Alberta's support for a national climate-change policy depends on the rest of the country ensuring its energy workers are treated fairly – and that means new pipelines must be built, Premier Rachel Notley said on Tuesday.
The NDP Premier visited Ottawa on Tuesday as part of her cross-country tour to defend the province's struggling oil industry and its need for the controversial Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to carry crude from Alberta to the B.C. coast.
In a speech near Parliament Hill, Ms. Notley urged the federal Liberal government to "step up" its effort to ensure the pipeline project is not derailed by local opposition in British Columbia. Ms. Notley warned that failure to support Alberta's oil industry would fuel a backlash in her province and jeopardize Canada's climate-change commitments.
Ms. Notley said her government has implemented the most aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission policy in North America. It includes plans to phase out coal-fired power; impose a carbon price; regulate industry's methane emissions; cap GHGs from the oil sands; and establish energy-efficiency programs.
However, she warned that policy won't survive unless Albertans feel their efforts are being recognized and rewarded through more national support for their leading industry.
"Without Alberta, there is no national climate plan, period," she said. "Any climate plan that goes ahead and ignores working people is not a plan. It would be, what we call in Alberta, all hat and no cattle."
The provincial NDP government has sunk in the polls after Alberta suffered through a punishing recession brought on by the slump in oil prices.
Jason Kenney, newly elected leader of the United Conservative Party Opposition and a former federal cabinet minister, has energized right-of-centre opposition to Ms. Notley's government. He argues its climate plan imposes onerous costs on the province's leading industry and offers no benefits.
Mr. Kenney said the Premier's speaking tour this month is too little, too late, and said there needs to be clear "consequences" if pipelines aren't built – such as cancelling future hikes to Alberta's carbon-tax rate.
The Premier has taken on the pipeline fight with zeal, with a national speaking tour that will take her next week to British Columbia, where fierce opposition to the project remains. In Ottawa on Tuesday, she called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to play a more active role in defending a project that his government deemed to be in the national interest.
Ms. Notley welcomed the approval TransCanada Corp. received Monday from Nebraska for a route for its Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. But she insisted it remains crucial that the industry diversify its customer base away from the United States and access Pacific markets.
She acknowledged that crude pipelines carry some risk of accidents. Last week, TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline spilled 5,000 barrels of crude in South Dakota, forcing an emergency shutdown while crews are still working on the clean up. But Ms. Notley insisted the expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline through B.C. would carry minimal risks that would be outweighed by the economic and even environmental benefits.
The Premier is also looking for federal help to support workers and communities that will be hit by government policies aimed at phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. Her government established a $40-million Coal Workforce Transition Fund to help coal-industry workers whose jobs will be threatened over the next 12 years.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is establishing a task force to recommend measures to ease the transition as utilities move away from coal-fired power. The federal minister said Ottawa will work with Alberta to support workers and communities through the transition, but made no specific commitment.
Union leader Hassan Yussuff argued it is critical that workers in the fossil-fuel industries are not left behind as governments impose policies that impact their livelihood. Otherwise, governments will face the kind of populist backlash against climate-change policies that contributed to U.S. President Donald Trump's electoral victory last November, he said.
"We might repeat what happened in the United States – people are highly resentful when you talk climate change because they think it's about their jobs," Mr. Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said in an interview.
With a file from Kelly Cryderman in Calgary