Singh's pipeline stand alarms Alberta NDP
Notley supporters worry NDP Leader has decided there is
more election upside to backing B.C.'s position against
Shortly after Jagmeet Singh was elected to lead the federal New Democrats, he had what all parties agree was a warm conversation with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
Ms. Notley, as head of one of two NDP provincial governments in Canada, would seem to be a natural ally and potential mentor for Mr. Singh. Her victory in 2015 proved that New Democrats can sometimes surge at unexpected times and in unexpected places with surprising results.
But there is one thing that stands in the way of a chummy relationship between Ms. Notley and the man who says he has already launched his campaign to be the next prime minister of Canada: the approval of a pipeline.
Some New Democrats with ties to the Alberta government say Mr. Singh appears to have decided he can win seats in British Columbia by standing with its NDP Premier John Horgan in opposing pipeline development. Conversely, they say, Mr. Singh has calculated – rightly or wrongly – that it will be difficult for him to make gains in heavily conservative Alberta regardless of what position he takes on the issue. So the political math says side with B.C.
"That's absolutely a calculation that's being made," said one party member who asked not to be named.
Neither the New Democrats in Alberta nor those in Ottawa want to speak on the record about the tensions brewing between the different branches of the NDP family.
A number of recent interviews granted on the condition of anonymity turned up a range of views about how serious the rift could become. Some say it's just a simple argument over an important issue. Some say it's a deep division that could see Alberta New Democrats warning Mr. Singh to stay far away from their province when Ms. Notley runs for re-election in 2019.
If there is a fracture in the relationship, it is easy to see how the fracture has developed.
Alberta needs to get its crude to Asian markets. Ms. Notley, therefore, has lobbied hard for an expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline that would nearly triple the line's capacity and allow it to carry 890,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.
As one former staffer in Ms. Notley's government told The Globe and Mail, "it was not viewed positively" when Mr. Singh came out with an energy policy in June that opposed the Kinder Morgan expansion. "It was a kick in the teeth," said the former staff member who is still an active New Democrat.
Asked whether the opposing positions on the project were a source of tension between the Alberta and federal NDP, Mr. Singh praised Ms. Notley as a "phenomenal premier" who has shown great leadership on the progressive front, citing Alberta's aggressive climate-change policy as an example.
"I think it's important to acknowledge all the things we have in common, and her incredible work," Mr. Singh told reporters in Vancouver. "With respect to this energy project, there are certain criteria and principles that I put forward. We will work together – we have so much in common – and find a way forward."
Mr. Singh says his disapproval of the Kinder Morgan project is based on the number of First Nations along the pipeline route who object. It is a position he adopted after discussions with Ms. Notley and also with Mr. Horgan, who has called the expansion a "risky proposal" that is not in his province's best interests.
Alberta and B.C. are on opposite sides of a legal case in which numerous groups, including Indigenous communities, environmentalists, and the municipalities of Vancouver and Burnaby, are asking the Federal Court of Appeal to nullify the federal Liberal government's approval of the Trans Mountain project.
Adding to Ms. Notley's troubles is the fact that the political landscape in her own province has changed dramatically since she won government two years ago. Rather than fighting a divided right as she did in 2015, the next election will have her battling a United Conservative Party that will take every opportunity to paint the New Democrats as the enemies of the oil patch.
The Alberta New Democrats have balanced their support for pipelines with greenhouse-gas reduction incentives that apply the money from a carbon tax to projects that will diversify the economy. Ms. Notley, meanwhile, is trying to create an international market for Alberta's petroleum products, which requires getting the product to the Pacific, where it can be shipped overseas.
That is why she expressed frustration with the federal party's decision to release the Leap Manifesto, a document that called for the rejection of any new pipelines, at the 2016 convention in Edmonton – her own backyard, as one Alberta New Democrat put it. That was the convention at which the NDP dumped Tom Mulcair as its leader.
Mr. Mulcair had indicated he was open to exploring some of the ideas put forward in Leap. Ms. Notley said the document was "naive" and "ill-informed."
It was an episode in party history that still has some Alberta New Democrats seething.
Opposition to an expanded Trans-Mountain corridor "has at its core the idea that the way to reduce carbon emissions is to landlock and economically strangle Canada's energy sector," one New Democrat official who worked in the Notley government said. People in the Alberta NDP believe Mr. Singh is "dead wrong" on the pipeline matter, he said.
"That's the debate. But that's the only debate," the official said. "It is a family argument over an important issue – not a broad-front civil war." There are those who believe Mr. Singh could be helpful in the next election, he said, especially in Calgary and Edmonton.
But others are not so sure.
Another New Democrat who has worked for both the federal party and the Alberta government said Alberta members of the NDP know Mr. Singh wants Ms. Notley to win re-election. But, he said, they may not be anxious to host Mr. Singh at campaign events in 2019.
If Mr. Singh continues to vocally oppose all pipelines, he and Ms. Notley "are on a bit of a crash course," said a high-ranking New Democrat in another western province. If the federal Leader cannot adopt a more nuanced position, he said, "he will find himself at serious odds with Ms. Notley."
" Notley was not afraid of coming out against Tom Mulcair at the [Edmonton] convention, so I imagine Notley would not be afraid to come out against Singh," he said. And for the sake of her own political future and that of the provincial party, "she would have to."
With a report from Andrea Woo in Vancouver