are, and they are governed by events and circumstances that would be far beyond Alberta’s shores even if Alberta had shores.

But since the whole world seems to have reached the conclusion permission to build a pipeline is the sine qua non of political success in Alberta, Ms. Notley surely understands that she and her government will likely be judged a success if they can get one OK’d, and will certainly be called a failure if they can’t.

So – as wrongheaded as this may be – the entire possibility of getting a second term for Alberta’s unexpected NDP Government now may hinge on whether everyone can agree on a pipeline from Alberta to a seacoast, almost any seacoast, a process that seems to be almost as complicated as getting agreement on amendments to the country’s constitution.

Ms. Notley, however, also knows that Mr. Trudeau, no matter how well intentioned he may be, will need to make compromises to get his deal and ensure his government is re-elected. If one of those compromises turns out to be to side with the many Canadians who think a pipeline is a bad idea under any circumstance, she knows he will be tempted to make it.

So she has drawn a line in the (oil) sand.

In yesterday’s 144-word statement – that’s 128 words shorter than Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which is surely the universal the yardstick for saying a lot in a very few words – Premier Notley told the prime minister he cannot, he will not succumb to that understandable political urge.

“With regard to the federal government’s proposals today,” she stated, “Alberta will not be supporting this proposal absent serious concurrent progress on energy infrastructure, to ensure we have the economic means to fund these policies.” (Energy infrastructure means pipelines, if readers are in any doubt.)

“It is time for the Government of Canada to act on this issue. Albertans have contributed very generously for many years to national initiatives designed to help other regions address economic challenges. What we are asking for now is that our landlock be broken, in one direction or another, so that we can get back on our feet.”

Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer calls this Ms. Notley’s “Peter Lougheed Moment,” with the first NDP premier of Alberta channeling the first Progressive Conservative premier to ensure the province gets what it wants.

History shows there is no better way for an Alberta politician to supercharge popularity at home than having a fight with Ottawa, he argues. But while it’s certainly true no one is a better student of Mr. Lougheed than Ms. Notley, this is more than just a ploy to pick a fight with Ottawa in hopes of scoring points at home.

Meanwhile, the best the conservative Opposition seems to be able to do is trot out thoughtless comparisons between Mr. Trudeau’s plan to set a price on carbon with his father’s National Energy Program in the first half of the 1980s.

It’s a good enough line, I guess, if you don’t really know what the NEP was supposed to do or how it was supposed to work. Worthy of Donald Trump, one might say.

But the real problem faced by most of Alberta’s conservative politicians – with a few honourable exceptions in the provincial Progressive Conservative Party – is that like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who was caterwauling and stomping his feet yesterday, they don’t really believe there is any such a thing as climate change. To them, the whole idea of charging a price for carbon is just another excuse by “tax and spend liberals” to levy a tax.

No one can accuse Ms. Notley or the Alberta NDP of not understanding climate change is a real phenomenon.

Premier Notley sees winning this fight as an existential necessity not just for her government and her political career, but for the province’s economy and place in Canada. Maybe for the planet too.

So Mr. Trudeau had better be listening to her.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: Rachel Notley’s demand for a pipeline quid pro quo demonstrates the steely side of Alberta’s premier

  1. TENET

    October 4th, 2016

    You adroitly underline how the Premier has “steel in her spine.” She has demonstrated courage and conviction with an opposition bent on slander, threats, vile postings, and doing as much harm as possible on both a personal and political level.

    The challenge facing Alberta’s energy sector has not been greater since 1947 and the royalty stream has never been smaller. This is not a time for partisanship. We want and we deserve a common front to confront the crisis. That will be a real challenge when the opposition parties are in shambles and the infighting is so fierce.

    Reply
  2. Jim Cunningham

    October 4th, 2016

    This is speculation, but I suspect the premier laid down that condition partly because she is confident the feds will approve the Trans-Mountain pipeline later this year and she sees an opportunity to, a) look strong, and b) gain credit for helping to push the Liberals to do what she believes must be done. Very shrewd, if you ask me, and a no-fail stance in case Trudeau doesn’t come through.

    Reply
  3. Ron

    October 4th, 2016

    With a LOT of luck …. we could see a win-win. A plausible fantasy….

    Trudeau approves LNG
    LNG dies soon from economic reality long before the courts fights are finished.
    Christy Clark is sent packing to join Harper.
    Trudeau approves a pipeline (Likely KM)
    Notley gets re-elected.
    KM dies from economic reality long before the courts fights and land battles are finished.

    Reply
    • Sub-Boreal

      October 4th, 2016

      One could only hope for the scenario you describe. Although I admire Ms. Notley’s efforts to push the envelope of what is possible within the Alberta political universe, she’s as much a promoter of soft-core climate denialism as Justin Trudeau or Christy Clark, sad to say. At the end of the day, the atmosphere won’t be fooled, unlike electorates.

      Reply
    • Albertan

      October 4th, 2016

      Agreed, and may be more reality than fantasy!
      Also, Alberta is predicted to lead the nation in growth for 2017 and 2018.

      Reply
    • Bryang

      February 2nd, 2017

      Notley re-elected WE hope not!!!!!!! Trudeau sent packing would b awesome side dish to Notley out,.,Kevin O’Leary in yes good for all Alberta

      Reply
    • Bryang

      February 2nd, 2017

      Then the finally, Trudeau follows his fathers foot steps 6′ down????

      Reply
  4. October 4th, 2016

    I suggest assigning Energy minister McCuaig-Boyd’s chief of staff Graham Mitchell to the job of leading the team that will be lobbying the feds on this file. I hear Mr Mitchell has extensive pipeline lobbying experience.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 5th, 2016

      Editor’s note: This is obviously sarcasm by this commenter. Mr. Mitchell was once the interim executive director for the LeadNow Society, a group that lobbied against the Northern Gateway Pipeline. DJC

      Reply
      • St Albertan

        October 5th, 2016

        The NDP in Alberta are really in need of a new anchor. Pipelines should be a side issue, given our rail and existing pipeline capacity. Getting a port access is symbolic. We already ship many mega barrels south threw lines that have avoided scrutiny. Once again, just like Pierre. What is our national energy program? PS Alberta is late to the game. Forgive them ’cause they know naught what they are too stupid to see.

        Reply
  5. David

    October 4th, 2016

    I think the federal response to Kinder Morgan will also depend on part on how they think the Government of BC will react. The BC Liberals may be more willing to support (or at least not vocally oppose) the pipeline now the LNG project they wanted so desperately has been approved by the feds.

    However, if the BC Liberals fear a tight election race, they may pull back from supporting it. Ironically, the BC NDP could also help or hurt the Alberta NDP here, depending on how they approach this issue. They lost the last election because in part they were seen as too pro environment at the expense of jobs. It seems it is difficult balancing these two concerns for everyone.

    Unfortunately, the Mayor of Vancouver is less than helpful here with his strong opposition to the pipeline. However, he is a little long in the political tooth and I don’t think he has the widespread appeal he once did. Clark may not fear going against him as much as in the past.

    In any event, I think Notley has good strategy here. I think it is more likely than not the pipeline goes ahead, if so she can claim a big win for Alberta. Premier Wall with his strong criticism will be marginalized as a crank and not be able to claim any credit.

    Reply
  6. Anne Peterson

    October 4th, 2016

    I repeat on this blog: My parents were born in Alberta before it was Alberta and I was raised smack dab in the middle of it. AND I have voted NDP for 60 years. AND I admired Ms. Notley’s father and I admire what she has done so far.

    BUT I love the wonderful productive BC coast which is one of the most beautiful in the world. I have a grandson who spends time on a shrimp boat in the spring and a son who fishes for salmon in the waters off Sidney and a daughter-in-law who is aboriginal and from Comox, which means my grandson has important ties there. Trudeau promised no tankers off that coast and he had better keep that promise. Both he and Ms. Notley have to put their creative hats on and change our economy so it doesn’t depend on just oil. Enough oil gets shipped out of Alberta now.

    I have always found it ironic that the Danes are some of the richest, happiest people in the world.
    They have no natural resources, only excellent well educated human ones. And Germany which is an economic power house produces half its energy from renewables. It has no petroleum resources either. Do lots of petroleum resources make you lazy and dependent on them? Our leaders have to be smart enough and brave enough to break that dependency.

    Reply
    • Kang the barbarian

      October 4th, 2016

      Hi Anne: you and I have the same pedigree. The whole fantasy that we can have the oil boom back if we only get a pipeline to tidewater reminds me of the story of the Papua New Guineans at the end of the Second World War.

      Their first exposure to industrial culture came from American military planes and bases dropping off “cargo” for the troops and wonders like steel knives for the indigenous inhabitants.

      When the war ended the bases and planes disappeared along with the cargo. Native culture was swept by cargo cults. Whole communities would fashion full sized airplane replicas out of trees and vines in the hope to bring the magic of cargo back.

      Too bad Notley has put so much of her reputation into the cargo cult of pipelines. Hard to figure out which will be worse: no pipeline and no boom, or a new pipeline and no boom.

      Reply
    • Commonsensemom

      October 4th, 2016

      The danes are very very. Blonde and maintain their population with strict rules on immigration.took no refugees for example. They pay high taxes for their high cost of living.. And free education ..Good and bad as they dont take home that much after paying taxes for the wind turbines etc No .government can create long term jobs ! Trudeau is more into the United Nations, the easterners and his Ego/ people magazine image than keeping any promises. both he and notley were backed by Tides fdn ..so you may still get your wish..but tankers have been on east coast for years..

      Reply
      • anon

        October 5th, 2016

        Yeah MOM! Dem skools sure dun’t do much fer jobs in da patch and who biult dem roads anyways? Gld yer goin 2 tak kare uf yer own little rug rats an i bet u paid fer the doktor an hospipal 2.

        Whot kind of job is a fireman or police anyway? You tellem MOM! Dat govnmunt is no good.

        Reply
  7. Val

    October 4th, 2016

    how much weight in such ultimatum?
    re-election of federal government depends on outcome of leadership election in PC, which in turns doesn’t seems like will bring strong and popular leader, able to bring party to power.
    sunny boy can simply put an approval process through his bureaucratic apparatus and delay it as long as needed for him to be.
    on another hands seems like mrs. Notley not really among favorites of Trudeau Jr. and hasn’t have reliable allies among other provincial premiers. that’s is putting her in quite vulnerable position on federal level.
    so i guess it just will be war of words without much outcomes.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 5th, 2016

      Thanks Jerry, and apologies to Ms. Jansen. I am at a loss to explain that typo, as it wasn’t in my mind when I wrote it down.

      Reply
  8. Farmer B

    October 5th, 2016

    Premier Notley stated and this is not a quote that the economics of a 30 dollar a tonne carbon tax work without a pipeline but a 50 dollar a tonne carbon tax requires a pipeline. What this tells me is that one of her big selling points to Albertans for a carbon tax,getting social licence for a pipeline to tidewater was BS. She didn’t expect a pipeline. But with the majority of Albertans not in favour of her climate leadership plan she is falling back on a tried and true method of improving your political fortunes in Alberta, pick a fight with Ottawa. Mike Hudema said it best being in favour of a carbon tax and a pipeline is a contradiction, one cuts carbon emissions and one increases them.

    I have a question, if The Alberta oil industry is essentially idled in its present state and Canada’s dependence on foreign oil increases do you care that this would increase tanker traffic on our east coast and that all the oil coming in on those tankers is produced in countries with very little enviromental oversight and certainly no carbon tax?

    Reply
    • Ron

      October 6th, 2016

      ” Canada’s dependence on foreign oil increases ”
      seems counter-intuitive. Demand is falling ww. Is it rising here?

      Please link to your source.

      Reply
      • anon

        October 6th, 2016

        The east using off shore oil is all about transportation economics – ocean tankers cheap, pipelines expensive.

        Reply
        • Ron

          October 6th, 2016

          Not just transportation costs: This oil is cheap to get out of the ground and relatively “clean” compared to fracked oil or bitumen. And the Saudis see the end of ff coming – they will keep their oil cheap till we ban all ff or drown in rising seas (or likely both)

          Question remains – are our imports increasing as Farmer B says?

          Reply
          • Anon

            October 8th, 2016

            As the price of oil falls, transportation becomes a bigger part of the price refiners see. So regardless of overall consumption, the high cost tar/solvent mixture Alberta wants to ship is DOA.

            BTW, why do the big free enterprise Rosies expect government to make private oil pipelines work? And why did the NDP buy into that narrative in the first place?

      • Farmer B

        October 6th, 2016

        At present 3/4 of eastern Canada’s refining needs are met by western Canadian oil(nrcan.gc.ca). If Alberta’s oil production is reduced as many on left would like this supply would have to come from somewhere. At present eastern Canada imports oil from the US and of course many countries off shore like Saudi Arabia and Algeria.

        Reply
  9. Athabascan

    October 5th, 2016

    I’m one of Rachel Notley’s biggest fans.

    However, none of us should lose sight of the political/pubic relations aspects of her stance. She’s got to take this position, if only to make it look like she cares about the oil and gas sector. That at least keeps her detractors at bay for a little while.

    I sympathize to a point with the difficult position she has chosen. The question that comes to mind is how anyone can be the premier of Alberta without looking as if he/she supports the oil & gas sector, in a province that relies so heavily on that industry?

    If only previous governments with the help of the feds had succeeded in diversifying the Alberta economy, things might be different. Or, for that matter if previous governments had managed our wealth more responsibly by making oil companies pay their fair share.

    So, while it may look as if she playing hardball, in my view it’s only good old politics at play here.

    Reply

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