Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ominous Words

An elder statesman, who knows a thing or two about constitutional clashes, with some ominous words on the future of the federation:
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.

Sept 2006

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.


burlivespipe said...

Which sets the stage for the most logical response: a Kevin Taft election platform which gives the people of Alberta the power to adapt environmentally sound economical growth.
Any change that doesn't acerbate or accelerate Lougheed's 'doom's-day scenario' must come from within.
It's up to the ALP to make the pitch, and for Albertans of both rural and urban ground to accept that they need to make some drastic changes -- not negative, but serious -- to protect their land and the future of their children's health.

ottlib said...

Or the current troubles with the sub-prime mortgage market in the US could dump it into a recession, causing economic slowdowns in both China and India, driving the price of oil down until the Oil Sands is forced to slow down because of good old fashioned economics.

Then again, George Bush could decide to attack Iran, sending oil prices over $100/barrel at the same time as a possible US recession leading to a world wide recession, which would destroy the Alberta economy in the short-term, as happened in the early '80s after the last oil boom.

By my calculations Canada and the US has gone 14 years without a recession. That is the longest period since the first boom of the post-war years. (when the world was rebuilding after WW II) It cannot last and it is just a matter of when and how deep a recession will be when it happens.

Steve V said...


Completely agree. The good news, some of the most innovative environmental friendly initiatives are coming from Alberta. Sold as a homegrown approach, the Liberals could make some noise. Maybe.

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I think too there needs to be a movement from within. The problem about relying on the Alberta Liberals is the word Liberal is almost like a four letter word in Alberta as many people still haven't forgiven Trudeau for the NEP. If the Liberals just changed their party name to something else, I think they actually might have a shot at winning. I would change it to the Moderate Party or Centre Party.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

There is a terrible possibility within this. The government could claim to be forced by the law to take this fight against Alberta hoping to trigger such a backlash and use it to argue that the only way to protect the Provinces from big brother federal government is to give him the majority he needs to limit the ability of the government to do so. Whether he would try this or not ironically depends on how committed/sincere he is to his beliefs regarding Provincial supremacy in such areas and whether because of that conviction he is willing to risk major alienation within much of Canada over the environmental aspect of taking such a position.

I would tend to think this is unlikely given what we have seen from Harper to date, but I still think he wants to do all that he talked about; he is just not going to try until he has a majority because he knows to do so prior to that will prevent him ever from getting that majority. He has to know that based on the history at the polls of the Reform/CA/CPC running on such platforms as they did until after the 2004 election.

You are right Steve V that this fight could be a major threat to national unity, I suspect at least on a par with the backlash from NEP. I say that because we all just know Conservatives will be whipping it out as a comparison and saying this is worse and everything, that this is going to make the economic hardships from NEP look like a mild summer's breeze compared to such federal interference, yadda yadda yadda. The Provincial PCPC is getting stale (what a shock after three and a half decades of unbroken power, a true one party State in Canada and the only such example of all the Provinces, irony abounds where Conservativism reigns it seems) and could use such a fight to revitalize itself and its base. Harper could use it to achieve his preferred goals for the federation, or if nothing else creating his separate Alberta/West with maybe some sort of relationship with our American cousins. I really do not know, but given how much he clearly despises Canada as it has been the past few decades and made no bones about it and his admiration for the American kind of conservative thinking (as the Calgary School makes blatantly obvious as you well know) makes such horrific scenarios at least possible.

This is the sort of thing I can see Harper doing where I would never have seen any prior PM or even potential PM (aside from the separatists who so long are only from Quebec represent no threat for that) in my lifetime, and it really worries me, as I am sure everyone here already knows given my lengthy "dissertations" (LOL) on why I think Harper must be defeated decisively along with his kind of conservativism and the total/culture war approach to politics. Good post Steve V about a very serious potential issue, I just hope that we do not see anything like either of us have theorized occur; we have enough internal stresses active within the nation without adding something of this potency to the dynamic.