Rachel Notley brings revamped pipeline pitch to federal cabinet retreat

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made what she called "the best Alberta case" for pipeline approval as she met the federal cabinet headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on her own home turf in Kananaskis, Alta., over the weekend.

Alberta premier touts pipelines as safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport oil

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley following meetings at a Liberal Party cabinet retreat in Kananaskis, Alta., on Sunday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press.)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made what she called "the best Alberta case" for pipeline approval as she met the federal cabinet headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on her own home turf in Kananaskis, Alta., on Sunday.

That "best case" includes the argument that oil and gas are likely to be the only sources of revenue big enough to pay for the transition away from an oil-and-gas economy.

The federal cabinet arrived in the resort in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on Sunday afternoon for a three-day retreat.

Part of the case that Notley laid before the cabinet was a presentation on the importance of Alberta — particularly its energy industry — to the nation's economy and the federal government's coffers.

"I just ran through a bunch of stats," she said. "Here's what Alberta contributes to the national economy, this is the percentage of exports that are related to Alberta's energy sector, this is the amount of GDP that's related to Alberta's energy sector. This is the net fiscal contribution by Alberta taxpayers to the federation."

She said she also wanted to educate the cabinet about the measures her province is already taking to reduce its carbon footprint — measures she said have not been fully understood or appreciated in Ottawa.

"I don't think that they all understood every element of it," she said. "I don't think they all understood the import of the cap on [total oilsands] emissions. I don't think that they were as aware of the impact to greenhouse gas emissions across the country that is achieved through our coal phaseout plan, nor were they aware of the breadth of our coming energy efficiency measures."

After years in which the pipeline debate was often framed in terms of jobs, revenues and royalties, Notley is trying a new approach: Pipelines will create employment and bring prosperity, but they are also safer for people and the environment than transporting oil on trucks and railcars, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

After her presentation to all the ministers, she talked to a smaller group in more detail about the specifics of Alberta's climate change plan.

Sources tell CBC News that Notley received a standing ovation from the full cabinet.

Common philosophy on pipelines

While frustrated with the federal NDP over the pipeline issue, Notley had kind words about Trudeau's approach to the issue. 

"You know, two Conservative governments at both the federal level and the provincial level came together to fail on getting a pipeline approved, because they paired that with a refusal to deal with climate change, and a refusal to deal with the fact that people distrusted the process that was in place.

"And so the new federal government has committed to try to change the [National Energy Board] process to win the support of Canadians, and I support that."

The federal Conservatives objected to that characterization. "All the pipeline projects currently under consideration were conceived and began their approval process under our government," said Candice Bergen, opposition critic for Natural Resources.

"No new projects have been begun or even proposed under either the Trudeau government or the Notley government."

Bergen said the Trudeau government has confused the oil and gas industry by sending mixed signals about its openness to pipelines. She cited in particular the moratorium on oil tankers on the northern B.C. coast, which appears to undermine the viability of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project.

"The fact is, the world is going to be using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and it should be Canadian oil and Canadian jobs."

Notely at ease with Trudeau government

Notley appeared at least as much at ease meeting with Trudeau and his Liberal cabinet as she did a couple of weeks ago, when the federal version of her own New Democratic Party rolled into Wildrose country for its tumultuous convention.

That convention in Edmonton not only saw the defeat of Leader Tom Mulcair, but also a vote by delegates to consider adopting the Leap Manifesto, a document that Notley has condemned as "naive", "ill-considered", and "tone-deaf."

While there has been no formal split over the issue, many Alberta New Democrats are frustrated with their federal counterparts.

Some have echoed more conservative Alberta politicians of the past, complaining that Canada for years used the energy-rich province as an ATM, but now won't help Alberta in its hour of need to get those energy resources to market.

"We cannot continue to help Canada if Canada will not help Alberta," provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci warned recently, making it clear his remarks applied both to the pipeline issue and to another sore point for Alberta — the failure to extend enhanced Employment Insurance benefits to workers in the Edmonton area.

EI issue a sore point

The Liberals have granted extra weeks of EI payments to 12 regions deemed to be suffering particularly from current economic conditions. Three of those regions are in Alberta, but Edmonton is excluded.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters he wasn't going to Notley's presentation on the issue because it was "over-subscribed." He defended the formula by which the federal government calculated which regions of the country are entitled to beefed up EI benefits but appeared to leave the door open a crack to modifying it.

"That's where we're at right now and I appreciate that Premier Notley, you know, is anxious to make sure that people across the province are well served."

"We are applying the cold, hard mathematics," Trudeau had argued during a recent visit. "If there was politics brought into this we might have made other choices. The fact is we can be reassured we're making decision based on evidence, not on popularity or political convenience." 

The Liberals have enjoyed something of a resurgence in Alberta, winning two seats in Edmonton in last October's federal election. Not extending EI enhancements to Edmonton could put those gains at risk if Albertans feel they are being discriminated against.

Notley has argued that the mathematical argument isn't convincing, because EI benefits were enhanced in two cities — Whitehorse and Saskatoon — that enjoy lower rates of unemployment than Edmonton. 

She returned to that theme after meeting the cabinet on Sunday night. 

"The problem is, how do you say to someone in Edmonton, 'Hey gee, there are other parts of the country that have lower unemployment rates that you and are eligible for this program, and yet Edmonton's not.'"


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.

With files from Rosemary Barton and The Canadian Press


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