David Staples: Even moderate Albertans alarmed by Trudeau’s oilsands plans

Alberta is coming to a boil. Talk of separation is commonplace, from kitchens and coffee shops to oilfields and boardrooms.


recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that 50 per cent of Albertans would support secession from Canada.

Businessman Rick Peterson, founder of the pro-oil citizens group Suits And Boots, says he gets hundreds of emails each week from group members, with 80 per cent of them mentioning separation as a reasonable option for Alberta. Even outsiders argue the option is warranted.

“It’s out there in a huge way,” Peterson said of separatist talk.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney now pledges aggressive measures to counteract anti-oilsands, anti-pipeline federal policy. Such a resolute approach is needed, Kenney said. “If a reasonable leader doesn’t take us in that direction then an irresponsible leader will take us in the direction of separation.”

The heat is so high that even political moderates, such as NDP Leader Rachel Notley, are now bringing up the profound unrest of Albertans in order to shock federal Liberals to wake up to their misguided approach.

The most recent trigger is a little known bill, C-48. It would fulfill a Trudeau campaign promise and see Alberta crude oil banned from being tankered out from a key commercial shipping lane in Canada, the first time any oil product has faced such discriminatory treatment. If the ban goes ahead, it will be perfectly OK to tanker American, Saudi, Algerian or Norwegian oil into Quebec or New Brunswick, and to tanker Newfoundland oil for export, but not Alberta oilsands crude out of the major ports on the northwest B.C. coast.

The move will cripple oilsands exports to Asia. It’s also unnecessary. Marine experts have repeatedly told the Senate that new double-hull tankers and tug boat guardian ships can safely move the oil out to sea.

Notley herself argued in a Senate hearing on Tuesday the bill deserves to be trashed.

She may well have had her finest hour as premier here. She invested all of her considerable charm, credibility, social capital and brain power to try to shake Liberal-leaning Senators from their evident prejudice against Alberta oil. Notley spoke in their own social justice vernacular, talking about how oil wealth pays for such good things as schools and hospitals across Canada, and that our oil is produced in a stable democracy, where human rights and a firm responsibility to the environment are taken seriously.

Quebec Sen. Julie Miville-Dechene raised the main sticking point, the possibility of an oil spill.

Reasonable safety measures can and must be taken, Notley assured her, but fairness demands we must not target a particular product with standards that are way out of whack compared to our standards for moving other products.

The coastal Aboriginal tribes want zero risk and also see the ban as a gesture of reconciliation, Miville-Dechene pointed out, so what about that?

Said Notley: “There are also a number of tribes between Fort McMurray and the coast who also as a gesture of reconciliation would have liked to have been consulted and would like the opportunity to actually enjoy the benefits that come from this industry.”

Notley brought up the threat to national unity that flows from a policy that targets one province. “It is a policy that is effectively very divisive … Ultimately what you’re going to do is hurt our country and its sense of unity. Those are the stakes.”

This same point was made even more forcefully by respected Calgary oil economist Peter Tertzakian. The bill would harm our economy, Tertzakain warned the Senate, creating an unprecedented inflexible and absolute ban, and setting up different and unfair rules for different parts of the nation.

“Bill C-48, I sense living in Alberta particularly, is antagonistic and divisive in extreme ways that really I haven’t seen before. The combined effects of these points are demonstrably contributing towards civil instability between provinces, threatening the fabric of Canada’s Confederation. And those are big words. But the rise of regional nationalism, indeed outright separatism in places like Alberta, is not just words. The election is rife with separatist narratives. I really believe that this is a very sensitive time and that bills like C-48 are wholly unnecessary.”

So here we are, with reasonable oil industry insiders alarmed like never before and with a moderate like Notley suddenly sounding just like the hawkish Kenney on key points. Albertans are coming together in fear and anger, the only question is whether Trudeau will wake up to this uprising.

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