A war is looming between Alberta and the federal government over pollution caused by oil sands development that will far surpass any previous federal-provincial battle in its political and economic stakes, former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed predicted Tuesday.
He said that Alberta's desire to bypass toughened federal environmental laws will cause considerable dispute within the province itself, and will “cause significant stress to Canadian unity.
“The government of Alberta, with its acceleration of oil sands operations, will in my judgment be seen as the major villain in all of this in the eyes of the public across Canada,” he said.
Mr. Lougheed predicted that the dispute will very likely go before the Supreme Court as a constitutional reference, forcing the Court to decide whether the British North America Act gives the province the right to develop its energy resources as it sees fits.
“My surmise is that we're into this constitutional legal conflict soon,” he said. “And my surmise is that – and this is strong stuff – national unity will be threatened if the court upholds federal environmental legislation and it causes major damage to the Alberta oil sands and our economy.”
Interesting perspective, considering Lougheed's recent call for a moratorium on future expansion of the tarsands:
What is the hurry? Why not build one plant at a time? I hope the new government in Alberta will reassess this and come to the conclusion that the mess, and I call it a mess, that is Fort McMurray and the tar sands will be revisited.
I keep trying to see who the beneficiaries are. Not the people in Red Deer, because everything they have got is costing more. It is not the people of the province, because they are not getting the royalty return that they should be getting, with $75 oil. It is a major, major federal and provincial issue.
There are a lot of negatives about an overheated economy, and we truly have an overheated economy in Alberta today. And the question is the sustainability too.
Lougheed is quite critical of environmental damage, caused by rapid growth in development. However, his reputation on provincial jurisdiction is well known, so he provides a unique tension. Lougheed argues against the tar sands, but that doesn't necessarily translate into supporting a federal incursion.
If Lougheed is correct, then Canada will face a seismic challenge to national unity. Stelmach's stance is entirely rigid and uncompromising, while the sense that something needs to be done gains traction. Hopefully, the situation can be resolved within Alberta itself, because there does seem to be growing resistance to unbridled growth, coupled with the realization of the boom pitfalls. Whether that sentiment will translate to government is questionable, but I think it fair to say that Albertans are environmentally conscious. The last thing we need, is Ottawa forcing its will on Alberta, right or wrong aside. A rational debate will quickly plunge into a seige mentality, with easy fodder for tribalists to ratchet up the rhetoric and create lasting damage. The scenario Lougheed points too is realistic, let's hope it never happens.