Alberta Pundits Pitch Separation While Foundation Director Calls for Unity
As the rhetoric began to fly in the dying days of #elxn43, with some voices hinting at a new push toward western Canadian separation, one of Canada’s leading environmental thinkers warned that “Albertans can kiss their economic future goodbye” if extreme oil development became national policy.
In the days leading up to the vote, Edmonton talk show host and former Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said yesterday’s election could “be the moment where Alberta finally decides to stop acting like a national doormat and take charge of its future.” But “if Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer does not win a majority government, he will never get a chance to govern as a minority because none of the fringe parties will let him.” (Smith apparently missed the memo that, in the last set of polls before the votes were counted, the three “fringe” parties other than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals commanded an estimated 32.6% of the popular vote, roughly the same as the 31.6% supporting Scheer’s Conservatives.)
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Smith traced three drastic steps for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s consideration: an immediate referendum on interprovincial equalization, a political “firewall” that would essentially turn Alberta into a nation within a nation, and a “do-over on drawing our provincial boundaries”—or if that was too bold, negotiating “a couple of dedicated rights of way to deepwater ports” to export Alberta resources.
And Smith wasn’t alone. “Separation might have been everyone’s seventh choice,” but “it’s now second in a lot of minds,” said ex-Dragon’s Den panelist Brett Wilson, who was last seen proposing to hang Trans Mountain pipeline opponents for treason and offering to buy off B.C. New Democrat MLAs to quit their party. In a laudatory profile, the Globe and Mail suggested Wilson was just being purposely provocative.
“Wilson says with some pride that his monthly impressions on Twitter have increased tenfold in the past two years, up to 12 million impressions a month,” the paper stated. “At every Calgary business event he attends, he says people approach him to thank him. People are demoralized, and appreciate the frank language of his pro-Canadian oil and gas tweets.”
Except that increasing the polarization around the country’s fossil economy may be the least pro-Canadian thing anyone can do, at a time when international trends re pulling against fossil development in Canada or anywhere else.
“A strange dynamic has emerged in Canada whereby the industry that needs a climate solution most is the industry most identified with the problem—oil,” wrote Ivey Foundation President Bruce Lourie. But while “sophisticated leaders” in the industry recognize their vulnerability, supporting stable climate policies and higher carbon prices, “the political parties who pretend to represent the interests of the oil industry are the ones dismantling carbon pricing and other policies that would help Canada transition to a clean economy.”
Combine that political decision with “the McCarthy-esque Kenney ‘war room’ trying to suggest that foundations and charities are somehow not permitted to weigh in on the world’s great challenge of climate change, and oil industry lobby groups sponsoring nonsense to support this kangaroo-court sham, and we have the makings of the true demise of Alberta as an economic player going forward,” Lourie warned.
A Scheer win last night would have set in motion a scenario of Conservative politicians “gloating in a false victory for those who do not accept the urgency” of the climate crisis, followed by a coalition of governments bent on dismantling the country’s climate action to date “ensuring that Canada returns to global pariah status on the international stage,” Lourie added.
But that action would have carried severe consequences. “Anti-Alberta campaigns [would] ramp up and the Kenney war room [would] be exposed for the boondoggle it is. And finally, the international investment community [would] hasten the already rapid withdrawal of investment from Alberta, accelerating the province’s economic woes. At this point, new pipelines [would] not be needed as the industry [would] be contracting. There is now an active and sophisticated global movement on sustainable investing, and if Canadian businesses (financial and fossil fuel) aren’t actively defining how to invest in the transition out of oil, the scenario painted above will come faster and harder.”
The picture would have been worse still had a Scheer minority government been propped up by a strong Bloc Québécois caucus from the only province where the resurgent independentist party fielded candidates. “This would be akin to having two provincial parties representing their narrow parochial interests pretending to care about the rest of Canada,” Lourie wrote. “This might lead to the great Canadian unity irony—where the rest of Canada separates from Alberta and Quebec!”
Lourie conceded that “fossil fuels aren’t going away tomorrow,” and expressed a preference for having Alberta supply the still-growing global demand for oil and gas. But even so, “the only option for Canada is to understand and embrace the complexity of how to finance the transition to a clean economy through a measured, long-term transition investment strategy that sees the cleaning up of the fossil fuel sector in a way that demonstrates global leadership,” he concluded. “Politicians pitting different parts of Canada against each other is about the worst possible outcome for Canadians and a sad reflection on the narrow-mindedness of our Balkanized politicians. We need to be competing with the world, not each other.”