Alberta NDP falls way behind on energy and climate policy

How can it be 2022 and Notley’s party doesn’t have a plan for emissions, electric transportation, and many other urgent climate and energy transition issues?

From 2015 to 2019, the Alberta NDP was the party of the Climate Leadership Plan, which gave rise to excellent energy and climate policies. Then Rachel Notley lost the 2019 election, in part because she lacked an energy narrative in the epicentre of Canada’s oil and gas sector, and the party stopped thinking seriously about energy and climate. The NDP owes Alberta voters a better effort leading up the next election in 2023.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that the party and Notley stopped thinking entirely about energy and climate.

To their credit, the NDP held a number of town halls to consult Albertans, developed a few policy proposals (hydrogen, geothermal, Bitumen Beyond Combustion, tax credits and a venture capital fund for cleantech), and is still consulting on a net-zero framework and a few other issues. Notley occasionally gives energy-focused speeches and the NDP energy critic, Kathleen Ganley (Calgary – Mountain View), occasionally issues a press release and does some media interviews.

What I am arguing is that NDP efforts aren’t nearly enough.

The energy and climate space has changed tremendously in three years and the leader of the pack in 2015 simply hasn’t kept up. Instead of leading, the NDP has arguably fallen behind the UCP government, despite Kenney gutting the Climate Leadership Plan, fighting the federal carbon tax to the Supreme Court, and generally behaving as the oil and gas sector’s lap dog.

Notley has even adopted a pale imitation of Kenney’s oil patch patriotism.  “The world is talking about energy… and where it comes from. Available supply… stable governance… safe transportation networks,” she recently told the Alberta chambers of commerce. “The world is waking up that it needs more Canadian energy. And that it needs more ALBERTA.”

(watch my interview with Prof. Shane Gunster, Simon Fraser University, “Oil and gas populism in Canadian social media”)

The NDP policies, narrative, and politics don’t reflect two trends that have defined the Canadian energy and climate space since 2019.

The first is the rapid acceleration of the global energy transition. For example, consider how the auto industry (transportation accounts for 60% of oil demand) is switching from gasoline and diesel to electric at an astonishing rate. According to BloombergNEF, global EV sales have begun exponential, hockey stick-style growth. Between 2030 and 2035, most automakers will stop manufacturing internal combustion engine vehicles. Customers are telling Alberta that they prefer the competitor’s product, which for most businesses is an existential threat.

(watch my interview with Kingsmill Bond of the Rocky Mountain Institute, “From deep energy crisis comes profound energy transition change”)

The second is the federal government’s climate and energy policies. Prior to the 2019 federal election, experts calculated that the Liberals’ climate policies would get Canada three-quarters of the way to net-zero by 2050. Justin Trudeau’s government has now closed the gap. And consistent with other governments, the Prime Minister is continually ratcheting up Canada’s climate ambitions.

Trudeau has made it clear that Alberta can no longer juke and jive about greenhouse gas emissions. Oil and gas CEOs are quietly panicking, worried that their climate bluff has finally been called.

(watch my interview with Michael Bernstein of Clean Prosperity, “Liberal budget funds key Emissions Reduction Plan goals”)

I challenge the NDP to explain how they plan to address these momentous trends if they form government. There is nothing in their public proposals or comments that suggests they are well and truly grappling with Alberta’s response to the energy transition and the climate crisis or federal policies.

If I’m wrong, the NDP should be able to easily disprove my argument. But if I’m right, then New Democrats should admit that their party is letting down Alberta voters.

Fortunately, there is still plenty of time for Notley and her party to craft an energy and climate plan consistent with modern reality. There is no shortage of studies about the different pathways to decarbonization, including innovative ideas about how to help the hydrocarbon sector pivot to a long-term, sustainable low-carbon future.

(watch my interview with Jan Gorski of the Pembina Institute, “Not a fantasy: Pembina has practical plan for Canadian oil/gas to meet federal 2030 emissions target)

Will Rachel Notley have the courage to address the NDP’s energy and climate policy deficiencies?

Recent history suggests not, but her government’s record at least provides faint hope.

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