With his eyes on a crew of employees fixing a pump at a heavy-oil well site near Elk Point, Alta., Kelly O'Donnell says it's good news that Premier Rachel Notley is headed to Vancouver to promote the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Mr. O'Donnell says he doesn't understand why Canada's oil industry is hamstrung in its access to new international markets while other sectors that use fossil fuels, such as car manufacturers, are encouraged to find global buyers. Ottawa's approval of the pipeline project this week is way overdue, he said – and the Alberta Premier needs to explain to whatever political allies she can find how the proposed expansion will give the oil sector the critical option of shipping to export markets beyond the United States.
Mr. O'Donnell, 46, is the owner of a small oilfield-service company in the Lloydminster area, who has seen his job and employee count shrink in line with global oil prices over the past two years.
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"The first thing we need is – dad and mom need a job," he said. "Everything else comes second."
The Alberta Premier is headed into potentially hostile territory as she makes her way to British Columbia on Monday and Tuesday next week. For many in the province next door, opposition to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s planned expansion of its Trans Mountain line runs deep – with the core concern for many being the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.
For them, the gap between what Alberta wants and what Lower Mainland residents will accept is an unbridgeable divide.
"It is frankly offensive for the Premier of another province to come to our province to market her project," said Andrew Weaver, Leader of the Green Party of B.C.
Mr. Weaver said the list of reasons why approval of the project is wrong includes spill safety concerns and the building of new infrastructure that will work against Canadian climate-change goals for decades to come. He said there are large numbers of people just a SkyTrain trip away from attending massive protests in central Vancouver, for as long as is necessary to kill the project.
"Nobody has any idea of the beast that is going to be unleashed in Vancouver over this," he predicted. "It's out of its box now, and I don't know how you'll ever stuff it back in."
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a key step toward building consensus on a national carbon price by giving an emphatic no to the Northern Gateway proposal, opposed vigorously in northern B.C. on environmental grounds, and giving a yes to an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline – a more palatable option to some because it is an expansion of an existing line. The Liberal Prime Minister's political partnership with Ms. Notley, who has said she will support a $50-a-tonne price on carbon by 2023 in exchange for a pipeline to an ocean coast, was on full display.
Although the pipeline decision was federal, the greenlight on Kinder Morgan's project is crucial to Ms. Notley's political fortunes. Her province is facing record-setting deficits and unemployment due to low oil prices. She is facing harsh criticism from some voters over her government's expensive decisions to phase out coal-fired power and implement a provincewide carbon levy. She faces the potential of squaring off against Jason Kenney as leader of a unified conservative movement in the 2019 provincial election, and dearly wants to have a pipeline project to bolster her campaign.
She says the project will go toward getting Canadian oil producers higher international prices for their oil, and will send a message to energy-sector investors that the province is open for business.
Ms. Notley's office describes the Premier's trip west as a media tour. Her staff are already emphasizing her eight years living in B.C. – noting that she and husband Lou Arab were married in Vancouver, they lived just off of Commercial Drive and their two children were born there.
Apparently, schedules didn't work out for Ms. Notley to meet with Christy Clark, with the B.C. Premier continuing to stay out of the fray and saying she will be able to speak to Ms. Notley at the first ministers' meeting Mr. Trudeau has convened in Ottawa for Dec. 9. Ms. Notley's office is also not revealing whether she will meet with B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, or any mayors or First Nations leaders opposed to the project.
But her public message will be that Alberta is not the place many in Vancouver imagine it to be, and in fact her oil-focused province has gone from reluctant climate-change actor to a Canadian policy leader under her watch. Ms. Notley's government has shook up the province's entire energy sector – it is pushing forward on an ambitious plan to phase out coal-fired power by 2030, capping oil-sands emissions growth and moving forward with a provincewide carbon tax on Jan. 1.
She told reporters this week that Alberta can gradually reposition its economy and transition to a cleaner energy future. But "we can't do it by throwing people to the curb and embracing a jobless transition."
In Calgary, Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said he believes Ms. Notley's track record as an effective communicator, along with her party affiliation, give her the chance to make some inroads in B.C.
"She is an NDP Premier. So I think she gets listened to by environmentalists and [pipeline] opponents in a way that if she was from another political party, it wouldn't have the same effect."
He added that as the dust settles, B.C. politicians will still want federal infrastructure dollars and liquefied-natural gas project approvals to come through, so may want to avoid an all-out war with Mr. Trudeau – despite his government's decision to greenlight the Kinder Morgan's expansion.
With a report from Ian Bailey in Vancouver