Notley’s speech emphasized Alberta commitment to combating climate change, economic benefits to all Canadians
When Premier Rachel Notley announced her cross-country tour to support pipeline projects specifically, and more generally the Alberta oil and gas industry, she focused on the rule of law, an argument that sells poorly in British Columbia. But her speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade Thursday downplayed disagreements and instead emphasized common interests of the two NDP-led provinces, including Alberta’s aggressive Climate Leadership Plan, which should appeal to West Coast eco-culture but is virtually unknown on the other side of Rockies.
This was an important speech.
Industry and government have long ignored the pressing need to build a community of support for energy infrastructure projects in BC, instead leaving the debate to opponents – environmental groups, local communities, and coastal indigenous communities – that now dominate the public narrative.
Opinion polls consistently show that 40 to 50 per cent of British Columbians support building pipelines. As the political heat intensifies now that Trans Mountain Expansion construction has started, that so-called “silent majority” needs to be mobilized to ensure that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains steadfast in his support of the project.
Assisting that process was Notley’s one job as she stood in front of the province’s biggest business association and she turned in a masterful performance.
“What we’re really here to do is to talk to our neighbors in British Columbia as neighbors and as Canadians to other Canadians because this is really about supporting an economic regime that allows Canada to continue to compete strategically and effectively in a global setting,” she said in the media scrum following her speech to about 150 people at an event that included earlier speeches by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson.
“What I’m trying to do is to talk to folks about the larger context and to put into context this whole debate, not in any way to negate the genuine concerns that people have, but to also understand the importance of the energy industry not only to Albertans but to all Canadians.”
Notley called the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan the most aggressive suite of climate mitigation policies in North America, a strategy she is “quite proud of.”
“We passed legislation to put the cap on emissions. What that means is that with the construction of pipelines, there’s only so much emissions that will be allowed to come from the oil sands and it will come whether that product is shipped on rail or whether it is shipped through pipelines,” she said.
The Vancouver media were mostly polite with Notley, who pointed out that she had worked with BC NDP Premier John Horgan in the mid-1990s as members of the Glen Clark government and still maintains a friendly relationship with the MLA for Langord-Juan de Fuca despite their “agree to disagree” approach to Trans Mountain Expansion.
When was asked why it’s important for her to talk to British Columbians about the pipeline project, Notley replied that it is critical “to let them know just how far Alberta has come and how much work we are doing to meet so many different environmental objectives…as the premier, I have a unique opportunity to share the context with people in a way that maybe not everybody else can. It’s just part of respecting the need for a conversation and hopefully slowly building support or acceptance.”
It was inevitable that a question or two would be asked about the conflict over issuing permits between Kinder Morgan and the BC government and local municipalities, which saw the Trudeau Government wade in to support the National Energy Board earlier this week.
“It’s not about provincial versus [Canadian] jurisdiction growing or shrinking. What it is is where you’ve got a common understanding about what is national jurisdiction and we know that a trans-provincial pipeline like this going to a port that serves the whole country is a matter of national interest,” she replied.
“That, in that case, we need to be able to act as a nation and we need to be able to act with a strategic sensibility for that entails. We just can’t spend the next ten years figuring over this. It will hurt the integrity of our overall economic success going forward.”
I then asked Notley if she thought British Columbians actually understood that the Canadian Constitution assigns exclusive jurisdiction over
inter-provincial pipelines to the federal government.
Consistent with her “friendly neighbours” strategy, the Premier stuck to her “pipelines as a nation-building exercise” talking point:
I don’t know that I can really speak to what people do or don’t understand in terms of the constitutional division of powers. What I do know is that when you’ve got a project that is so fundamental to the overall national economic interest, the overall national fiscal interest, the overall national outcomes in terms of supporting those things that, as Canadians, we all care about – a well-funded healthcare system, equal access to education regardless of what part of the country you live in and the resources that you have in that country.
Those kinds of fundamental principles that make us who we are. That when you come to something like this which has a direct bearing on those things, then obviously it does have a national interest and a national element to it. And so that’s the point I’m trying to make.
I followed up with a second question, noting that companies like Suncor and Cenovus have committed to lowering their GHG emissions by as much as 33 per cent, and asked if those efforts were appreciated by the British Columbians.
“All of the work that the energy industry is doing needs to be better communicated to the people of British Columbia because whether you’re talking Suncor or Cenovus, everybody is working to reduce their emissions, reduce their [carbon] intensity, reduce their footprint on a whole number of different fronts. There’s really aggressive work going on within our energy sector.
“I think we do need to be able to talk to folks in British Columbia about that because I think there’s a few urban myths that still exist there. And there are definitely challenges but at the same time, there’s definitely some very, very robust and aggressive efforts on the part of the industry to improve their performance. And they are succeeding and so I think the more we can talk to folks about it the better.”
The hundred or so protesters outside the Fairmont Watefront Hotel, site of the event, made a bit of noise and waved placards, but there was an air of resignation in the light rain, as if they recognize that opponents have lost momentum and construction of the pipeline is now almost inevitable.
If the project is completed in 2019, it will be due in part to the Alberta Premier’s efforts yesterday. Ministers, such as Shannon Phillips (environment and climate change) and Marg McCuaig-Boyd (energy), and industry associations (e.g. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Energy Pipelines Association) should now follow up Notley’s speech by continuing to engage British Columbians about pipelines and the provincial oil and gas industry.
Alberta, don’t waste a good thing.