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This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oil sands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oil sands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

No argument over oil sands in Alberta election Add to ...

Alberta’s oil sands stir controversy during election season − just ask politicians trying to solidify power in Ottawa or Washington. But for leaders jostling for the premier’s seat in Alberta? Not so.

The oil sands industry drives Alberta’s economy, population growth, high levels of education and prosperity, and at times, its social woes. But while the rest of the world bickers over the pros and cons of the oil sands, the top four political parties in Alberta barely mention bitumen.

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And when the oil sands do come up, there isn’t much arguing.

“We think the oil sands are key to the prosperity of this province,” Brain Mason, leader of the provincial New Democratic Party, said in a debate Thursday.

Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservatives’ leader, echoed his sentiment: “It is critically important that we allow that economic development to continue to grow.”

Raj Sherman, the Liberal frontman, talked about diversifying markets and refining bitumen outside Edmonton. Wildrose Party’s Danielle Smith, who is leading in the polls, discussed how the federal government’s policy to streamline regulations should be counted as a success.

To be fair, Mr. Mason and Dr. Sherman attacked the PCs on the environment front, regulatory penalties, and pace of development. They don’t think the oil sands have been managed well, but their suggestions − clean up toxic tailings ponds from mines; work on carbon pricing; bring in independent environmental monitors; enforce regulations − are far from original or even offensive to the industry’s supporters.

The oil sands might divide Republicans and Democrats in Washington, but here in Alberta, bitumen binds opponents together.

Follow on Twitter: @CarrieTait

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