Only the most hardened cynic would be unmoved by the pitch Premier Rachel Notley makes for Alberta. Or more specifically, the pitch she makes for some urgent help for her province, which is in the throes of an economic emergency.
The Premier was in Ontario this week, making high-profile stops in Ottawa and Toronto, where she hoped she could thrust her province’s crisis on to the top of the national news agenda. But make no mistake, her impassioned pleas for assistance were intended as much for an audience back home in Alberta as it was the suits attending her speeches in the nation’s capital and the country’s financial centre.
Albertans are furious at what is unfolding around them, and with good reason. Their oil is fetching as little as US$10 a barrel, an obscene discount that is the result of, among other things, the province having only one customer at the moment – the United States. As has been noted many times, the province wouldn’t have to incur such an obscene mark-down on its crude if it had alternative buyers, as in Asia.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would solve this problem.
Ms. Notley makes a compelling case for immediate action and I think fair-minded Canadians, if they could hear her out, would agree Alberta is pretty much getting shafted right now.
The environmental measures Ms. Notley’s government introduced at the beginning of its mandate are the most aggressive of any province in the country. Currently, Alberta burns more coal than all other provinces combined. The NDP has committed to phasing out all coal by 2030. Plus, it introduced a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands and introduced a carbon tax. Ms. Notley reasonably expected this suite of measures would help get the Trans Mountain expansion built.
Well, as we know, it hasn’t exactly turned out that way. And she, and many in her province, feel betrayed and angry – a reality that was played out in the streets of downtown Calgary recently when the Prime Minister was in town. More than 2,000 left their offices to protest his visit, and to demand a new pipeline, now.
It matters not to Albertans that it was a federal court that put the temporary kibosh on the project, not the Prime Minister. It was his government that botched the consultations that led to the decision. Now the government is trying to get it right, which means a slow, deliberate process that takes time. But Albertans don’t want to hear that. They want to see construction now, because thousands are feeling the financial heat and need something to assure them everything will be okay.
Because right now it’s not. And while everything might seem okay in many other areas of this country, Albertans feel as if they are in the throes of a horrible recession, one that could have catastrophic consequences for many families.
But it won’t just be people in Alberta who feel the pain. Eventually the entire country will. The massive contribution the province makes to Canada is real. The country’s energy sector alone accounts for 10 per cent of Canada’s GDP. Last year, capital spending by Alberta’s resource sector accounted for 20 per cent of private-sector capital spending in this country, Ms. Notley said in her Ontario speeches.
And the average Albertan contributes far more, per capita, to financial coffers of this country than those in any other province. That is simply a fact.
Ms. Notley and her government are already increasing the shipment of oil by rail, in the absence of other, safer forms of transportation such as a pipeline. And they are now making plans to buy new rail cars, to transport more product this way. I understand why she’s doing it. But I have to ask those opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion, how does this make any sense?
Rail cars carrying Alberta crude pose a much greater threat to the environment than a pipeline does. And yet I don’t see anyone protesting these rail tankers. God forbid there is a derailment, because the mess will be horrible. And in that moment, a pipeline is going to look pretty good – but too late.
Look, I believe fervently that we need to transition to a low-carbon future. And it has to start now. But it’s not going to happen overnight. And trying to shut down Alberta’s economy in pursuit of this makes no sense whatsoever.
Alberta needs the country’s help, and we should be providing it, now.
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