Under normal circumstances, an NDP premier from Alberta – especially one who worked as a staffer, alongside John Horgan, for the Glen Clark NDP government – might expect to feel welcome in a province that is also now governed by an NDP government.
But Rachel Notley’s visit to Vancouver November 30 was marked by crowd of protesters outside the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, where she was speaking, and a conspicuous lack of representation by B.C.’s NDP government in the audience when she spoke to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT).
Notley and federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr were in Vancouver to speak about the importance of both climate change policies and oil pipelines, the latter of which makes Notley persona non grata for the B.C. NDP government, and the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby.
Although the Trudeau government approved both the Trans Mountain pipeline and Line 3 pipeline expansions – while simultaneously killing the Northern Gateway pipeline – some have questioned the federal government’s resolve in seeing them built.
The $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline project is now nine months behind schedule, thanks to delays in getting permits – the City of Burnaby being the biggest foot-dragger. Carr made it clear his government intends to see both pipelines built.
“These new pipelines will diversify our markets, be built with improved environmental safety, and create thousands of good-paying middle-class jobs, including in indigenous communities,” Carr said. “They were the right decisions then, and they are the right decisions now. Our government wants to see them built.”
But there has been a tacit agreement between Ottawa and Alberta that support for Canada’s energy sector must be balanced against the need for effective climate change policies – something some view as incompatible.
Alberta contributes a disproportionately large amount of greenhouse gases to Canada’s carbon profile, thanks to its oil sands. It also contributes disproportionately to Canada’s economy.
In terms of transfers, Alberta annually contributes $22 billion more than it gets back from Ottawa, Notley said. In 2014, before the oil price crash, 44,000 British Columbians worked in Alberta, Notley added.
“Alberta’s energy industry is a dominant part of what makes Canada tick,” Notley said.
“There is not a school, there is not a hospital, there is not bus, a road, a bike lane or a port that doesn’t owe something to the strong energy industry in the province of Alberta,” she said, to applause.
But she acknowledged that, for too long, Alberta has failed to act on mitigating the impacts on the climate both from its oil sands and its reliance on coal for power generation – something her government is trying to correct with an ambitious climate change plan that includes carbon taxes, a cap on oil sands emissions, a plan to phase out coal power by 2030 and investments in renewable energy.
“When we are done, we will have made good on one of the most dramatic clean energy conversions anywhere in the world,” she said, adding that Alberta’s is now “one of North America’s hottest renewable energy markets.”
“Albertans took this step because, as Canada’s largest energy producer, we know that we have a unique responsibility to tackle climate change,” Notley said. “And we know that any climate action plan that doesn’t include Alberta, frankly, is not a plan. It won’t work.”
But she also warned that Alberta cannot finance such a massive transition without a strong economy.
“Alberta cannot fund the transition to a greener, lower carbon future if our economy is held hostage by geography,” she said, referring to the need to get Alberta oil to foreign markets via B.C.
Earlier in the week, at the Clean Energy BC’s Generate 2017 conference, Dave Nikolejsin, B.C.’s deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, spoke of the potential for B.C. to help Alberta in its energy transition.
By beefing up an existing intertie between B.C. and Alberta, B.C. could supply Alberta with clean electricity to help it phase out coal power, electrify the oil and gas sector and backstop new wind power projects.
But given the current NDP government’s hostility towards an infrastructure project that is vital to Alberta’s economy – the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline – Albertans may be in no mood to cooperate.
“We’re always interested in cooperating, but there’s no question that province’s need for electricity, the market for electricity, will be somewhat dependent on the success of the energy sector,” Notley said, when asked about B.C.’s proposal to sell it power. “So, the two are not de-linked.
“We’re always open, but obviously we have this other big issue that we need to make some progress on.”
Notley pointed out that a new pipeline to be built through Richmond will be bringing jet fuel from the U.S. and Asia to Vancouver International Airport.
“I hope you can understand why that decision fuels some cynicism and frustration in Alberta,” she said. “If we can build pipelines that move U.S. and Asian energy products around the Lower Mainland, surely we can build them to move Canadian products that benefit all Canadians.”