Support by Rachel Notley for Donald Trump’s Keystone XL Pipeline decision may be unnerving, but it’s politics

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PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley at yesterday’s news conference in Edmonton (Government of Alberta photo by Chris Schwarz). Below: Greenpeace Canada campaigner Mike Hudema, U.S. President Donald Trump (who may not appear exactly as illustrated), and Otto von Bismarck (who, actually, often pretty much did).

Premier Notley just pledged to work with Trump administration on Keystone XL. WTF?
— Environmentalist Mike Hudema, Tuesday afternoon on Facebook

It’s hard not to feel Mike Hudema’s pain.

Mr. Hudema is a Greenpeace Canada campaigner, well known for his anti-tarsands activism in Alberta. I suppose some people in the oilpatch don’t like him very much, but he’s generally viewed with respect. God knows, he’s consistent.

Mr. Hudema ran for the Alberta NDP in the Edmonton-Meadowlark riding back in 2001. He was 25 at the time.

Yesterday, he was expressing his shock and dismay on social media at the sight of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley praising Donald Trump’s decision to give the green light to the Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Ms. Notley – looking cheerful, relaxed and just skeptical enough about the bombastic U.S. president’s pronouncements – also stuck by her government’s emphasis on the need to build a pipeline within Canada’s borders to a Canadian port. “We are focused on building Canadian pipelines to Canadian tidewater,” she stated at her morning news conference in Edmonton. “It’s important to us to do what we can to get pipelines in Canada – Canadian infrastructure to Canadian tidewater – where we have the most control that we can.”

One imagines this doesn’t please Mr. Hudema much more than the premier’s pledge to work with the Trump Administration on the completion of Keystone XL.

If so, Mr. Hudema is not alone.

But I’ve been around long enough to tell you this is what happens to virtually everyone, no matter how idealistic they are when they come through the door, who finds themselves running a democratic government, irrespective of whether they are on the left, the right or somewhere in between.

So get used to it. It’s why Otto von Bismarck, the 19th Century unifier of Germany, famously called politics “the art of the possible, the attainable, the art of the next best.”

Those few politicians who don’t exhibit such flexibility – hypocrisy to their opponents, and sometimes to their formerly most enthusiastic supporters – are bound for a quick trip to the scrapheap of history. The ethical question, if there is one, is only how far a democratic politician is willing to bend his or her principles on some issues to get things done on others.

This, I think, is what makes Alberta’s Opposition parties so mad about Ms. Notley. She’s not exactly an ethical pretzel, but she is prepared to bend with the political and practical winds. They’d expected her to commit political hara-kiri to suit their agenda. Her refusal to do so makes them furious.

I know, I know … Successful politicians don’t like this kind of talk. They like to pretend their principles are as consistent as Mr. Hudema’s have been, even when, as often happens, two principles a person sincerely believes in turn out to be in conflict with one another. Alas, it’s not a formula for electoral success, even when there are sound arguments put forward by the opponents of their policies.

No one who has followed Premier Notley’s career should have expected her not to put Alberta’s economic interests ahead of her previously expressed reservations about the shipment of bitumen out of the province. Sometimes, as Ms. Notley pointed out in her news conference yesterday, things really do change. Sometimes, politicians try to paint strategic change as the same thing: “It’s not that we haven’t been a fan of the Keystone XL, it’s that it hasn’t been a priority,” she told a reporter who tried to imply in a question she’d flip-flopped in the project.

Likewise, no one who has followed Mr. Hudema’s career should be surprised he was disillusioned by this development.

Still, I imagine most of us, regardless of our political views, found it somewhat unsettling to see an NDP premier with a solid progressive pedigree praising a decision made by a Republican American president known for his odious far-right views and rhetoric.

But you know what they say: sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows. (I am speaking metaphorically here.)

I suppose many progressives who have campaigned tirelessly against Canada joining the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership, a neoliberal corporate rights scheme if ever there was one, would have been more comfortable if Mr. Trump had broken his promise to his supporters and turned around and signed that deal. Ah ha, we could have said, just as we thought!

But that’s not what Mr. Trump did. He kept his promise and, in this particular case, it’s a good thing.

It remains to be seen if the new president is one of those who keeps all his promises. If he keeps every one, as stated here before, it’s unlikely he’ll last his full first term.

If that happens, and any of us rejoice at his fall, we’d best think twice about demanding the same level of consistency from those we support.

NAFTA is next. Mr. Trump is sending mixed signals to Canada on that one. Canadians should be concerned about it whether or not they opposed “free trade” in the lead-up to the 1988 election, or in any of its many iterations since.

Readers with long memories will recall that both NDP Leader Ed Broadbent and Liberal Leader John Turner vowed to tear up the deal worked out by prime minister Brian Mulroney’s government. No one can prove this, but I expect neither of them would have actually changed much if they’d been elected in ’88.

Regardless, since then we’ve (possibly foolishly) embedded our country’s economy so deeply in that of the United States that Trumpian fiddling while NAFTA burns should be viewed with deep concern.

It appears we’re condemned to live in interesting times.

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Categories Alberta Politics