Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae promoted the Liberal Party as the best way to bring national leadership and sustainable development to Canada's resource wealth, especially in the oil sands, in a speech today at the Canadian Club in Toronto.

Rae touted the Liberals as a middle ground between the Conservatives, whom he implied are employing partisan rhetoric when it comes to discussing what he called "carbon pricing," and the NDP, which he said sees resource wealth as a curse, a characterization he described as "simplistic nonsense."

He said the oil sands are a "great advantage, but like anything, can be exploited for short-term gain and then squandered."

Rae suggested a number of measures that should be adopted in the development of energy resources:

  • The full participation by First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples.
  • Speeding up apprenticeship programs to provide skilled trades people in the energy section.
  • End subsidies on fossil fuels.
  • Government should lead discussions about an east-west pipeline from Alberta to the Maritimes.
  • A rational approach to carbon pricing as opposed to heavy regulations, with breaks for low income regions and households.
  • A clear set of policies about foreign investment in energy resources.
  • A neutral, science-based approach to the proposed Enbridge pipeline route.

Reaching out to the West

Rae emphasized that it's "wrong-headed" to pit resources against the manufacturing section, in a clear shot at NDP Leader Tom Mulcair who has lamented that the high Canadian dollar, pumped up by oil and gas revenues, is hurting the Ontario manufacturing sector. Rae suggested instead an "industrial strategy" that would see lower taxes on manufacturing.

Rae's speech Thursday is another example of the Liberal Party reaching out to the West, a region it has been all but shut out of in recent years. The party has only four MPs in the entire region, and its support in some provinces in the last election was in the single digit range. There are no Liberal MPs from Alberta.

With a sense, perhaps, that there's nowhere to go but up, the Liberal Party, as it pursues its quest for renewal, especially in its leadership contest, is much more pivoted towards the West than it has been in years.

It's a contrast from the mood of the party in 2006 during the last Liberal leadership race. In that contest involving eight candidates, none were from the West and six were from Toronto. The winner, Stéphane Dion from Quebec, campaigned on a policy he called the "green shift," in effect, a carbon tax.

The present Liberal leadership has a more western slant. It's expected that Vancouver MP Joyce Murray will announce her candidacy soon. Martha Hall Findlay, a former Ontario Liberal MP, launched her leadership bid Wednesday from Calgary. Her main organizer is Calgary-based Stephen Carter who ran the successful campaigns of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. David Merner of Victoria is considering a leadership attempt.

Also, the day after Justin Trudeau announced his interest in the leadership, he headed to Alberta. The name Trudeau is anathema in parts of the province because of the still-simmering western resentment about the national energy policy put in place by his father three decades ago. But Trudeau has told westerners he is not his father, and pointed out he was only 10 years old when the NEP was put in place.

The Liberal Party's Atlantic caucus, including MPs Scott Andrews, Wayne Easter, and Geoff Regan are on their way to Fort McMurray for what they call outreach meetings, as well as meeting with many of their own constituents who have left the east for jobs in the oil fields.