Energy may not be ballot box issue, but there is none more important for Alberta
Danielle Smith has dropped the writ. The race to May 29 is on. I thought the 2019 Alberta election was pivotal for the energy industry, and the province, but this one promises to be even more critical yet, in part because the global energy system is being transformed in real time by clean energy technologies and policies, while Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley are campaigning like it’s 2015.
Last campaign, Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party used their “Pipelines, Jobs, Economy” narrative to pummel Rachel Notley and the NDP. During her government, Alberta had suffered two years of low oil prices, a precipitous drop in oil and gas capital expenditures, the loss of 33,000 oil and gas jobs at the low point of the bust in mid-2016, then a recovery that stalled because of a 2018 Keystone pipeline leak that forced Notley to impose a 325,000 barrel per day production cut only months before an election.
The NDP just couldn’t catch a break. Voters blamed her anyway. The oil and gas industry and its boosters vociferously attacked Notley for those things she could not control and gave her no credit for those she could, like using her Climate Leadership Plan as leverage to get Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government to approve two pipeline projects. Notley made her situation so much worse by refusing to run on her energy and climate policy record, which was much more hydrocarbon-friendly than critics claimed.
A day after the election, I argued that “despite implementing an impressive suite of energy policies that was cheered by the oil sands producers (the future of the Alberta oil patch), she has never been able to connect the dots. Nor could Marg McCuaig-Boyd, her energy minister, nor Shannon Phillips, her environment and climate change minister, nor Deron Bilous, her economic development minister.”
Is the NDP better prepared this time? Marginally. Will it be able to “talk energy” in the critical Calgary battleground? If the past four years are a guide, not likely. (You can read why in my column, Rachel Notley has no energy game)
I’ll review the NDP energy platform in more detail closer to election-day when there might be additions to consider, but the proposals to date are uninspiring. Better than 2019? Absolutely. But compared to the dynamism of the global energy transition and even plans put forward by various Alberta groups, the NDP proposals seem generic and uninspired. The party’s hydrogen proposal, for example, is mostly covered by the UCP government’s hydrogen roadmap. It also proposes $20 million to “conduct an inventory of current hydrogen infrastructure” even though in January the Province issued a request for proposals to build an Alberta hydrogen fuelling system (i.e. infrastructure) for heavy duty commercial vehicles.
Does no one periodically update these documents?
My complaints about the NDP energy platform are picking nits compared to the utter disaster that is the UCP government’s “Emissions Reduction and Energy Development” plan. My April 20 column (Is Smith’s ‘climate plan’ intended as a sop to Calgary voters? It isn’t good for much else) covered the basic objections and criticisms.
In the metaphorical sense, Smith is bought and paid for by Little Oil: junior and intermediate producers (especially gas producers), service companies, finance, and other sectors that serve the industry. Her lobbying for the odious $20 billion RStar campaign before becoming UCP leader, then proposing it as government policy when she became premier, led political scientist Duane Bratt to conclude that Smith is corrupt. In other words, bought and paid for. The composition of her energy future panel – five Little Oil executives, including Dave Yager, her former Wildrose Party president during her previous turn in politics – is another sign of her corruption. (My Feb. 16 column, Smith’s panel on Alberta’s energy future is a bad joke, explained in more detail)
Her few positive achievements are dwarfed by her lobbying from the Premier’s chair for a huge expansion of the oil and gas industry. That she’s doing so during a climate crisis AND the disruptive period of the rapidly accelerating global energy transition is reprehensible.
Alberta needs energy leadership, but Smith provides only salesmanship. (My Jan. 15 column, Danielle Smith has an oil and gas marketing plan, not a climate plan, lays out the argument) Expect, however, to see the UCP continue its campaign to paint Notley and the NDP as enemies of Alberta oil and gas, allies of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, and bent on destroying the industry. That argument is complete nonsense.
Why? Because both the UCP and the NDP were long ago captured by the oil and gas industry. That is, they put the industry’s interest before the public interest. The difference between the two parties is that Albertans can see the industry’s hand manipulating Smith while Notley at least implemented climate policy during her government and the NDP is making an effort on clean energy.
Both parties are pro-oil and gas. Both put industry’s interests before the public interest, especially protection of the environment and support for landowners and indigenous communities. It’s a matter of degree, not kind.
These are some of the themes that will inform Energi Media’s election coverage for the next month. We’ll be reviewing energy platform specifics later in the campaign. And we’ll raise larger issues, like our investigative report about the Alberta Energy Regulator that shines a spotlight into corners to reveal stories that aren’t flattering for either party, though, as always, far less flattering for the UCP.
A final thought: in the province that is the epicentre of Canada’s oil and gas industry, that last year led Canada in wind and solar generation installation and will do so again this year, that is home to innovative geothermal companies, and active in so many other aspects of the energy sector writ large – the energy platforms of the UCP and the NDP are both bloody awful.
With all of the expertise available in Alberta, this is the best the two parties could do?