As his job ends in Washington, Alberta's senior representative to the United States says Premier Rachel Notley's opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline sent the wrong message to U.S. legislators and that her government has created instability for energy investors.
Ms. Notley declined to extend Rob Merrifield's one-year appointment past September. The former federal MP said he is leaving his post in the middle of important debates over oil pipelines, country-of-origin labelling for meat and softwood lumber.
No plan has emerged for a successor, and Alberta's trade office will be vacant as of Oct. 1. He said this means a successor would not have time to influence the country-of-origin labelling debate. He added that the instructions he has received from the government indicate that a new representative would likely be barred from speaking about pipelines.
"Ms. Notley says that she and Hillary Clinton feel the same way about [the Keystone XL oil pipeline], which is that she disagrees with it. That scares me," Mr. Merrifield told The Globe and Mail. "The repercussions go beyond Keystone. There are more than 80 pipelines going across the 49th parallel and to pull one out and make an example of it is short-sighted and political. Her position on Keystone is regrettable, as is the message it sends to the President."
The Premier is finishing a trip to speak with U.S. investors, and a spokeswoman for her office issued a statement on her behalf: "We are looking to replace Mr. Merrifield with a professional diplomat, for reasons Mr. Merrifield has just demonstrated. Alberta's office in Washington is very important to our government. It continues to operate and we will be announcing a new representative soon."
Ms. Notley has long said she does not support Keystone XL, which would carry Alberta crude to refineries on the U.S. gulf coast. After Ms. Clinton, a front-runner in the race to be the Democratic presidential candidate, publicly opposed the proposed pipeline, the Premier said she would rather "see [pipelines] go east or west, that's my preference."
In New York on Wednesday, Ms. Notley called Keystone a "threat" to Alberta's natural resources.
Only four votes are missing in the U.S. Congress to get Keystone a veto-proof approval, Mr. Merrifield said. He expects the U.S. President will declare opposition to the project soon. "There are people who are there working hard on it and they haven't given up yet. I don't think we should give up either," he said.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice sent Mr. Merrifield to Washington last September. A Conservative member of parliament for 14 years, Mr. Merrifield had senior roles under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, including chairing standing committees on trade and finance.
He said he made repeated attempts to speak with Ms. Notley, but she "never had the courtesy to pick the phone up." He said he sent memos to Edmonton, one of which warned about the mood of U.S. investors.
"...For [Ms. Notley] to increase corporate taxes to 12 per cent and double the carbon levy, while going into a royalty review and a climate-change study, the instability she's created is almost a perfect storm," he said.
Mr. Merrifield said the NDP is looking for a civil servant to replace him, and that such a person would not have his level of contacts.
Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean agreed with Mr. Merrifield's argument that this was a bad time to leave the province's U.S. office empty. The leader of Alberta's official opposition said the Premier cut ties with an effective, highly qualified representative in Alberta's most important trading relationship without giving details on when he will be replaced.
"This requires an approach that goes beyond ideology or lines of partisanship and focuses on doing what's best for Alberta," he said. Mr. Jean also served in the federal Conservative government.
Mr. Merrifield said he was not surprised Ms. Notley did not renew his contract.