No regrets as Notley looks back on last 3 years

With dreams dashed of cutting the ribbon on a new Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — at least for now — Premier Rachel Notley is in the middle of a pre-election pivot.

Social licence 'still part of the conversation,' premier says in year-end interview

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who is preparing to lead her party into a provincial election in the spring, looks back and ahead in a year-end interview with CBC News. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

With dreams dashed of cutting the ribbon on a new Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — at least for now — Premier Rachel Notley is in the middle of a pre-election pivot.

Notley is now concentrating on shorter-term fixes, such as buying rail cars to ship crude oil to market, to bridge the short period leading up to a provincial election in the spring.

In a wide-ranging year-end interview with CBC News, Alberta's first NDP premier looked back without regret on the last three and a half years since her party formed government in May 2015.

Back then, Notley enjoyed a friendly relationship with Justin Trudeau, who was elected prime minister in the fall of 2015.

In late 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley celebrated cabinet approval of the TMX project. Since then, the pipeline expansion has been stopped by the courts while consultation is done with Indigenous communities. (CBC news)

"The first meeting I ever had with the prime minister, what we talked about was the Trans Mountain pipeline and the fact that we needed to get that built," Notley said.

But since then, Notley's political fight has intensified from focusing on getting a new pipeline to pushing the federal government to shoulder the responsibility of enabling growth in Alberta's energy industry.

"I think eventually this pipeline is going to get built, but it's not built right now and we need the federal government to understand just how important this is to the people of Alberta," she said.

It's why Notley is forging ahead with arranging the purchase of thousands of new rail cars to move crude oil to market — with or without financial help from Ottawa.

"We need to finalize the deal with respect to rail so investors, and industry players will be able to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel," said Notley, who expects to have arrangements finalized early in the new year.

Social licence still part of conversation

As in her initial relationship with Trudeau, Alberta's premier has no regrets for trying to win so-called social licence for pipeline expansion with her government's climate change plan and carbon tax.

While her approach has been decried by political critics as a failure, Notley defends her position that working with industry to reduce emissions while enabling economic growth, and introducing a price on carbon, is better in the long run.

But it's a complicated relationship. Last August, Notley pulled out of the Trudeau government's climate change plan in protest against a federal court ruling that quashed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

"I think it [social licence] is still part of the conversation," Notley said. "The world is still seized with this issue."

Watch: Rachel Notley looks back on three and a half years as premier. 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks with CBC provincial affairs reporter Kim Trynacity in a year-end interview. 2:42

She pointed out that it's difficult to take a long-term view of climate action with the restraints of the current election cycle and the highly politicized debate. "You have to think beyond the two- or three-month narrative, sometimes to the two- and three-year and sometimes a seven- or eight-year [view]," Notley said.

"I believe we need to take action to responsibly combat climate change, and I believe that our energy industry is well positioned to lead the world as far as being the first choice provider of non-renewable energy."

2 visions in the campaign

As unrepentant as she is in her approach to pipelines and the environment, Notley is steadfast in her support for social justice. She is proud of the progress her government has made in schools and the health-care system.

Her government brought in gay-straight alliance legislation for schools and a law that imposes lifetime bans on health-care professionals found guilty of sexual abuse.

She believes her positions on social issues will set her apart from the United Conservative Party (UCP) and its leader, Jason Kenney.

"There's going to be two visions that Albertans are going to be looking at," Notley said of the upcoming election campaign.

"It's a bit of fake populism, where they sort of yell at everything and are against everything and want to undo everything," she said of the approach she expects to see from the UCP.

Notley reiterated her frequent claim that a Kenney government would make "massive cutbacks," that "by their own admission will hurt Albertans."

But in a year-end interview with CBC, Kenney said his approach to governing will be prudent.

Kenney has already formed a transition team to launch if he wins the next provincial election, and has set out priorities for his first few months in office. He intends to repeal the carbon tax and appoint a minister in charge of cutting regulations.

Saying some of the changes made by the NDP to labour legislation have hurt business, Kenney also intends to repeal some elements of the NDP government's changes to the labour code.

Notley said she's looking forward to the campaign. She's coy about when it will happen, other than to say it will be held within the prescribed timeframe — March 1 to May 31, 2019.

And she "absolutely" expects to win another mandate.

"As someone who's been born and raised in politics, and born and raised to campaign for the values that matter to me, I look forward to the election."