Rachel Notley should lead Sustainable Prosperity Steering Committee, use it as platform to champion Alberta energy
The Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers released a study Wednesday arguing that Alberta energy and climate regulations are hindering industry competitiveness, especially when compared to the United States. CAPP has a point. The energy world is changing rapidly. If the Alberta petroleum sector is going to adapt and thrive in this new world, it needs strong leadership, including political and policy leadership. While the Rachel Notley government has done very good work on this file, some of it innovative and groundbreaking, it’s time for the Premier to step up and take a much more active political role on energy issues.
“It is critical Alberta and Canada compare their policies and regulatory regimes with the U.S., our only major market for oil and natural gas exports, and our biggest competitor for capital. We need a made-in-Alberta approach to competitiveness,” CAPP said in a press release.
Never mind public opinion polls showing that Canadians loath Donald Trump, Calgary-based oil and gas executives are envious of the President’s support for American oil and gas producers, especially his “energy dominance doctrine.” Trump is cutting deals to open the Chinese market to American LNG exports, reducing regulations to lower costs for American producers, and promoting US energy exports at every opportunity.
Trump is the American industry’s champion.
Now, Alberta needs its own champion – with a made-in-Alberta approach that doesn’t just copy Trump – and Notley is the only logical candidate.
Thus far, she has mostly left the energy file to energy minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, a soft-spoken former community college administrator with no direct experience in the industry, and political spark plug Shannon Phillips, an environment and climate change minister whose pre-politics job was energy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour.
McCuaig-Boyd and Phillips have done a fine job shepherding new policy and regulations that will help Alberta oil and gas thrive in an increasingly carbon-constrained world as global nations begin to meet their Paris Climate Accord commitments.
For instance, the Alberta government worked collaboratively with oil sands producers to create the highly innovative 100 megatonne emission cap/carbon levy/output-based allocations system that is designed to lower the carbon intensity of oil sands crude to the same level – or even lower – as the average US crude, while oil sands output grows by 1.5 million b/d by 2030.
But neither minister has the experience nor the profile to be positioned as the Alberta energy champion.
The only possible candidate is Notley. And the CAPP study gives her the perfect opportunity to step up.
The key recommendation of A Competitive Policy and Regulatory Framework for Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Industry is the creation of a Sustainable Prosperity Steering Committee “where industry and government can work together to find solutions that bring back investment, enhance competitiveness and regulatory timelines, address uncertainty caused by federal initiatives and ultimately create jobs for Albertans,” according to the study.
Notley should strike this committee and lead it. She should use the opportunity to demonstrate to Albertans that her NDP government values the province’s largest industry and is prepared to work in partnership with it to create jobs and prosperity after more than two years of bone-crushing recession.
CAPP estimates that the energy industry could create more than 24,000 new jobs and grow Alberta’s economy by nearly $5 billion over the next three years.
That prosperity could be some powerful retail politics for Notley and her party as it heads into the run up to the 2019 election, with the prospect of a united right-wing party looming and the NDP desperately needing to hang on to seats in Calgary.
A statement from McCuaig-Boyd’s office in response to the CAPP study isn’t encouraging.
“While CAPP is an important stakeholder in the energy industry, they are not the only stakeholder. In order to help our businesses grow and access new markets, we need to hear from all those who have a vested interest, including municipalities, Indigenous communities and environmental groups,” she said in an emailed statement.
“CAPP’s proposal would displace the important work and thorough consultations that are underway or already complete.”
I respectfully disagree with the minister, whose email outlines a laundry list of positive changes the Notley government has wrought that should be applauded by industry, which has been slow to acknowledge that “rapidly changing market dynamics” also include the rapid rise of clean energy technologies that are threatening to permanently disrupt energy consumption – and Alberta markets – more quickly than we imagined.
This isn’t about process. It is about politics. It’s about appearing to lead on the most critical file in the provincial economy, the sector that generates the most paycheques and the most business revenue.
And the most political opposition. If the Notley NDP think they can win the next election by tut tutting industry concerns, they are sadly mistaken, as political polling shows it trailing the Wildrose and PCs, both ardent energy industry boosters.
Co-opting some of that support by raising Premier Notley’s profile on energy over the next two years seems like a smart strategy. Treating industry like just another stakeholder, which is the subtext in McCuaig-Boyd’s email, is not.
If the NDP pass on this opportunity, it won’t get another, and may very well find itself ruing missed chances in 2019.