The House

Rachel Notley seeks balance between economy, environment

The strongest critic of Brad Wall's approach this week was, surprisingly, the new Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley. She clearly did not enjoy the comments of her Saskatchewan counterpart and said she would leave the "showboating" to others. Is she satisfied with the Canadian Energy Strategy?
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley talks with the CBC's Chris Hall in a special episode of The House this week, from the premiers' meeting in St. John's, Newfoundland. (The House/CBC News)

As the first NDP premier from oil-rich Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley made waves this week at her first premiers' conference thanks to a diplomatic, eco-conscious approach to talks on developing a national energy policy.

After reprimanding Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for "showboating" earlier this week for his aggressive defense of the oil and gas industry, Notley made clear there were no hard feelings on either side.

"I think all of us around that table demonstrated a mature approach (to talks), just to be clear," she told The House.

But it was Notley's own balanced approach to the debate over energy and the environment that made her a stand-out figure at this year's premiers' meeting. 

"Being a New Democrat in Alberta...when you promote and advocate for strong environmental action on an issue, sometimes you're accused of being anti-jobs or anti-economy. But as a New Democrat, I'm also very pro-jobs. For me, it's always been the case that you need to talk about both (the economy and the environment)," Notley said.

The new Canadian Energy Strategy is a result of finding that balance, she added.

"What it does is lay out a framework that's important as we go forward," Notley said of the document that supports common energy interests and addresses climate change. The national energy deal was reached after two days of intense — and oftentimes tense — discussions by the country's premiers this week.

One thing the national strategy isn't clear on are specific details about how each province will tackle climate change, but Notley said the omission was purposeful, and one of the key strengths of the document.

"It allows for the flexibility for each jurisdiction to look at what they can reasonably do, while acknowledging their economic realities and their geographic realities," she said.

That may mean a cap-and-trade system for Ontario and Quebec, a carbon tax for British Columbia or carbon sequestration in Saskatchewan. As for Alberta, its future approach to climate change is still to be determined, Notley said.

"We just appointed a panel to review ways in which we can make progress with respect to climate change, at the same time as balancing the need to ensure the sustainability of the industry and the jobs it provides," she said. 

"I don't want to pre-judge what the recommendations are. I think there are different models out there."

While Notley awaits the energy panel's updated climate policy, scheduled to roll out in advance of the United Nations climate conference in Paris in December, the Alberta NDP premier is also looking ahead to the federal election this fall. 

The two big issues she'll be keeping an eye on as federal candidates begin campaigning are affordable housing and childcare, Notley said.

"Those are critical components tro strong economic growth as far as I'm concerned," she said.

Will Canadians see her out campaigning for her federal counterpart, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair?

"I'm a New Democrat, always have been and it's a little hard for me to stay away from election campaigns," Notley said.

"Also, I quite like Tom Mulcair. That being said, I'm a premier who's been in office for about two months and I have a to-do list that's about as long as my arm and your arm put together."

"But we'll see how things unfold," she added.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley defends her approach on pipelines at the premiers meeting, saying building consensus with other provinces is better than "picking fights." 1:48