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Dear Jim Prentice:

Congratulations on being elected leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and becoming premier-designate. Your party gave you its nod in a landslide and is looking to you to wipe away the stains of scandal and entitlement that sullied an organization that had grown far too comfortable with being in power.

Of course, you can't spend all your time fixing your party.

I'm sure you're also hard at work on plans for the energy sector. You'd be wise to scrap some of the policies and the inflexible style of your predecessor, especially when it comes to the environment and trade. In many cases, Alberta is no further ahead than it was when Alison Redford began her tenure as premier in 2011.

Some bold new strategies for Alberta's economic engine – helping it run better and cleaner – will also help you turn the page.

Potential start dates of export pipelines, such as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, keep getting pushed closer to the end of the decade, owing to unrelenting political intrigue, environmental mudslinging and First Nations' opposition.

Heavy oil producers – whose product is increasingly crucial to the Alberta economy – have worked around export pinch points by boosting their ability to squeeze the crude onto trains and expanding other parts of the North American pipeline network.

This has eased congestion, and the price discount to U.S. benchmark oil has shrunk from 21 months ago, when Ms. Redford warned of a $6-billion budgetary hole that the so-called bitumen bubble – the glut of supplies within Western Canada – was sure to cause.

Now, capital is flowing into the oil patch at rates not seen since before the credit crisis, and investors want returns on their money. It may be only a matter of time before volumes inch back up to capacity. That will put the focus back on pipe, and your efforts to convince other governments that approving such projects won't bring heartache in the forms of surging carbon emissions and oil spills.

None of this will come as a surprise to you, Mr. Prentice. Few, if any, public servants have your experience in energy, environment, trade and aboriginal issues. After occupying several federal cabinet posts, you got a first-hand look at the finance side as a senior Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce executive, then, for a short time, jumped feet first into the problems facing Enbridge Inc. in its efforts to win First Nations support for Northern Gateway.

B.C. aboriginal leaders told The Globe and Mail this week that no other Alberta premier has been better suited to negotiate with them.

Your platform spelled out broad principles for protecting the environment – a subject about which Alberta gets pilloried daily. The details may prove otherwise, but so far the points look eerily similar to those that have failed to yield desired results over the past three years, those that Ms. Redford touted again and again on numerous trips to Washington in support of Keystone XL.

You mention establishing "world-class" regulation and monitoring of the energy industry, emphasizing science and technology, working with Ottawa and the U.S. government to harmonize standards – all while steering clear of anything that would "damage the competitiveness of our oil and gas industry by unilaterally imposing costs and regulations."

The word carbon is conspicuous by its absence, even though it has framed debate about the oil sands and Keystone XL. You have said you will not increase the $15-a-tonne levy on major emitters, which, granted, was pioneering in its day but seems to have blended into the wallpaper in the diplomatic discourse.

You have criticized carbon capture as unproven and incapable of the results needed to meet Alberta's reduction goals. Indeed, projects have dropped off the table, and another of your predecessors, Ed Stelmach, had counted on them to meet 70 per cent of the target. Now it's more like 10 per cent, leaving a gap that looks impossible to fill without additional burdens on companies, many of which have stressed-tested their financials on higher carbon costs.

Working with the federal government is a good idea, though Ottawa has dithered on imposing tougher rules on the industry for years. Let's face it, harmonizing stalling tactics benefits no one.

In your acceptance speech, you talked about a new beginning and making tough choices. Nowhere is this more important than in policies affecting a sector so dependent on trade with jurisdictions that are already wary.


Jeffrey Jones