Alberta needs less words, more deeds from Premier Notley

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, September 19, 2018
Alberta needs less words, more deeds from Premier Notley

Premier Rachel Notley is still angry. Very angry. The recent Court of Appeals decision to “quash” the regulatory approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project angered Premier Notley so much that she reportedly had to use a teleprompter to deliver her messages after the court decision was announced. According to the premier, “Albertans are angry. I am angry,” and “Alberta has done everything right and we have been let down.

And it’s pretty clear who she’s angry with—Ottawa. The premier condemned the court ruling, withdrew her commitment to the planned federal carbon tax escalation, and demanded the Court decision be appealed and Parliament resume session to somehow “fix” Canada’s environmental assessment process. A process the federal government plans to reorganize with Bill C-69 that, Queen’s University law professor Bruce Pardy observes, will make a process already inherently political and subjective even more political and subjective.

So Premier Notley has said all the right words. The problem is that most of them are hollow, given that she refuses to take hard actions that she, as Alberta’s premier, has the authority to do in real-time such as suspending or ending Alberta’s carbon tax (already at a level beyond the federal mandate until 2020) until pipe is in the ground and Alberta crude is flowing to tide water.

She could lift Alberta’s 100 megatonnes cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands, a cap which might start to curtail production in the mid-2020s. And of course she could join Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in suing the federal government over its imposition of a federal plan that would force the provinces to implement a carbon tax of $10.00 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2018, rising to $50.00/tonne in 2022. These court appeals are not expected to succeed, but filing them makes it clear that Ottawa will impose them against the will of the voting public in some of Canada’s most economically powerful provinces.

But again, and alas, Premier Notley is doing none of that and still stands by her Climate Leadership Plan, even though it’s now clear her idea of buying “social license” for pipelines (by saddling Alberta with an onerous regime of carbon taxes, carbon-emission caps, carbon-emission reduction regulations, coal power plant phase-outs, renewable energy targets and “efficiency” programs) has been an utter failure, at least when it comes to purchasing social license for pipelines that could take Alberta’s oil to tidewater and onward to foreign markets that might pay higher prices.

Indeed, it’s now crystal clear that the price of social license is infinitely high and the term of the license is virtually non-existent. American climate crusader Bill McKibben clearly illustrated the impossibility of obtaining social license from some activists when he wrote: “There's nothing useful Canada can offer if it’s going to develop the tar sands.”

But a disjunction between words and deeds is nothing new in this fight over pipelines. As I observed before: “Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deployed a strategy, from the beginning of their terms, to say ‘yes’ to pipeline and oilsands development while governing like they meant ‘no.’” And for all the premier’s (undoubtedly sincere) angry words, that pattern of “say yes” but govern from “no” continues.

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