Rachel Notley has no energy game

Kenney can’t tie his own shoelaces when it comes to energy and climate policy, but he is fluent in the Alberta energy narrative, unlike Notley

Back when she was Alberta premier, Rachel Notley was Justin Trudeau’s BFF on climate and energy matters. Her incendiary comments about Ottawa’s new emissions reduction plan probably scorched that relationship. More troubling, however, is that three years after being consigned to the opposition benches, Notley still cannot speak intelligently about the global energy transition and Alberta’s role in it.

The NDP leader’s contempt for Trudeau’s plan could not have been clearer:

“This is not a real plan to reduce emissions and in fact it obstructs the rollout of a real plan that addresses climate change. Without massive changes in technology across every sector and huge changes in global energy demand, reaching the 2030 target — in just over seven years — is fantasy.”

Premier Jason Kenney was always going to hate today’s announcement, which calls for huge (42%) oil and gas emissions reductions by 2030. Blaming Trudeau for every sparrow that falls, and many that don’t, is so commonplace after three years of the UCP that even the Twitterverse has stopped paying attention.

But that’s not Notley’s style. So, what is she doing?

The obvious answer is that she’s shoring up her political support with a year to go before the next election. Several recent polls have the UCP recovering and hot on her heels. High oil prices have replenished the provincial coffers, COVID-19 isn’t headline news at the moment, and the Alberta economy is recovering.

If that’s the goal, she picked the wrong strategy. This was Notley’s moment to step up, to be bold. Her 2015 Climate Leadership Plan proves that she once had the chops to think big. Instead, she blames Trudeau for asking Alberta to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden and Kenney for not working closely with Trudeau to find alternatives.

“Why was this message not driven home in Ottawa?” Notley asked in a press release. “Because the Premier of Alberta is not spending his time making this argument. He is spending his time defending himself from his caucus, from various investigations, trying to sell UCP memberships and save his job.”

The closest she could come to a new oil and gas vision was calling for “public and private investment in new technology and emerging sectors.” Yawn. What new technology? Which emerging sectors? Without answers to those questions, Notley is just a dime store Kenney, all bluster and no substance.

The questions, however, do have answers. Here’s is Energi Media’s answer, from last week’s column, Where is the ‘leadership blueprint’ for a 21st century Canadian oil/gas sector?

…a complete transition over the next 20 to 30 years from producing hydrocarbons as feedstock for high-carbon liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel to producing feedstock for materials manufacturing (e.g. carbon fibre, plastics) and low-carbon fuels like hydrogen.

Our vision for the future of Alberta oil and gas isn’t the only one out there. Nor is it necessarily the correct one. But if a small independent media organization can think through these issues and come up with a strategy, surely the party aching to govern Alberta again can do the same.

Notley’s failure of imagination underscores a problem that dogged her throughout her government and during the 2019 election: despite impressive policy (largely shaped by consultants and bureaucrats), she and the NDP don’t “speak energy.”

Neither Notley nor any of her MLAs can explain how the global energy system is changing, the likely role of hydrocarbons in a transformed 21st century global energy system, or why and how Alberta must pivot to the low-carbon future.

Notley’s fatuous response to the federal emissions reduction plan, coupled with her knee jerk instinct to blame all on Kenney and her obvious inability to offer a credible alternative, has once again exposed her political Achille’s Heel: in the epicentre of Canada’s energy industry, the presumptive premier still has no energy game.

Without one, the Alberta NDP is dead on arrival next spring.

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