Premier Rachel Notley asks union to back Alberta's push for new pipelines

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has asked Canada's largest private-sector union to back the province's push to build more pipelines.

Speech at the Unifor convention says pipelines would create jobs for many of the union's members

Premier Notley tells union convention in Ottawa the government ' can set a course to return to fiscal balance as our economy recovers.' (CBC)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has asked Canada's largest private-sector union to back the province's push to build more pipelines.

In a speech Wednesday at the Unifor convention in Ottawa, Notley said new pipelines to carry Alberta oil to tidewater would create jobs for many of the union's members and give a much-needed boost to the Canadian economy.

"I'm asking for your support that will make Alberta and Canada world leaders on climate change, while responsibly developing our resource industries in the economic interest of hundreds of thousands of working Canadians, including many of your members," Notley said.

She warned delegates not to be distracted by naive or simplistic political arguments, at the risk of becoming irrelevant, comments that appeared to be a veiled shot at supporters of the so-called LEAP manifesto. The controversial policy paper discussed by the federal NDP at its national convention in Edmonton this spring does not support building new pipelines.

Notley's speech was especially timely given that the National Energy Board opened public hearings earlier this month on the proposed $15-billion Energy East pipeline. If approved, the pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Eastern Canada.

The NEB must submit its final report to the federal government by March 2018.

Alberta 'can't run deficits indefinitely'

The premier also used her speech to defend her government's policies during a time of rising deficits and growing anxiety as Alberta stares down its worst economic downturn since the early 1980s.

"Our province, we know, can't run deficits indefinitely," she told 1,800 delegates to the national union convention. "We know that, we're very conscious of that. But we can manage our fiscal challenges patiently, and wisely and carefully."

Notley thanked delegates for helping the NDP win a majority government in May 2015. She also listed off a long list of policies adopted by her government in a short period of time, from raising the minimum wage to extending health and safety benefits to farm workers, despite fierce resistance from the opposition parties, and some farmers and ranchers.

' ... campaign run by Alberta's right-wing anger industry.'

"Despite a vicious over-the-top incitement campaign run by Alberta's right-wing 'anger industry,' that is exactly what we did," Notley said. "And now every worker in Alberta is finally protected by health and safety legislation."

Premier Rachel Notley asks delegates to national union convention to support new pipelines. (CBC)

In a fiscal update this week, Alberta Finance reported a record $10.9 billion deficit, half a billion dollars more than was forecast in the spring budget.

Much of the increase relates to the high cost of the Fort McMurray wildfires in May. The recent bad news was made worse by a pattern of continued job losses, lack of investment, and the second consecutive year of shrinkage in the economy as a result of persistent low oil prices.

 But Notley told union delegates things would have been "much worse" under a different government.

"We're not just going to cross our fingers and hope that cutting taxes for rich people will magically turn the economy around. That's what Conservatives do."

The union Notley spoke to was formed three years ago by the amalgamation of the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Both organizations have suffered drastic losses of jobs and membership over the past few years.