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

Posted on January 25, 2017, 12:48 am
8 mins

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.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

  1. Sam Gunsch

    January 25th, 2017

    So long as Calgary’s economy is petro-dependent, no AB gov’t gets elected (or re-elected) if it’s off-side with petro-expansion.

    That said: There is a WTF in the inherent contradiction between the AB climate plan and the national climate goals: with the predicted tarsands growth the rest of Canada is, in theory, going to have to make the GHG cuts necessary to compensate for AB’s tarsands GHG growth of over 40% from today to the 100 MT cap by 2030, despite AB phasing out coal. Anyone think the ROC will do that? Me neither.

    My guess…more pipelines just enable this AB tarsands GHG growth path into a longer arc based on the petro-politics to-date. Despite techno GHG/bbl improvements.

    Graphics explaining the contradiction between AB climate/tarsands plan vs. federal goals at the link:

    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/12/08/news/albertas-new-climate-policies-explained-missing-infographic

    excerpt: ‘Instead, Alberta plans to increase emissions to 270 MtCO2.

    That means they plan to take over half of Canada’s entire national carbon budget in 2030.

    …Turns out that all Canadians not living in Alberta will have to cut their emissions by more than 50 per cent in the next 15 years so Albertans don’t have to make any cuts at all. Sounds fair, eh? Reminds me of my brother explaining why he should get to eat all the rest of the pie and I should be happy doing all the dishes.’

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      January 25th, 2017

      Remember… the oilpatch reacted to royalty rate increases from Stelmach’s royalty review by switching their donations to fund the Wildrose/Danielle Smith. That was the beginning of the end of Stelmach.

      https://albertaviews.ab.ca/2011/10/04/petrostate/

      excerpt: However, in the 2008 campaign, the party only raised $580,256. Corporate contributions sank to $386,175. This is where we clearly see the link between campaign contributions and petroleum’s influence in provincial politics. The oilpatch was furious over changes to the provincial royalty regime.
      ============

      Literally amazing how a review under the NDP dominated by an oil/gas consultant arrived a different analysis, eh?

      Reply
      • alfred venison

        January 30th, 2017

        interesting, the australian prime minister was removed from office at around the same time after big coal leaned on his party when he tried to adjust royalties. -a.v.

        Reply
  2. January 25th, 2017

    Yes, Climate Change denial is “unnerving”.
    Dress it up, put lipstick on it. Blather on about the wonderful carbon tax while you expand the Tarsands, but it’s Climate change denial.

    Reply
  3. Ken Durham

    January 25th, 2017

    As a staunch NDP supporter, a retired Alberta B pressure welder, a loving, caring humanist who embraces a shift to renewable energy sources and phasing out oil, gas, and coal over a realistic period of time…… I think you give Mr. Hudema too much credibility. I wish you and the other media sources would stop giving him even marginal amounts of legitimacy by discussing his views as if they were scientific, factual, and anything more than manipulative opinion.

    Reply
  4. political ranger

    January 25th, 2017

    ahhh! …. I see. It truly does depend on which team one supports that determines one’s ethical decisions and moral world view.
    Neville Chamberlain comes to mind as well as a great number of well-fed, ignorant nobles of the british court. Even Queen Elizabeth II heartily saluted the fascist pig across the way; she at least can be excused for that because she was a child.
    Adults, especially educated and articulate adults have no excuse. It appears that you support, at all costs, the continued expansion and exploitation of the tarsands because your self-selected leader says so.
    Since we are in a post-truth, alternative facts universe let me say unequivocally that Notley is lying when she says that her support of TM and EE does not constitute energy production increases because those industrial expansions were already planned. Pure fantasy and nonsense. She goes on to say that these 2 pipelines are all about increased and additional revenues for Alberta. Also more fantastical road apples and nonsensical hogwash.
    For her to come out, as she has over the last couple days to say that the KXL has no effect on petroleum production in the province is a lie of Trumpian proportions.
    Let’s be clear here, so far it has been mostly adults on this site; this appeasement has nothing whatsoever to do with political flexibility. As I have said from the first few months of being introduced the Alberta gov’t it is always popularity over principles here. If we can make a quick buck, well what’s the harm? It’s a great party as long as the oil is flowing. When clean air, water and hospitable temperatures are scarce or non-existent the party times will be seen for the foolish waste they are.

    Reply
  5. David

    January 25th, 2017

    I’m not a fan of Keystone, either but I think it is better than nothing. I read an article that the chances of it transporting Alberta oil were still 50 – 50, because there is so much crude being produced in the US from shale fracking the US refineries are now being converted to process that instead of heavy oil. A lot of environmental concerns about fracking – maybe Jane Fonda should go visit those parts of the US, perhaps she already has and I missed it.

    Personally, I think it is better to find new markets other than the US which is why the Kinder Morgan pipeline and Energy East probably make more sense for Alberta, but neither are a sure thing either. There is a lot of opposition in BC and Quebec. It’s not easy being a landlocked province, but at least the more constructive approach by the Alberta government has given us the possibility of other options.

    Trump says so many crazy things we don’t take him seriously. It looks like he is at least going to try and keep a lot of his promises, even though it might be better if he didn’t keep manyof them. We shouldn’t be surprised that a politician is actually trying to do what they said – in part a sign of our cynical times, sigh.

    Reply
    • Chris

      January 26th, 2017

      Jane Fonda should have just went to Beverley Hills High School. They have a large windowless building next door that contains a drilling rig that is drilling directional and horizontal wells out under parts of Beverley Hills, Hollywood and Los Angeles. Fracking is going on directly underneath the mansions of theses celebrity activists. This is just one of many oilfields that lie under the greater Los Angeles metro area.

      Reply
  6. January 25th, 2017

    Another Climate Change denier???
    “better than nothing”???
    NOTHING is better than nothing.

    Reply
    • David

      January 25th, 2017

      Well, if you don’t like Alberta Oil, the Americans can get heavy crude from Venezuela, shale fracking in the US, shipping it from the middle east (because Saudi Arabia needs more money to buy military weapons to supposedly not use against their own people or neighbours) or if they still really want Alberta crude they can ship it in by rail – remember that worked so well in Quebec.

      If you want to help the climate you need to change the behavior of big consumers in the US and elsewhere – just causing more unemployment in Alberta is not going to help at all.

      Reply
  7. Ryan H

    January 25th, 2017

    Also, there’s some huge domestic hurdles inside the US that have to be dealt with long before any Canadian approvals matter one way or another. No sense spending any political capital one way or the other until things settle out south of the border. Just smile politely and stay out of the line of fire and get on with our own buisness.

    Reply
  8. Farmer B

    January 26th, 2017

    Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips have historically demonstrated against pipeline expansion and big oil, as I am sure most of the NDP caucus has. Now that they are in government, we need pipelines! What does this say about our Premier? About politicians?

    Reply
    • Val

      January 26th, 2017

      harsh check by reality. i would like to have and i can afford to have it’s not the same.
      anyway that’s better than stubborn ramming by personal agenda against all facts and existent objectives,
      albeit so far she doesn’t doing very well.

      Reply
    • kang the barbarian

      January 27th, 2017

      All it says is grownups look at the numbers and adjust their course accordingly. Klein and company simply enforced their idiot ideas on the province and left a wreck which the NDP are cleaning up.

      I think the NDP should learn from that and be much more dictatorial, as is their right under our system, but hey, they are trying to introduce democracy into Alberta. I doubt it will work, but we will see.

      Reply
  9. David Grant

    January 28th, 2017

    This is a disappointing decision, but it won’t be one that will dissuade me from voting against them in 2019. It does show the power of the oil industry and the business community to get what they want. The protests were effective because it brought to light the environmental issues that arise from transporting oil. The issue here is not whether we transport it across rail or through pipelines, but how we can off this addiction to one not relying on fossil fuels. Even though the pipeline was approved, I wonder if the Americans will want it given that they can produce enough natural gas through fracking and oil sources closer to home. While this maybe a good political decision, I am not sure it is a good decision for the future of planet earth(although the election of President Orange will decide that).

    Reply

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