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Alberta Oil industry group releases policy platform in direct challenge to Notley

Canada’s top oil and gas companies are taking aim at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s toughened climate policies and corporate tax hikes in an extraordinary bid to sway voters ahead of this spring’s provincial election.

The lobby group representing Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and other major oil sands producers on Tuesday released a policy paper that highlights a laundry list of prescriptions it says are needed to restore the energy industry’s competitiveness.

It amounts to a direct challenge to some of Ms. Notley’s signature policies ahead of a spring campaign widely expected to turn on economic and environment issues. Oil-rich Alberta faces hefty deficits and high unemployment owing to the years-long slump in oil and natural gas prices, as well as delays to major pipeline proposals.

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The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) stressed in a statement that what it calls its Alberta Energy Platform does not signal support or opposition to “any particular registered party or candidate.” CAPP president Tim McMillan also insisted the document is not partisan.

But some of its recommendations target key policies implemented by Ms. Notley since her government unseated the now-defunct Progressive Conservatives in 2015.

For example, CAPP calls for reversing Ms. Notley’s hike to corporate tax rates, from 10 per cent to 12 per cent. The lobby group also says any provincial climate plan should be applied “in parallel” to rival oil-producing regions, recalling an approach favoured by federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper.

The Canadian industry’s biggest competitor for capital is the United States, where President Donald Trump’s administration has signalled its intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accord aimed at limiting the worst effects of global warming.

“The world has changed, and we’d ask any government, whether re-elected or new, to look at the [investment] environment,” Mr. McMillan said in an interview. “The U.S. has done major tax reform, and capital investment and jobs and drilling rigs have gone to the U.S. and other places around the world.”

Ms. Notley introduced an economy-wide carbon tax, as well as a cap on emissions from the oil sands, although her government has delayed its implementation of the cap and threatened to pull out of federal climate initiatives amid delays to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

When the provincial climate policies were introduced by the NDP government, they were backed by executives from some of the sector’s biggest companies. They were designed to blunt opposition to major pipeline proposals but have since drawn sharp criticism from business groups and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, whose party leads the governing NDP by a wide margin in polls.

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Ms. Notley brushed off criticism Tuesday as she unveiled $440-million in supports for a new oil-processing plant, part of a package of loan guarantees and other incentives valued at $3-billion she recently has made available to support the industry.

“There’s a lot of things on which I agree with CAPP and there are some things where I don’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to work productively with players within the oil and gas industry to help build our economy,” she told reporters in Calgary.

CAPP is also advocating that governments “create the conditions” to support three additional pipelines to Canada’s coasts by 2025, which would require a level of industry expansion that would be difficult to achieve under the NDP government’s promised cap on the emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. A spokeswoman for the group later described this as an “aspirational goal.”

The industry insists Canadian crude and natural gas are needed to help meet rising global needs, but its assessment of future demand is based on International Energy Agency forecasts that assume limited action on climate change.

With a file from James Keller

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