The environment, energy and federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair are on the agenda Tuesday when leaders of the western provinces and territories get together.
“There is going to be an emphasis on environmental regulation,” said Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who will host the meeting in Edmonton.
“British Columbia wants to talk about families and community development and [Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall]and I want to continue to advance the Canadian energy strategy agenda.”
Ms. Redford didn’t refer to Mr. Mulcair by name, but said: “My expectation is we’ll probably speak a little bit about the view that other national leaders have taken of western premiers in the past month or so, so it should be an interesting discussion.”
Mr. Mulcair made headlines recently by saying strong growth in the petroleum industry, particularly in Alberta’s oil sands, has led to a higher dollar which is hammering manufacturers in Central Canada.
Premiers Wall, Redford, and B.C.’s Christy Clark disparaged Mr. Mulcair’s remarks as divisive and ill-informed. He in turn dismissed the premiers as “messengers” of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ms. Redford said her goal is not to divide, but to unite under what she terms a Canadian energy strategy.
The plan would be for all provinces and territories to work together – and with the federal government – to advance development of Canada’s energy industry and address environmental protection.
It would include, for example, working to improve rules and regulations, collective lobbying in the global marketplace and shared responsibility on trans-boundary projects such as pipelines.
Mr. Harper has said he’s intrigued by the idea, and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said while in Edmonton on Friday that he supports “a collaborative approach to energy development.”
Shortly after Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Mulcair himself will be in Alberta. The NDP Leader has confirmed he will visit the province for two days starting Wednesday. The plan is to include a trip to the oil sands.
Ms. Redford said she will meet with him if time allows.
“It’ll depend on his schedule,” she said.
“I’ve got commitments that day outside of the province. If I can’t meet with him, the deputy premier [Thomas Lukaszuk]will meet with him.
“I was pleased to see that he is going to [the oil sands area of]Fort McMurray,” she added. “One of the things that I did suggest is that he should inform himself of the issues.”
In fact, Ms. Redford said earlier this month she wouldn’t meet with Mr. Mulcair unless he had educated himself on the issue.
She suggested Mr. Mulcair should not expect the same treatment accorded to James Cameron. The famed Hollywood director and oil-sands critic paid his own visit to the region in the fall of 2010 and debated the issues in a private meeting with former premier Ed Stelmach.
Mr. Cameron said Mr. Stelmach tried to sway his opinion by pulling out a study refuting reports that oil-sands pollution was leading to higher cancer rates in the region.
Ms. Redford said there won’t be a repeat.
“I think back to others that have come to Alberta after they have made public pronouncements [on the oil sands]” said Redford.
“From my perspective I don’t think anyone should expect that we’re going to get into a situation where anyone representing the government of Alberta is going to sit in a meeting room and try to lobby Mr. Mulcair to change his mind.”
Mr. Mulcair’s comments have stirred a national debate on the economic impacts of the oil sands and the energy industry in general.
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released Friday suggested Canadians are split on whether Mr. Mulcair is correct in his view of the oil sands and their effect on the economy.
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason is a promoter of the oil sands, but says more measured development of the resource would help the environment. He also says the province deserves a larger take of the royalties.
Non-renewable resource revenue is forecast to hit $11.2-billion in Alberta’s current budget. Half of that profit comes from the oil sands.
Mr. Mason said it’s sad the western premiers are responding to Mr. Mulcair’s comments the way they are.
“They’re trying to suggest that anybody that has criticism of policies with respect to the oil sands is un-Albertan, un-Canadian. It’s kind of economic McCarthyism,” said Mr. Mason.
“While I don’t agree with exactly everything that Thomas Mulcair said, I think that it’s an important national debate as well as an important Alberta debate. And I’m not going to support anybody that wants to curtail voices in that debate.”