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Pipeline Wars: Notley and Trudeau vs. LEAP

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley addressed the federal Liberal cabinet, pushing her view that pipelines must be built to ship oil; the National Post has reported that Justin Trudeau has told his senior lieutenants to "draw up plans to make the Energy East pipeline and the Trans Mountain expansion in British Columbia a reality." Meanwhile the LEAP manifesto advocates leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Can these two positions be reconciled? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin debate in the ONW Salon.


Richard Mahoney:

One of the fundamental responsibilities of any Canadian government is to ensure that we take care of our responsibilities to ourselves and to our future and deal with the challenge of climate change. It is also a responsibility to do so sustainably, and to help create the kind of economic opportunities that will help build for Canadians the kind of work opportunities that allow them to provide for their families.

Getting resources to market in the 21st century is one of those responsibilities.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are very aligned on this. That is why Trudeau has taken steps to restore public confidence in our environmental assessment process and other processes before the National Energy Board. The idea is to better engage Canadians, to make sure that these assessments are done wisely and responsibly, with community buy-in and support from indigenous peoples.

I think that that approach is not reconcilable with the LEAP manifesto, which unrealistically advocates leaving the resource in the ground. But I do believe we can sustainably develop our resources and deal with climate change. That is what Trudeau and Notley are doing. And I think we have to hope that they succeed in finding the right balance.  


Tom Parkin:

In my mind, LEAP is a vision, not a roadmap. It's about the goal of creating a carbon-free economy. That's something I personally agree with, as does Rachel Notley. As does, by the way, the G7.

LEAP was intended to provoke discussion and it has done that.

But grand visions and next steps are different things.

Rachel Notley toppled a 44-year dynasty in Alberta. Within six months she had assembled a panel of people drawn from indigenous communities, environmentalism and business to create her Climate Leadership Plan, which makes for three aggressive steps ahead: it puts a hard cap on carbon emissions from the oil patch (a cap that is one-third what was licensed under the PCs); it commits to close all coal-powered generating stations; and it puts a price on carbon.

These three ideas are revolutionary for Alberta. But those are the ideas Notley campaigned on. Those ideas - and minimum wage, health care and education promises - are what she is delivering.

In contrast, we now have Justin Trudeau travelling to Paris with Stephen Harper's climate plan. He was a big booster of the Keystone XL project. He didn't restart pipeline assessments as promised. Hasn't changed Harper's environmental assessment laws. And now he seems to be wavering on Northern Gateway.

Ms. Notley has earned her stripes. Mr. Trudeau is still adrift.


John Capobianco:

The question about the possible reconciliation of Premier Notley’s position to move ahead with pipelines as a means to transport oil versus the federal NDP’s recent support of the Leap manifesto is a very important question that needs to be examined.

The Leap manifesto is against transporting oil – in fact, the manifesto opposes fossil fuels and any new infrastructure projects that are specially aimed at extracting non-renewable resources.

It advocates for a Canada that is powered entirely by renewable energy. A significant goal for sure, if not lofty in its potential achievement. Certainly a goal every Canadian would want to achieve for sheer sustainability and environmental reasons.

But tying the hands of Premier Notley specifically, and the federal government in general, on this issue, at a time when Albertans are facing tough economic challenges, is not reasonable or practical.

I applaud Premier Notley for standing up against the Leap supporters (Leapers?) at the recent NDP convention - which was held unfortunately in her province - and for taking a very public position on the need for Alberta and other governments to support pipelines, as witnessed by the recent meeting with the PM and his cabinet. Not easy, as her federal cousins resoundly supported the manifesto in principle and have virtually bound the new NDP leader, whomever he or she will be, into supporting its principles. Tom says it is intended to provoke discussion – well, mission accomplished!


Richard Mahoney:

Tom seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too. On the one hand he praises Premier Notley for her leadership on climate change and putting a price on carbon, but then takes shots at Prime Minister Trudeau for doing the same thing.

The reality is they are working together closely on implementing the commitments Canada made in Paris, with the Prime Minister providing international leadership on this issue. On the other hand, he seems to fault Trudeau for the effort his government is making, in partnership with Premier Notley, to find ways to improve our approval processes and build social license that will allow Canadian resources to get to market. They are working closely together on this - so close, in fact, that Premier Notley actually joined the Trudeau cabinet's planning session this week to talk about the subject. Tom needs to decide whether he supports that which he says he does.

Which brings us to the LEAPers. Tom courageously recasts the LEAP manifesto as a vision, rather than a roadmap. That's probably fair. But as Tom also points out, that vision is directly at odds with the one he articulates well, and the one being pursued now by both Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau.

The world can move to a carbon free economy. While we pursue that goal, we can massively improve our processes, reduce carbon and pursue other steps to deal with climate change. That vision is clearly rejected by LEAP, but sensibly embraced by Notley, Trudeau and, apparently, Tom Parkin!


Tom Parkin:

I only wish, Richard, that it were true that Mr. Trudeau is "doing the same thing" as Rachel Notley. He has not set any new carbon targets or caps. He hasn't set a price on carbon. I have no idea what his position is on pipelines. He sure was a big supporter of Keystone XL. He said he was going to ban tankers from Douglas Channel as a way of killing the Northern Gateway pipeline, which is planned to terminate there. But media reports this week say his bureaucrats are looking at setting exceptions to the ban - so it's not a ban then, is it? And when directly asked by Josh Matlow whether the "ban" he is working on would kill Northern Gateway, Garneau said "it's premature to say anything."  That's not "No."

Further, on Monday, the Liberal cabinet was to review plans to move the terminus from Kitimat to Prince George. Yet when Mr. Trudeau was leader of the third party he said if he became PM "the Northern Gateway pipeline will not happen."

Ms. Notley has a $15+ differential on crude prices because of lack of port access. That's costing her treasury billions. She says that's money she needs to fund a greener, more diversified Alberta economy - exactly the goal of a low-carbon/no-carbon economy we talked about at the outset. This is on top of all her other environmental achievements in just one year.

Ms. Notley is doing her job. Tom Mulcair and Nathan Cullen (whose federal riding Northern Gateway runs through) are taking their position - they continue to oppose Northern Gateway.

It is really Mr. Trudeau who doesn't know what he is doing. He is going to be on the hot seat now.


John Capobianco:

The problem I have, as well as many Canadians, is that the authors of the LEAP manifesto hardly wanted it to be a document that merely started a discussion. As was seen at the convention and since, they are more than content to ensure pressure is being leveled with little regard to what it might mean to jobs and prosperity in Alberta.

I came back from an Economic Club luncheon this week where Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci gave what I thought was a decent, thoughtful and articulate account of the economic situation in his province. Spelling out the challenges they face and the goals they would like to achieve to help maintain jobs and create jobs, he also ruled out a provincial sales tax at least for this term of government!

The Minister also reiterated his Premier’s notion that pipelines are and will be critical to the future prosperity of Alberta, but like everything this needs leadership at all levels. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper and now under the interim leadership of Rona Ambrose have always and remain steadfast in their support of pipelines.

Having the Premier discuss pipelines with the federal cabinet was a great idea. So many great ideas do not lead to action unless the will is there. I hope for the sake of Alberta, indeed Canada, that there will be the leadership to get this done. I remain convinced that the question asked of us today is one that will play out significantly in political discourse but the two positions will not be reconcilable.


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues.  


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