New Democrats should support building new pipelines and not shy away from them, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told a room of delegates assembled in Edmonton for the NDP’s federal convention.
The Premier’s speech on Saturday followed several days of mounting criticism from Ms. Notley’s government towards federal Leader Tom Mulcair and an emerging debate on pipelines within the party. On Friday, Alberta’s environment minister told The Globe and Mail that a far-reaching climate change policy being debated at the NDP convention was a “betrayal” of the Albertans who voted for Ms. Notley.
The convention’s most emotional debate has centred on pipelines, adding a layer of tension to a gathering hosted in the midst of a province suffering through an oil crisis and a second year of economic recession. The pipeline issue has also become intertwined with the question of Mr. Mulcair’s continued leadership of the party.
On Saturday afternoon Ms. Notley told delegates in Alberta’s capital that they need to support pipelines linking the province’s oil sands to Canada’s coasts. Earlier in the week Mr. Mulcair said he would oppose pipelines if the party’s membership told him to do so.
“We need to be able to get the best possible world price for the oil we produce here, at the level of production that will be responsibly allowed under a climate change plan,” Premier Notley said during a nearly 35-minute speech. “And the way to do that is through pipelines to tidewater.”
On Sunday, delegates at the party’s convention will vote on a resolution that would adopt a document known as the “Leap Manifesto” to guide the party’s policy discussions over the next two years. The plan endorsed by the document advocates a speedy transition away from fossil fuels, the rejection of new pipelines and a ban on trade deals.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips told a Globe reporter that the positions endorsed by the document are at odds with a working people’s party. “It is ungenerous, short-sighted and it is fundamentally, as New Democrats, a betrayal of the people who voted NDP in this province last year,” she said on Friday.
Ms. Notley also took aim at the manifesto in her speech, as she cautioned New Democrats to not be tempted by “slogans and dreams” after the federal party’s fall to third place in the last federal election. “That is just a form of giving up,” she said. “New Democrats never give up.”
Instead, she pointed to her government’s progress bringing in a carbon tax and emissions limit on Alberta’s oil sands since taking power last spring. The oil-rich province, once an environmental pariah on the world stage, has been transformed into a leader in the fight against climate change according to the premier.
“We’re acting, really acting, on the basis of a concrete plan that is actually being implemented. That is what you get to do when you move up from manifestos, to the detailed, principled, practical plans you can really implement by winning an election,” she said.
Avi Lewis, a documentary filmmaker representing the Leap Manifesto at the NDP convention, says he tried to contact Ms. Phillips immediately after her comments. The two have known each other for over a decade and he texted the environment minister offering to speak with her.
“She’s in roller derby, so if she comes flying out with her elbows up I understand. You know, that’s Alberta politics. But it made me feel like we are back in the old style of politics,” he told The Globe on Saturday.
“And Notley used a speech full of old NDP and progressive lore to wind up people from across the country for a call to support pipelines,” he added. Mr. Lewis says that he hopes the Alberta NDP can sign onto the rest of the manifesto and not trash the document solely over pipelines.
NDP MP Linda Duncan, the party’s only federal representative in Alberta, said she believes Ms. Phillips would support the Leap Manifesto, which also advocates for greater equality in society, save for the one mention of putting an end to pipelines.
“I think it’s a case of, people coming from one area of the country proposing what is in their focus point,” she said. “There’s other things that need to be added in there when we’re talking about an energy future.”
But Ms. Duncan said she’s glad the discussion is happening.
“At least it’s making people pay attention to us. It’s not just another boring NDP convention.”
Speaking at the end of the day on Saturday, Stephen Lewis defended the proposed plan and called for debate to continue. The former Canadian diplomat and Ontario NDP leader conceded that the Leap Manifesto wasn’t popular in the Prairies.
“It contains propositions that cause profound offence in the oil patch. It clearly causes distress to the premier of Alberta,” he said to the party. “Alberta is of course our deeply troubling dilemma.”
As New Democrats debate the future direction of the federal party and Mr. Mulcair’s leadership, Ms. Phillips told the Globe that the convention should look closely at Alberta–Premier Notley’s majority in Alberta’s legislature as it now has more elected officials than the federal party.
“If you want to look at the future of progressive social-democratic government in this country, look to Alberta. We’re the ones doing climate leadership, we aren’t talking about it,” she said.
Francois Paulette, a delegate from Dene First Nation in Northern Alberta, said he was disappointed Ms. Notley’s speech “missed out” on mentioning First Nations and indigenous peoples.
“She needs to really reconcile with the First Nations. We have treaties. The resources that she talks about belong to the First Nations. We have to be there front and centre all the time,” he said.
Albert Karvonen, 85, a delegate from Lakehead, Alta., said he supports the Leap Manifesto, but he added there appears to be a “contradiction” between the provincial and federal counterparts.
“We’re trying to resolve the issue nationally, we’re trying to look at it, despite the fact that Alberta is so tied in with oil and gas and energy for so long. But I think that’s the challenge we face,” he said.
“It’s a big problem, and there are no quick fixes.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Mr. Lewis was stunned by the comments made by Alberta’s environment minister. He says he wasn’t surprised by the message from Premier Rachel Notley’s government but was instead disappointed. This version has been corrected
Follow us on Twitter:,