Alberta Politics
A mining operation in Alberta’s Athabasca oilsands in 1949: The jury remains out on whether the sands will still be being mined in another 70 years (Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta).

Federal election results show why abandoning ‘social license’ was a dumb idea for Alberta’s oilpatch

Posted on October 27, 2019, 12:46 am
9 mins

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.

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (Photo: Halsigne14, Creative Commons).

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?

Federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Flickr/Andrew Scheer).

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.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister (Photo: Flickr/Canada Games).

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.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (Photo: Flickr/Andrew Scheer).

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!

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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?

16 Comments to: Federal election results show why abandoning ‘social license’ was a dumb idea for Alberta’s oilpatch

  1. Public Servant

    October 27th, 2019

    Thank you David for pointing out that Alison Redford is weaseling around for more taxpayer money. The last time we let her anywhere near the purse strings was a disaster and she was lucky to only suffer public humiliation rather than an investigation into her flagrant abuse of public funds.

    Alison Redford must not have a $120,000 fully indexed pension like Jason Kenney. Why else would she be snuffling around the public trough?

    Reply
  2. Jerrymacgp

    October 27th, 2019

    You know, if you read those demanding letters to PM Trudeau from Jason Kenney and his political sidekick, Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, you’ll rapidly realize that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that Mr Trudeau will honour any of their demands. They’re just the ravings of a spoiled child, angry they didn’t get their way.

    On climate change and pricing carbon, Mr Trudeau’s Liberals would face universal opposition from the NDP, the Greens, and Bloc if they were to backpedal on this plan — indeed, before and during the election campaign they had already faced intense criticism from both Singh and May on the timidity of their current plan. Why should they risk this by kowtowing to the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, when the likelihood it’d gain them anything next election is vanishingly small?

    Their letters also demand progress on the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion project. Well, the Liberals bought the damned thing, and unless the newest court challenges once again put a halt on it, construction is expected to ramp up in the New Year after the winter slowdown. I’m not sure what else Messrs Moe and Kenney want from the feds on this; if the NDP and Greens had their way the new Trudeau government would put a stop to it, but I don’t think they’ll do that. I think the Liberals will accept the opprobrium from their left, and from the Bloc Québécois — because of their views on provincial jurisdiction and how the precedent of overriding the objections of BC might affect Quebec’s jurisdictional authority — since there is little likelihood the Conservatives would allow the government to fall because of this issue: that would be completely counterproductive from their perspective.

    Both Moe and Kenney also made demands on equalization. I looked at the NDP’s and Greens’ web pages, to see if they have existing policy on this. I couldn’t find any mention of equalization on the NDP’s page, and typing the word into the search bar yielded zero results. The Greens do have an old 2015 pre-election policy backgrounder on the topic at https://www.greenparty.ca/en/policy-background-2015/part-b, but there was no mention of this matter in their 2019 platform that I could find. You can also certainly expect a major pushback from the Bloc on revisiting equalization.

    Mr Kenney and Mr Moe — as well as Mr Scheer — claim that the voters sent the Trudeau Liberals a message. Yes, they did, but not the message they think was sent. Outside of the Saskaberta bubble, the message was “don’t you dare back down on protecting the environment” or else. Alberta and Saskatchewan need to figure out how to get on board with the rest of the country on this, in a way that better balances credible climate action with maintaining a productive economy and employment — oh, wait, isn’t that exactly what the Notley government tried to do? Look what that got them. #smh

    Reply
  3. Ron

    October 27th, 2019

    ” now facing the possibility for the first time since he became Speaker of the House of Commons in 2011 of losing his taxpayer subsidized housing ”

    OK – but I’m assuming Rona had Stornoway for a couple of years after Scheer moved out of The Farm
    – where were the poor Scheers living … in a gov’t shelter?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 27th, 2019

      Good point. You’re right. I recall photos of Ms. Ambrose and her hubby BBQing steaks on the back deck at Stornoway. I have amended the sentence accordingly. Thanks as always to my readers for serving as my editors. DJC

      Reply
  4. Geoffrey Pounder

    October 27th, 2019

    Climenhaga: “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.”

    Oilsands expansion cannot be reconciled with Canada’s inadequate climate targets.
    Social license for climate failure?

    Reply
  5. Geoffrey Pounder

    October 27th, 2019

    Climenhaga: “…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.”

    The NDP introduced and passed Bill 12 — the turn-off-the-taps legislation.

    Both the NDP and UCP reject the science on climate change and its implications for fossil fuel development.
    “The New Climate Denialism: Time for an Intervention” (The Narwhal, Sep 26, 2016)
    • thenarwhal.ca/new-climate-denialism-time-intervention

    Notley also bought into conspiracy theorist Vivian Krause’s absurd conspiracy theories:

    Vivian Krause: “I have been working since July 2018 with Notley’s govt to provide information and assist her team in taking the necessary steps to break the pipeline gridlock.”
    https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/vivian-krause-rachel-notley-the-rockefellers-and-albertas-landlocked-oil

    “‘I’m frustrated by it, of course,’ Notley says of the [anti-oilsands] campaign. ‘Vivian Krause (the B.C. researcher) and people like her have done a good job of really laying bare the details of this and really showing us the degree to which this had been going on and building over time.'”

    Once AB NDP Premier Rachel Notley endorsed Krause’s wacky theories, it was no longer right-wing and no longer conspiracy theory. Notley took it mainstream.

    Reply
  6. J.E. Molnar

    October 27th, 2019

    A popular new strategy is fast emerging in the fight to turn the tables on vacillating fossil fuel companies and stubborn governments who refuse to take serious action on climate change.

    It’s happening in the U.S. with regularity and it’s starting to happen in Canada. Lawsuits against governments and oil and gas companies may be the only remedy left in the war on anthropogenic greenhouse gases and to get obstinate and climate change denying entities on board to support full-blown consequential climate mitigation initiatives. (Click links below)

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04042018/climate-change-fossil-fuel-company-lawsuits-timeline-exxon-children-california-cities-attorney-general

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canadian-teens-lawsuit-federal-government-over-climate-change-1.5335349

    Reply
  7. alan

    October 27th, 2019

    Sooner or later, every well trained dog is taught how to sit, speak, and roll over on command. So it seems to be with the compliant political salesmen acting as revolving door lobbyists for their friends in industry. Eventually, such under qualified individuals may even be asked to take a position on the board of directors, because friends and family look out for each other and because right thinking is sure to be rewarded, whereas; wrong thinking is sure to be punished, economically, or otherwise. In this case, the obvious appears to be just what it seems:

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/10/11/news/ethics-watchdog-pushes-collusion-probe-conservatives-oil-lobby

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-election-ad-contracts-capp-conservatives/

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/04/26/news/scheer-no-apologies-secret-meetings-oil-executives

    https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2019/08/14/Calgary-Oil-Gas-Execs-Backing-Scheer/

    Reply
  8. Dave

    October 28th, 2019

    It probably wasn’t a bad idea to hide Mr. Ford away for most of the duration of the campaign, although it was too obvious and so heavy handed even I felt a bit sorry how Ford was badly man handled by the bigger blue machine. If this is how they treat their friends, how do they treat everyone else? However, it obviously wasn’t a great idea to bring in Premier Kenney recently of Alberta Uber Alles to try persuade the persuadable folks of the GTA. It seemed to scare them back to the Liberals.

    I have a feeling the Conservatives will do something right and something wrong after they reflect on what election results mean for them. First, I think they will get rid of the hapless Scheer, which is the right move. Second I think they will replace him with someone like Kenney or perhaps the original himself.

    Mr. Scheer didn’t lose the election because of his mishaps with his insurance licence or dual US citizenship, although they sure didn’t help him. He lost because he couldn’t sell things like the conservative climate non action plan to Canadians not buying it. The Conservatives will probably conclude they need a better salesman, like Kenney, but what they really need is a better product.

    Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      October 29th, 2019

      I agree: the CPC brand is way past its shelf life. And it’s a long way back to the fork in the road it missed. I wish habitual conservative-voting citizens would shake off the retrograde fantasy of returning to an heroic age and embrace the meaning of the word “conservative” as applied to the environment. Problem is, the CPC is an imposter that keeps ginning the ultra-traditional, evangelical tropes in the two Prairie Provinces. I’m not sure the CPC is redeemable—just wish a renewed Tory party would appear—I think it would really appeal to moderate conservatives.

      Reply
  9. pogo

    October 28th, 2019

    Ok ok! I know you’re going to love the song at the end, and that everyone else will likely; ah, think something? Feel something? I dunno, and to my point? I don’t care! I want a real decent attempt at a side by side chronology of the decisions made by the Alberta government and their Norwegian counter part. Each year should show retained earnings for Alberta given they have such a burden as citizenship in a G7 country! Let’s start the way back machines in 1971! Shall we? I’m no historian, it’s up to you! Oh but, such a time! https://youtu.be/YEOYfDMpumM

    Reply
  10. Scotty on Denman

    October 28th, 2019

    I think Big Bitumen really does want to retreat: the tanking of diluted bitumen prices, Kinder Morgan’s ditching of the Transmountain dog, and the layoff of thousands of bitumen workers being the first clues; Premier Notley’s decrease of dilbit production, ostensibly to boost prices by dearth of supply, was also a convenient screen for Big B to exploit in its disguised retreat: the jig is up and they know it. But they have to do it in good order else the write-down of considerable capital assets proceed too quickly—as in, rout. Thus they may tacitly approve of the NDP’s prescription, but are compelled to demonstrate fealty to the Little King of the Bitumen Mines of Albetar for their shareholders’ sakes.

    More Canadian voters are acknowledging the challenges of climate-change and fossil fuels as a major contributor to it. However, it’s also getting easier for them to separate Alberta’s particularly dirty brand of what the UCP calls “ethical oil” from the refined, “unethical” oil whence the fuel most of them still burn in their personal automobiles; in GHG terms, there’s no contest: because Big B must burn petro-fuels to smelt bitumen from the sandy matrix in which it is found, the up-front GHG is necessarily higher than sweet crude which flows itself out of the Arabian sands in pure form, ready to ship anywhere, as- is (it’s subsequent refining is also much less expensive than dilbit which is the lowest grade of petroleum next to asphalt). It’s one thing to garner unquestioned loyalty from bitumen workers in Alberta, quite another to garner electoral support on these grounds from the ROC+Q: this is the election’s grim test result, suspicion now confirmed.

    Not sure if Scheer’s presumption that the electorate would side with the bitumen provinces was purely “foolish.” Although polls consistently showed the CPC as sub-majority and only on the cusp of minority potential, it was a shot he would have been irresponsible as party leader not to take, and JT was really the only chink in which he could bend his pry bar—the Quebec “separatist threat” so successfully leveraged by the original destroyers of the Progressive Conservative hegemony not yet so apparent during CPC’s 2019 campaign planning (also not sure how the “my-separatism’s-better-than-your-separatism” will play for future conservative leaders—already conservative premiers from the former-colonial provinces are distancing themselves from this kind of contest).

    Given there’s virtual CPC seat-count parity between the two former-charter, ‘spare-cloth’ provinces and the old province of Canada (Upper and Lower), 47 to 46, respectively, it’s still possible for the next CPC leader to extricate the party from UCP-SP “national-unity-crisis” rhetoric. Jason KeKangaroo Kenney might have something to say about that, though, those two provinces being essential for any federal return he might be contemplating. With pseudoCondom in general retreat all over the Western World and the likelihood that our current minority government will probably perform better in Canadians’ estimation, courtesy of NDP tempering, the KeKangaroo —who’s no dummy, as DJC correctly notes—will need to temper his own separatist, “take-my-bitumen-bat-and-ball-and-go-home” rhetoric, among other important and essential steps in preparation for the jump, before entertaining any federal revival of this currently moribund movement.

    But it’s true: Kenney left Scheer no option but to adopt what astute pundits recognized as a losing campaign strategy. In fact, many an astute pundit has speculated that, given the impossible numbers, it was always the KeKangaroo’s plan to let Scheer fail so’s to run for CPC leadership himself, thence for Prime Ministership. Naturally the required disingenuousness and narratological contortions will be fascinating to behold. I have my doubts anything will work, though, at least not for many years after the D’ohFo has been un-elected in vote-rich Ontario: KeKenney will have to come out of the closet to stump his rump in the Upper Canadian farm belt. Will he apply his bitumen rhetoric to Petrolia where the jerk-line shackles and crimps are still wrought by hand (still the commercial source of some of the sweetest crude in the world, it is, however, at the opposite end of production aspiration as bitumen mining is; I suspect KeKenney would pretend it doesn’t exist at all).

    I think even TMX-approving Canadians will, in the unfolding circumstances, be copacetic with the twinned pipeline simply replacing what the existing TM line does—JT has plenty of reasons to sandbag (I was almost gonna make a pun…but, no…), this obvious ‘out’ being one: at least the now-public enterprise continues to generate revenues without having to increase supertanker dilbit shipping seven fold as the UCP and CPC say they must happen (‘or else’…). I still can’t help but notice the many superior features of a Prince Rupert dilbit export terminus—there are so many that I almost missed the fact that such a route would pass through and benefit BC’s little piece of the Great Plains which currently adopts Alberta’s separatist sabre rattling as if fully irredentist, a fact not missed by provincial and federal politicians who’d like to relive the CPC (and the BC Liberals, provincially) of these seats by way of nonCon government largess. A pipeline would blunt rising discontent from this remote corner of BC which, until the LNG pipeline and terminus in Kitimat (the destination of Harper’s shit-canned Northern Gateway Pipeline) is completed, is beholden to the sole market of the bitumen mines to which it supplies gas for smelting operations—at ‘discounted prices’, no doubt.

    Having a hard time with the Three Stooges comparison. KeKenney acts more like Moe Howard to me than Scott Moe does; the D’ohfo, though, does an excellent Curly (leaving Scott Moe the role of Larry, that Stooge of perennial peevishness).

    It really is interesting that Alison Redford has unleashed a trial skunk upon the picnic of prairie pugnacity. A conservative Notley, perhaps? Nobody ever said she wasn’t smart—as diplomat, that is, not so much as a politician. But it doesn’t take too much smarts to sniff around the prospect of the premiership soon being abandoned to another leadership race, this time for the UCP —at least at the corners.

    Reply
    • Rodger Hamilton

      October 29th, 2019

      Hello Scotty on Denman… Your belief that “at least the now-public enterprise continues to generate revenues…” offers little comfort, particularly since the Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that “Overall, in its first seven months of public ownership, CDEV-owned Trans Mountain Corp. (TMC) entities reported a net loss of $36 million.”

      Reply
  11. Rodger Hamilton

    October 29th, 2019

    Thanks for that photo Mr Climenhaga, very interesting… but the caption?..”THE JURY REMAINS OUT ON WHETHER THE SANDS WILL STILL BE BEING MINED IN ANOTHER 70 YEARS”. What Jury would that be..Conservatives from Red Deer perhaps. In light of the negative impacts the world is already experiencing a ~1 degree C, the IPCC forecast of 3 degrees C by 2100 and their proven record of underestimating the rate of change and risks, we can be certain that bitumen mining will not be happening in 2090, nor will life as we know it. As EO Wilson pointed out, “All biological processes are obedient to physics and chemistry.” and climate change has a physical science basis.

    Reply
  12. Just Me

    October 29th, 2019

    The truly amazing thing about all this is that Jason Kenney actually believes he’s defending Alberta’s O&G industry from a position of strength, the absence of social licence notwithstanding. The major producers were reticent about Kenney’s obsession with killing Alberta’s carbon-tax, and told him so on more than a few occasions. Then Kenney started threatening the industry. It’s apparent that Kenney’s hopes of entering the PMO rested on pursuing foolish policies that appealed to those thoughtless enough to believe his nonsense. More thoughtful interests knew better, but whatever.

    So, mighty Jason Kenney stands alone as the so called “Resistance”. Doug Ford is already talking about reconciliation with Trudeau; Blaine and Palliser are talking about their own carbon levies; and Scott Moe, though seemingly joining the Wexit bandwagon, knows he has his own election coming up – voters are likely to frown on Moe joining in on Kenny’s crazy.

    Kenney’s talking tough, but Trudeau in solid for the next four years, thanks to the NDP and the BQ. Kenny’s crazy is only going to get hotter.

    Reply

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