Seeking “social license” for Alberta’s fossil fuel industry was said by the NDP government of former premier Rachel Notley to be a way to win approval for more pipeline capacity to Canada’s ocean ports.
This was true enough as far as it went, and the idea getting such approval required environment-friendly compromises like carbon taxes and emissions caps clearly succeeded. After all, despite an iffy business case, the multi-billion-dollar Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Program not only got federal approval on Ms. Notley’s watch, but was eventually temporarily nationalized by Ottawa to ensure construction could proceed.
Now, however, it is becoming clear that social license is not only essential to sustaining and even expanding Alberta’s oilsands industry, it may be key to ensuring its survival as a viable economic activity.
If so, it wasn’t very good news for the future of the oilpatch last April when Albertans elected a government that rejects the entire concept of seeking social license, is mired deep in nonsensical conspiracy theories about how opponents of expanding bitumen mining and processing in northern Alberta are financed, and is deeply committed to a belligerent approach to other provinces on the pipeline file.
As we poke into the entrails of last week’s federal election, one thing that becomes obvious is that support in Canada for strong action on climate change is approaching a national consensus outside the Prairies.
Despite the reduction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to minority status — which poor Andrew Scheer insists means the government will soon fall as he hangs on by his fingernails to his job as Opposition leader and the nice house that goes with it — about two thirds of Canadians voted for parties that advocate a carbon tax.
Not only has support for climate action been growing among Canadian voters, it’s hard to believe the trend line won’t continue upward as the reality of global warming becomes more obvious in Canada and elsewhere in the world.
That being the case, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s strategy of yelling at clouds, bullying other provinces, encouraging “Wexit” nuts, pursuing doomed constitutional challenges of the federal carbon tax with his fellow stooges in Saskatchewan and Ontario, and using his influence as a former federal cabinet minister to push the federal Conservatives to adopt the same foolish tactics is not going to improve the industry’s prospects.
Indeed, it’s clear that it’s slowly dawning in the boardrooms of the fossil fuel industry’s largest corporations that Ms. Notley’s approach wasn’t such a bad idea even if organizations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers are still prepared to act as Mr. Kenney’s political storm troopers.
Alberta Conservatives keep repeating, as Mr. Kenney said yesterday while tweeting a link to a Fraser Institute screed, that “the Trans Mountain Pipeline has support from a clear majority of Canadians, including British Columbians.” That was true, thanks to Ms. Notley’s persuasive efforts, and perhaps it still is. But has there been any recent polling on the topic since Mr. Kenney applied his reverse Midas touch to the issue — other than the federal election, that is?
As for the hapless Mr. Scheer — now facing the possibility unusual since he became Speaker of the House of Commons in 2011 of losing his taxpayer subsidized housing — he is in big trouble for foolishly acting on Mr. Kenny’s view that what worked with voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan would work in other provinces too.
After Mr. Trudeau’s dismal performance of the past year, the election was Mr. Scheer’s to lose. Thanks in large part to his adoption of the Kenney strategy of saying to hell with social license, lose it he did.
Despite suggestions to the contrary by the Trumpist rump at Postmedia, the federal Conservatives were probably right to minimize the damage Ontario Premier Doug Ford could do by locking him in a back room for most of the federal campaign. The evidence now suggests they probably should have locked Mr. Kenney in a closet too while they were at it.
Certainly, as my colleague Dave Cournoyer’s number crunching shows, Mr. Kenney’s campaigning in Ontario did Mr. Scheer little good. Only two of the 24 Conservative candidates Mr. Kenney acknowledged campaigning for in his native province won, and Conservative vote totals in 23 of the 24 ridings fell from the previous election.
Meanwhile, it appears the pre-election consensus among Conservative premiers to reject any effective action on climate change is fraying.
While Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Ford — the Moe, Larry and Curly of Canadian first ministers — pursue their constitutional challenge of Ottawa’s right to impose taxes, a courtroom loser if ever there was one, New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs had already jumped ship and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister sounds as if he’s pondering abandoning ship.
If Mr. Kenney is serious about helping Alberta’s fossil fuel industry, he’ll need to dump controversial blogger Vivian Krause like the International Association of Business Communicators just did and adopt Ms. Notley’s social license strategy.
This seems unlikely just now, since by all appearances Alberta’s United Conservative Party premier still has his eye on Mr. Scheer’s job, and after that Mr. Trudeau’s. So he won’t quit attacking anything and everything Mr. Trudeau says and does any time soon.
Still, stranger things have happened. Despite all his talk, Mr. Kenney opted for a bigger deficit than the one projected by the NDP in his government’s budget last week. So you can’t rule a flip-flop out completely, especially if the biggest bosses of the energy industry have a frank chat with him.
Whatever else he is, Mr. Kenney’s not a dummy, and sooner or later reality may sink in.
Alison Redford’s back, and she wants to help!
I note with interest that Alison Redford, who back in the day was the most unpopular politician in Alberta, seems to be trying to stage a comeback.
On Friday, she was on CBC Radio, praising the UCP’s destructive austerity budget to the rafters to rolled eyes all round. Yesterday, thanks to CTV, we learned she’s ready and willing to “lend a hand to the Trudeau Liberals to mend the relationship between Ottawa and the West.”
What could possibly go wrong?