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Redford challenges Mulcair to visit Alberta's oil sands

Premier elect Alison Redford is greeted by her new Progressive Conservative Party caucus at Government House in Edmonton May 2, 2012.


Alberta Premier Alison Redford has a message for Thomas Mulcair: her door is open, but visit the oil sands first.

Ms. Redford once again fired back at the Official Opposition Leader Thursday amid a brewing battle between him and the western provinces. Mr. Mulcair, the federal NDP leader, has been saying energy development has skewed the Canadian economy, driving up the dollar and hurting other sectors - and that oil-producing provinces have weak environmental standards.

The three westernmost premiers, including Ms. Redford, have taken offence, saying he's attacking the west to gain seats in areas without energy development, pitting one region of the country against another.

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"Once he's actually seen the oil sands and once he's actually been briefed, then I'm prepared to try to have a constructive conversation with him," Ms. Redford said before a party fundraiser in Edmonton Thursday night. "So, we'll see how it goes. But I think he's got some work to do first."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Mulcair told reporters he planned on making a visit.

"I'm going to be out this spring... and I'll be visiting the oil sands as well," he said. Currently, the two leaders have no plans to meet.

Mr. Mulcair hasn't backed down from his comments that Canada is suffering from a phenomenon known as Dutch disease, where a booming energy sector drives up the dollar and wages, hollowing out other sectors, such as manufacturing. A study this week says Canada has a mild case of it, with about one-quarter of manufacturing sectors affected. He has also said energy companies have been given a free ride with bare-bones environmental regulation, using "the air, the soil and the water as an unlimited free dumping ground." Alberta's environmental oversight has been shown by several reports to be substandard, but the province and federal government are currently implementing a new system as recommended by independent experts.

Ms. Redford hasn't been as outspoken as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, but nonetheless took offence to Mr. Mulcair's position, saying his attack wasn't constructive. British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has also fired back.

"I am surprised both by the substance of what he said and the tone of what he said," Ms. Redford said, saying it's "absolutely false" that Alberta has a weak regulatory regime.

"I was very disappointed to see someone who purports to be a national leader playing politics and pitting one region of the country versus another... There's always going to room for different opinions, but you still have to start from a basis of fact. And I don't think he's done that."

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Linda Duncan, a New Democrat Member of Parliament from Edmonton and the only non-Conservative to win a federal seat in Alberta, has been caught in the middle as Mr. Mulcair wages a fight with her region.

Reached while travelling with a parliamentary committee in Ukraine, Ms. Duncan said Thursday she supported some of Mr. Mulcair's positions - but not all.

"Depends which remarks. I'm 100 per cent behind what he's saying, is that the federal government completely dropped the ball on regulating [the oil sands] which they have admitted. They still haven't done anything about it. Do I share the concern that there's far too much federal incentive into oil sands, and not enough into energy efficiency and renewables? Yes, I agree with that," Ms. Duncan said.

She declined, however, to back Mr. Mulcair's belief that Canada has Dutch disease, saying economists disagree on that, and said she hasn't discussed the issue at length with her caucus, which is rooted in Quebec.

"I don't speak about what I think I should happen with hydro in Quebec, and I expect that they don't make comments about industries in my jurisdiction unless we concur," Ms. Duncan said.

She pointed a finger at Ms. Redford, Mr. Wall and Ms. Clark for politicizing the issue, saying Mr. Mulcair is commenting on energy policy and the premiers have cast it as an attack.

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"Shame on them for politicizing it. Mulcair was making a statement. I don't consider it a shot," Ms. Duncan said.

The office of Alberta's NDP leader, Brian Mason, declined comment Thursday. He was scheduled to address the issue Friday. Alberta's provincial NDP support slowing the pace of oil sands development and beefing up oversight, but - unlike the party's federal wing - typically avoid directly attacking the booming sector.

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