Controversial MLA Derek Fildebrandt, leader of Freedom Conservative Party

Fildebrandt accuses NDP of siding with big oil sands companies and UCP of abandoning conservative ideals over govt ownership of Kinder Morgan pipelines

Alberta has a new conservative party and in an interview with Energi News, leader Derek Fildebrandt was pretty explicit about its approach to energy policy: free enterprise, small business, no corporate welfare, no carbon tax. The former UCP MLA says this was the vision he thought Jason Kenney was all about, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

“I was very supportive of merging the Wild rose and the PC party but what came of it has become not what I believed it would be,” he said. “I think it generally stems from a belief that they’ve already won the election and that has led to a very early sense of entitlement to power before they even have power.”

Freedom Conservative Party

Jason Kenney, leader, United Conservative Party.

Fildebrandt regularly refers to the United Conservative Party as “Tories,” implying that Kenney and company are Red Tories – just another iteration of the Progressive Conservatives that Rachel Notley and the NDP defeated in 2015 – not the libertarian variety of conservatism the new Freedom Conservative Party espouses.

The controversial member for Strathmore-Brooks claims that he agrees with “the Tories” on quite a few energy policies, but parts company on government ownership of the 300,000 b/d Trans Mountain pipeline and the 590,000 b/d expansion project that has been the cause of intense political conflict between Alberta and British Columbia.

Mr. Kenney came out even before Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau and called for the government to immediately move on purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline when it became clear that that pipeline was going to be in trouble,” said Fildebrandt, whose political clashes with the UCP leader are well known to Alberta readers and need not be recounted here. 

The FCP is the only party that opposes government ownership of the pipeline.

“The means of production and the compounding heights of the economy should never be owned by governments,” says Fildebrandt, who adds that he is an “unapologetic believer in free enterprise” but an “enemy of corporate welfare in all of its forms.” He calls Kenney an “establishment corporatist.”

“Conservatives typically love oil and gas,” and are not enamoured of solar and wind energy, he says.

“We don’t have a problem with solar and wind, we have a problem with corporate welfare and not using proper market mechanisms to determine what our energy mix is going to be. Our opposition to corporate welfare is equally as strong when it comes to wind and solar as it is to pipelines.”

That FCP message plays well with small business, according to Feldebrandt, and it comes as no surprise that he is finding support among the small and medium-sized oil and gas producers, a group that has always been supportive of red meat conservatism.

Freedom Conservative Party

Rachel Notley, Alberta premier.

“I’ve primarily heard from junior oil and gas. I’ve always been in close contact with them as they are the major energy players in my own constituency,” he said.

“We’re largely a lot of the small guys and they’ve been hurting for the last few years. There are some signs of life and some people are back to work and some rigs are getting retrofitted and so there’s some good news there but they’re still hurting badly. For a long time now there’s been a divide between the big guys who have the ear of government and the small guys who are lucky to have the ear of even their MLA.”

In typical libertarian fashion, Fildebrandt sees government as the creature of the big corporations, in this case the huge oil sands players that played a key role in pushing a province-wide carbon tax and even before the NDP were elected had cut a deal with environmentalists to support carbon pricing in the oil and gas sector (that ideal eventually became the Notley government’s Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation).

“The NDP very quickly dropped their most extreme ideological objectives to our oil and gas indsutry once they were elected, but in that process, they have almost exclusively sided with large oil sands operators to the exclusion of smaller oil sands operators and conventional oil and gas,” he said.

We are a party that doesn’t want a government dominated either by big government socialism nor by big business establishments.”

This is interesting political positioning by Fildebrandt.

Energi News has long argued that NDP energy policies favour the oil sands. Two months after her party formed government, Notley was praising the oil sands as Alberta’s “international showpiece” and pledging to provide private investors with a stable, predictable investment environment.

That doesn’t sound very NDPish.

But many of Alberta’s union members work directly or indirectly in the oil sands, which is the sector forecast to generate almost all new crude oil supply over the next 20 years (up to 2 million b/d). Supporting oil sands growth supports the growth of union members, which makes perfect political sense for Notley.

Now Derek Fildebrandt is trying to capture the pro-free enterprise political space, and that means smaller players and the service sector, where the political right has long been dominant.

Which leaves Kenney and the UCP as the “not-NDP party” when it comes to energy policy. Thus far, the strategy appears to be working, with the UCP enjoying a healthy lead in public opinion polls.

But Notley must be pleased that Fildebrandt and the Freedom Conservative Party may nip at Kenney’s heels, potentially hiving off political support even though Fildebrandt says his party intends to only run candidates in seats where the NDP have no chance of winning.

Or the FCP could fall flat on its face out of the gates and have no impact at all over the 10 months leading up to the next Alberta election.

In any event, an interesting political fight over energy policy just got more interesting.