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Waste is pumped into a tailings pond in the Alberta oil sands in September, 2010. (Nathan VanderKlippe/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)
Waste is pumped into a tailings pond in the Alberta oil sands in September, 2010. (Nathan VanderKlippe/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)

Greenpeace: The loneliest campaign in the Alberta election Add to ...

There they stood - three of them, against the wall of what was once a Blockbuster movie rental store, since converted to a PC campaign office.

“Go home, you’re not welcome here,” a man said as he walked past. “I’m from here,” one of the trio replied.

Such is the life of Greenpeace in Alberta. A total of seven protesters showed up at two events attended by Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford on Thursday. As she campaigned along a downtown row of businesses, four moved diligently along the street with her entourage, clutching signs. “I’m an Albertan and I oppose the tar sands,” one read. “Oil may run our cars for now, but it shouldn’t ever run our government,” said another. A Taekwondo dojo locked its doors to keep them out, and checked the I.D. of anyone coming in.

Later that night, at the Edmonton campaign office of PC candidate Steve Young, the three other protesters were admonished. They waved their signs through the window as Ms. Redford fired up Mr. Young’s supporters with a speech. Few noticed.

It’s a lonely, fringe campaign that largely forms the extent of anti-oil sands sentiment in the provincial election - none of the major parties oppose oil sands mining, though some would slow the pace of new development. In Thursday’s federal budget, the federal government introduced measures that would speed up environmental approvals for major energy projects.

Far from deterring Greenpeace, however, the group is pledging further protests.

“Definitely it’s not just the [Progressive]Conservatives. You’ll see this type of [protest]tactic with various leadership candidates as this goes along. I think the purpose really is to inject an issue into this election, and an issue that needs to be talked about - stopping the rampant environmental destruction that’s been caused by tar sands development,” Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema said.

The oil sands play a minor role in the election. Though federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is an outspoken critic, the provincial NDP have taken a moderate stance to avoid angering Alberta voters. They support slowing the pace of new development and refining, or upgrading, bitumen before exporting it, but aren’t calling for the oil sands to be shut down. The Liberals would raise Alberta’s carbon tax.

The two leading parties, however, seem to be in a race to open a path for industry in the oil sands - leaving Mr. Hudema and his fellow protesters in the cold. Ms. Redford spoke briefly to the protesters during her campaign stops Thursday, saying - according to Mr. Hudema - that Alberta already has a world class monitoring system in place. (Several external reviews have shown it doesn’t, but the federal and provincial governments earlier this year announced a plan to improve monitoring. It will take years to put in place, but was fast-tracked by Ms. Redford since she won her party’s leadership on Oct. 1.)

Nonetheless, it will be a long campaign for Greenpeace.

“I think that the government is really to blame for creating that type of atmosphere,” Mr. Hudema said.

A member of Ms. Redford’s campaign team took a pamphlet from him. But if the next government is formed by Wildrose, a right-wing party which polls show either tied or ahead of the PCs, it won’t be any better. Wildrose House Leader and MLA Rob Anderson pledges that, if faced with Greenpeace protests, he’ll tell them to “go back to school.”

“I think Greenpeace is an extremist environmentalist group... completely willfully ignorant of all information and an embarrassment to themselves,” Mr. Anderson said Friday. “Very few Albertans I know care one iota what Greenpeace thinks.”

Perhaps that’s why Mr. Hudema is instead focusing on Ms. Redford. At least they took a pamphlet.

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Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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