Three years later and Not­ley is on a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal planet

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - KEITH GEREIN [email protected]­media.com

Back in the fall of 2015, Premier Rachel Not­ley was the fresh­faced new­comer at the ta­ble as Canada’s first min­is­ters gath­ered in Ot­tawa.

The world had a dis­tinctly pro­gres­sive feel to it.

Barack Obama was still in the White House then, Justin Trudeau had just been elected prime min­is­ter, and the fed­eral govern­ment was pre­par­ing for the Paris cli­mate change talks.

The ma­jor theme of that 2015 first min­is­ters meet­ing was on the need to step up Canada’s ef­forts on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Not­ley was in the spot­light and re­ceived ku­dos from Trudeau on her govern­ment’s new Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Plan, fea­tur­ing a $30 per tonne car­bon tax, a cap on oil­sands emis­sions and a phase­out of coal plants.

Sim­i­lar sup­port came from other lead­ers at the con­fer­ence ta­ble, a group that hailed mostly from the Lib­eral camp and in­cluded two other women pre­miers — Christy Clark of B.C. and Kath­leen Wynne of On­tario.

The odd man out was Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, the lone con­ser­va­tive leader in the room and about the only one to cau­tion against im­pos­ing harm on an oil in­dus­try strug­gling with low prices. What a dif­fer­ence three years makes.

At least that’s how I sus­pect Not­ley was feel­ing this week while trav­el­ling to an­other first min­is­ters con­fer­ence in Mon­treal where she is fac­ing a po­lit­i­cal land­scape turned up­side down.

Al­berta is now the only prov­ince with a woman serv­ing as premier.

Pre­vi­ously Lib­eral or NDP gov­ern­ments in Man­i­toba, On­tario, Que­bec and New Brunswick have flipped, mostly to Con­ser­va­tives op­posed to car­bon taxes.

The only other NDP premier, B.C.’s John Hor­gan, has iron­i­cally be­come one of Not­ley’s big­gest ad­ver­saries due to his govern­ment’s at­tempts to block the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion to the Pa­cific Ocean.

And even Trudeau has be­come some­thing of an an­tag­o­nist for Not­ley these days, with the Al­berta leader reg­u­larly bash­ing Ot­tawa’s fail­ure to get the pipe­line built and in­ac­tion to help al­le­vi­ate the re­cent oil price cri­sis.

Largely be­cause of that price col­lapse, Not­ley is now the loud­est voice in the con­fer­ence room lead­ing the de­fence of oil.

In­stead of tout­ing ac­tion on cli­mate change, the premier’s chief mis­sion for this meet­ing is to build sup­port for get­ting more of Al­berta’s crude to mar­ket.

On that is­sue, Not­ley did find align­ment with some pre­miers to push the is­sue onto the agenda.

But ex­pect­ing com­plete con­sen­sus or real ac­tion was al­ways go­ing to be a tall or­der.

The of­fi­cial com­mu­niqué from the meet­ing said the first min­is­ters agreed Ot­tawa should in­vest in short-, medium- and longterm ef­forts to help the en­ergy in­dus­try, but no specifics were iden­ti­fied.

Not­ley skipped the wrap-up news con­fer­ence to catch a plane, but made brief com­ments to re­porters that con­firmed no tan­gi­ble com­mit­ment had been made by Trudeau.

“We don’t have the an­swer yet. I’ve got to be frank about that,” she said.

She said her main ac­com­plish­ment was to raise the pro­file of the is­sue, though she ac­knowl­edged she had to “get her el­bows up a lit­tle bit” to en­sure enough time was pro­vided for dis­cus­sion.

The cen­tral mes­sage to her coun­ter­parts was to il­lu­mi­nate the eco­nomic dam­age wrought by low oil prices as a “slow-mov­ing car crash” ne­glected by po­lit­i­cal lead­ers for nearly a decade, Not­ley said.

“As first min­is­ters we have all been very po­litely sit­ting around and ad­mir­ing the prob­lem and (now it is) time for us to stop do­ing that and take ac­tion,” she added.

But it was also clear not ev­ery­one in the room was re­cep­tive.

Par­tic­u­larly un­help­ful were the com­ments of Que­bec Premier Fran­cois Le­gault, who sug­gested prior to the meet­ing that Al­berta’s oil cri­sis wasn’t Que­bec’s prob­lem. He re­jected calls to re­vive the En­ergy East project by say­ing pipe­lines no longer have “so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity” in his prov­ince.

Such re­marks are likely to leave Al­ber­tans bristling, par­tic­u­larly since Canada’s equal­iza­tion regime has helped fund Que­bec’s in­fra­struc­ture and so­cial pro­grams with rev­enue orig­i­nat­ing from Al­berta’s en­ergy sec­tor.

You’d also think a prov­ince that lived through the 2013 LacMe­gan­tic train dis­as­ter would see the value of trans­port­ing oil by pipe­line rather than by rail.

The meet­ing in Mon­treal was likely the fi­nal first min­is­ters con­fer­ence for Not­ley prior to the Al­berta elec­tion next spring, which means it could be the fi­nal such con­fer­ence for Not­ley.

If that’s the case, I can only imag­ine she will head out, head shak­ing, at how the world flipped on her in such a short time.

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