UCP “say ‘yes’ to Trans Mountain pipeline” campaign looks a lot like NDP approach

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage talking to reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.

The “say ‘yes’ to TMX” website looks like it was thrown together over someone’s coffee break

Jason Kenney prior to the election: “What we’re talking about is moving Alberta from an apologetic or defensive posture to an assertive posture.” How does the Premier square his bellicose rhetoric with the image of Energy Minister Sonya Savage riding around Ottawa in a silly-looking cube van emblazoned with pro-pipeline messages?

“Say ‘yes’ to TMX” homepage.

Savage was in Ottawa on Wednesday to kick off the Say ‘Yes’ to the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) pipeline campaign, the replacement for the Rachel Notley government’s $23 million “Keep Canada Working” campaign that has run for the past year across Canada, which Energi Media criticized as too tepid when it was launched last spring. The Ottawa phase of Kenney government’s campaign will cost $1.65 million and be active via digital display ads and posters at restaurants, bars, and the Ottawa airport.

“We need the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet to show leadership,” said Savage at a press conference with the van serving as a backdrop. “On June 18, we need them to approve TMX. Full stop.” The energy minister, a former Enbridge lobbyist, will ply her old trade with federal cabinet ministers, as well as Senators who are considering bills C-69 and C-48.

How is this different from the previous government’s efforts?

The NDP ran an advertising campaign, the UCP will run a similar campaign with a different slogan. NDP ministers lobbied federal ministers for months about the Trans Mountain Expansion project, Savage is simply picking up that torch. There appears to be no substantive difference in Alberta’s strategy under the new government.

Even the messaging is similar.

“The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been mired in uncertainty for far too long, driving away investment, costing Canadians billions in tax revenues, and sacrificing thousands of jobs from coast to coast,” Savage said while standing on a sidewalk across the street from Parliament. “On June 18, Canada needs the Prime Minister and federal cabinet to say ‘yes’ to TMX.”

Here’s a March 24 tweet from Notley: “To date, Alberta has won every case brought against Trans Mountain. Your Alberta government will not back down until this pipeline is built and the national interest is secured.”

Former trade minister Deron Bilous shows off the NDP’s version of the silly cube van, the lost revenue counter.

And this tweet from March 21: “When Alberta does well, Canada does well. We need to get #TransMountain built to bring more jobs, & more money for health care & education to all Canadians. I won’t stop #fightingforyou until it’s done – and we will get the pipeline built.”

There is little doubt the federal cabinet will re-approve TMX. The Prime Minister has said many times the 525,000 barrels per day pipeline from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, BC is in the national interest and will be built. It also doesn’t hurt that Canada purchased Kinder Morgan Canada’s assets, including the TMX project, for $4.5 billion on May 29, 2018.

Trudeau is a motivated owner. The only issue now is timing.

Not long after buying the pipeline, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed approval for the project due to inadequate consultation with First Nations and the National Energy Board’s failure to consider the impact of marine traffic on the southern resident killer whale population on the West Coast. By February, the NEB had green-lighted the project again but in mid-April, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi, said the federal government would delay its decision on the controversial pipeline until June 18 to ensure meaningful consultations with First Nations groups.

“We cannot cut corners on this process because getting our resources to global markets and building the projects the right way is important not only to grow the economy but also that Canadians can trust the process and Indigenous communities can trust this process,” Sohi told CTV News in April.

Image from Notley government’s “Keep Canada Working” campaign.

Commenting to Energi Media shortly after the August 30 Federal Court of Appeal decision, energy law professor James Coleman said, “What the court is asking for is something that governments typically aren’t very good at.” In other words, the feds need to get this right. That said, Ottawa has had eight months to address the consultation deficiencies and if it hasn’t done so by now, a few months aren’t likely to improve prospects of the redo withstanding another legal challenge.

The issue at hand really is a rumour that the Trudeau Liberals would like to avoid making pipelines an election issue in British Columbia – and possibly even Quebec, given recent talk in Alberta about reviving the Energy East project – and might punt the TMX decision until after the fall election. Savage rightly points out that a delay will mean another lost construction season at a time when Alberta is desperate for more pipeline capacity.  Hence her return to her old stomping grounds in the nation’s capital.

Albertans should be skeptical that three weeks of the “say yes to TMX” will have any influence on the federal cabinet’s decision. The odds are pretty good that the decision has already been made.

And, really, what is the Kenney government doing to sway the Liberals that the Notley government wasn’t already doing? Except having Alberta ministers galavant around Ottawa in a cube van, of course.

Update: Energy Minister Sonya Savage launched the campaign in British Columbia on May 30. Read the Alberta government press release.

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