AL­BERTA WON’T BE FOOLED AGAIN

Prov­ince has lost faith

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN LIBIN in Cal­gary

CAL­GARY • The Al­berta NDP’S elec­tion ad wrapped over the front page of Satur­day’s Cal­gary Her­ald warned that Ja­son Ken­ney was “TOO RISKY” for Cal­gary. One rea­son, it said, was Ken­ney’s “Reck­less stunts on the Trans Moun­tain Pipe­line.” By con­trast, Premier Rachel Not­ley, the ad said, stands for “get­ting pipe­lines built.”

Even Cana­di­ans out­side of Cal­gary are prob­a­bly aware that no ac­tual pipe­lines were built in the four years that Not­ley’s govern­ment ruled Al­berta. But that’s the cir­cu­lar logic her NDP had re­sorted to us­ing to try nar­co­tiz­ing Al­ber­tans into al­most be­liev­ing other­wise, as they headed into elec­tion day on Tues­day.

It goes like this: The NDP has long main­tained that pa­tience, col­lab­o­ra­tion, ag­gres­sive cli­mate poli­cies and ne­go­ti­a­tion with the rest of Canada is key to get­ting a pipe­line built. Ken­ney’s United Con­ser­va­tive Party be­lieves, af­ter watch­ing ex­port-pipe­line projects re­peat­edly foiled over the past four years, that these things don’t work, and that tougher mea­sures are re­quired, such as re­tal­i­at­ing against B.C.’S pipe­line ob­struc­tion­ism by cut­ting off en­ergy ex­ports and can­celling cli­mate poli­cies that promised to buy Al­berta “so­cial li­cence,” but never did. Ergo, says the NDP, Ken­ney is “reck­less” and won’t get pipe­lines built, while the NDP is re­spon­si­ble and will get pipe­lines built. All with­out ev­i­dence that a pipe­line will ever get built.

That hol­low ar­gu­ment may be all Not­ley has to de­fend her pipe­line legacy, which has so far pro­duced only em­bar­rass­ment for her and an­guish for the prov­ince, with the oil-ex­port bot­tle­neck cost­ing a for­tune in rev­enue and jobs (Not­ley even had to re­cently force com­pa­nies to cur­tail pro­duc­tion to ease the glut). Al­ber­tans are far more jaded than they were when she took charge in 2015. Not­ley tried sell­ing in Al­berta a long-lost con­cept — a faith that Ottawa and the rest of the coun­try would play fairly, in the name of co-op­er­a­tion and unity, with just a lit­tle bit of give and take from ev­ery­one. That mis­placed faith was be­trayed re­peat­edly. It won’t soon sur­face again.

In­stead, while Not­ley forced Al­berta to give till it hurts (could there have been a worse time to im­pose new, in­vest­ment-killing cli­mate rules than dur­ing a his­toric oil-price rout?), the rest of Canada has only taken. And taken. The Trudeau govern­ment can­celled North­ern Gate­way and cre­ated new bans on tankers car­ry­ing Al­berta crude (but not other kinds) from the prov­ince’s north coast to ap­pease anti-oil­sands ac­tivists there. It scared off the En­ergy East pipe­line pro­posal, ap­peas­ing Quebec, by con­tin­u­ally rais­ing the reg­u­la­tory thresh­old un­til the own­ers walked away. It lay­ered new lev­els of ad­di­tional Indige­nous con­sul­ta­tion onto Trans Moun­tain, even af­ter it re­ceived reg­u­la­tory ap­proval. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau even promised to even­tu­ally “phase out” the oil­sands en­tirely (while global de­mand for oil con­tin­ues to grow). And his govern­ment has cre­ated a new project-ap­proval process with Bill C-69, cur­rently await­ing Se­nate ap­proval and unan­i­mously op­posed by the in­dus­try for its vague and un-meetable tests, like as­sess­ing the “gen­der im­pacts” of an un­der­ground tube and weigh­ing “Indige­nous knowl­edge” against sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

The dog that never did bark in the Al­berta elec­tion cam­paign was that Trudeau would not even de­liver Not­ley the clear plan for a pipe­line she des­per­ately needed in time to sal­vage her cred­i­bil­ity be­fore Al­ber­tans voted Tues­day, de­spite all the trust she had put in the fed­eral Lib­er­als to get the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion built. Fed­eral judges over­turned the project’s orig­i­nal ap­proval in Au­gust, adding yet more hur­dles for the govern­ment to meet on the en­vi­ron­ment and Abo­rig­i­nal con­sul­ta­tions. But af­ter the Na­tional En­ergy Board once again ap­proved Trans Moun­tain’s new and im­proved ap­pli­ca­tion in Fe­bru­ary with a 90-day (al­beit non-bind­ing) pe­riod for the fed­eral cab­i­net to re­spond, 53 days have ticked by as of Elec­tion Day in Al­berta.

Trudeau has of­fered noth­ing use­ful to Not­ley’s cam­paign to clearly vindicate her claims that all her cli­mate ges­tures — hir­ing hard-core anti-oil­sands op­po­nents to leg­is­late lim­its on pro­duc­tion growth, carbon taxes more costly than even Justin Trudeau’s, green sub­si­dies run­ning up the bill for tax­pay­ers even as they strug­gled through a vi­cious re­ces­sion and the elim­i­na­tion of cheap elec­tri­cal coal power — have all been worth­while.

When Not­ley said last week that she ex­pected Trudeau’s cab­i­net ap­proval to come next month, with con­struc­tion to be­gin in the sum­mer, few peo­ple could bring them­selves to be­lieve her any­more. Such pipe­line prom­ises look even emp­tier than they did last May, when the Lib­er­als pur­chased the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line from an owner, Kinder Mor­gan, who was fed up with end­less de­lays, op­po­si­tion, reg­u­la­tory road­blocks and the spi­ralling costs they all bring. “Pick up those tools, folks,” Not­ley huz­za­hed at a news con­fer­ence. “We said we would get the pipe­line built and we are get­ting it built!”

Spoiler: They aren’t. Af­ter a sum­mer of cu­ri­ous in­ac­tiv­ity on the con­struc­tion front but plenty of ac­tiv­ity from civil dis­obe­di­ents phys­i­cally try­ing to block the project came the fed­eral court of ap­peal de­ci­sion. Trudeau’s govern­ment, aban­don­ing Al­berta again, re­fused to even try ap­peal­ing the rul­ing, in­sist­ing they owed it to First Na­tions op­po­nents to fol­low the court’s rul­ing, leav­ing Not­ley again, with noth­ing to show for her strat­egy.

The most likely rea­son for the cab­i­net’s de­lay in re­spond­ing to the NEB rul­ing now is the near im­pos­si­bil­ity of com­ing to terms with those few First Na­tions who are dead-set against Trans Moun­tain. The court had blamed the fed­eral govern­ment for fail­ing to “grap­ple” with their con­cerns, and seek­ing ways to change the project to ad­dress them. Le­gal schol­ars saw this as a new stan­dard never im­posed be­fore and the like­li­hood Ottawa will meet it suf­fi­ciently to avoid fu­ture court block­ades as not high. Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi told reporters last month his depart­ment has met with most of the 117 Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties ex­pected to be af­fected by the project, but pro­vided no sense at all of how the grap­pling was go­ing.

It only takes one First Na­tion to over­turn it all again (the last hear­ing was be­cause six bands op­posed to the project sued; that more than 30 other bands sup­ported the project mat­tered not). But that as­sumes the Trudeau Lib­er­als, sink­ing in the polls and reel­ing from scan­dal, are even in­ter­ested in an­nounc­ing a pipe­line, risk­ing yet an­other sum­mer of dis­con­tent, with protests roil­ing in B.C.

Surely their rep­u­ta­tion these days for bru­tal po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions sug­gests that Lib­eral elec­tion pri­or­i­ties must come be­fore Al­berta. Just as Quebec’s pipe­line op­po­si­tion came be­fore Al­berta. Just as a hand­ful of First Na­tions come be­fore Al­berta. Just as the Lib­er­als’ Bill C-69 so­cial-cli­mate-jus­tice cam­paign must come be­fore Al­berta.

Rachel Not­ley’s rookie NDP govern­ment was the em­bod­i­ment of naive hope over ex­pe­ri­ence, the be­lief that if Al­berta just sac­ri­ficed enough, its con­cerns would come to count as much as those of oth­ers. She even per­suaded some peo­ple here to be­lieve it, for a while. That she and they to­day feel more be­trayed than ever, is in large part her fault.

JA­SON FRANSON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Al­berta NDP Leader Rachel Not­ley casts her vote in the provin­cial elec­tion in Edmonton on Tues­day.

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