Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says the pro-pipeline movement that has inspired rallies across the province and two truck convoys to Ottawa planned for next month needs to guard against extremism.
Unemployed oil workers and supporters of the industry have been holding rallies and staging convoys of transport trucks to protest the federal and provincial governments' inability to secure new pipeline access for Alberta.
Some of those protesters identify with the “yellow vest” movement, a loose collection of activists and social media groups whose focus also includes opposition to the federal carbon tax, increased immigration, and broad – and at-times virulent – denunciations of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The yellow vests drew inspiration from protests in France that were initially fuelled by opposition to a carbon tax and have been marred by violence.
Ms. Notley said she welcomes groups who have come forward to rally behind the province’s oil sector, but she said extremists can’t be allowed to poison that message.
“I think that many of us agree that in order to deliver that message, we need to be reasonable and stick to the issues and not let these kinds of protests to be taken over by people with more extreme views," she told reporters Thursday in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
"Because I think that hurts those stand-up, hard-working folks who are just trying to get across to the rest of Canada how much Canada needs us to be doing well.”
Next month, the group Canada Action plans to lead a convoy of oilfield trucks to Ottawa to push for new pipelines. The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to carry more crude oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast has been stalled since a Federal Court of Appeal decision last year overturned its approval by the federal government.
A competing group calling itself the Yellow Vest Convoy is also planning a trip for around the same time. Canada Action has disavowed any connection to the yellow vest group.
Both have launched online crowdfunding campaigns to finance their respective trips. Canada Action has raised more than $40,000, while the Yellow Vest Convoy has brought in more than $110,000.
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has also raised concerns that side issues or extremism could overshadow the pro-pipeline message. He has condemned what he described as a handful of people at the pipeline rallies with “kooky ideas” and this last weekend tweeted that “it’s wise to keep the focus on the energy issues.”
Mr. Kenney was not available for an interview Thursday.
Cody Battershill, a Calgary-based realtor who created Canada Action, said his group has a specific goal and wants to stay focused on that.
"We’ve always been focused on energy, pipelines, resources," he said in an interview.
“We just don’t want to get off topic. We just want to keep it focused on pipelines and getting our families back to work.”
Glen Carritt, the main organizer with the Yellow Vest Convoy, rejected the notion that his members hold extreme views. Mr. Carritt said he’s made it clear that racist or discriminatory views are not welcome, though he said he also won’t limit the group’s messaging to oil and pipelines.
“We’re a peaceful protest to show that we’re discouraged by the current government, and we want to peacefully let our voices known,” said Mr. Carritt, who runs an oilfield safety company and is also a town councillor in Innisfail, north of Calgary.
“We’re not happy with the current government’s decision in a few different areas. There’s got to be change."
The group’s Facebook page, which requires permission to join, is filled with member posts about not just pipelines but also federal environmental policy, a United Nations pact on migration, refugees, and frequent criticism of Mr. Trudeau.
Mr. Carritt said he and other volunteers do their best to vet members and monitor posts.