Fraser Forum

Premier Notley should stop pandering for ‘social license’ and practise energy pragmatism

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Since taking office, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been very aggressive on the climate file. Attempting to remedy what she portrayed as a history of environmental negligence by her predecessors , the premier swiftly increased and expanded Alberta’s carbon tax, placed a hard cap on carbon dioxide emissions, set stiff targets for reducing methane emissions, declared an accelerated phase-out of coal power generation, and promised to replace much of that power with costlier wind or solar power generation. The premier has also established a standing climate change office to execute the Provinces Climate Leadership plan.

All of this, ostensibly, was to protect the environment. But in rolling out these initiatives, Premier Notley had a subtext, an expectation that by taking economically self-damaging actions on climate change, Alberta would secure social license or public approval to continue (and even expand somewhat) oilsands production, and build pipelines that would deliver Alberta’s oil and gas to tidewater on the east and west coasts, from where it could be sold to energy-hungry countries around the world.

Alas, Premier Notley’s aggressive climate agenda does not seem to be translating into the kind of social license she was hoping for. In fact, if anything, resistance to oilsands development and the construction of new pipelines has taken a turn for the worse. Prominent members of Premier Notley’s own federal party, in her own backyard, basically set the term of pipeline social license to zero, and raised the price of pipeline social license to infinity.

The NDP’s adoption of a resolution to consider the radical LEAP manifesto as a part of their governing philosophy, shows the theory that being more aggressive about climate change would buy social license is about as realistic as theories about an Earth-centered universe, phlogiston, cosmic ether, spontaneous generation of life, and humans riding around on dinosaurs. The LEAP manifesto calls for an end to new construction of infrastructure that would “lock us into increased extraction decades into the future.” There’s no room in the LEAP manifesto for any of the premier’s hoped-for social license.

Premier Notley seems to realize that her climate change actions to date have not secured the kind of social license she was hoping for, and her rhetoric on the need for pipelines has sharpened considerably since her election. She has taken to playing a bit of hardball, telling British Columbia that Alberta won’t buy electricity from the proposed Site C dam (and one of the main rationales behind building it) without a pipeline to carry Alberta’s oil to the Pacific Coast.

Premier Notley has also told the federal government that Alberta can’t resume its status as an economic engine for Canada without access to tidewater.

But there’s more hardball she can play. She can make the implementation of her various greenhouse gas control programs contingent on Alberta getting not simply approval, but real support from the federal government in getting pipelines approved, and preventing anti-pipeline forces from gumming up the regulatory process, or obstructing construction once approval has been given. That would send a strong signal that the days of pandering to ENGOs for a social license they’re never going to give are over, and that energy pragmatism is the order of the day.

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