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Notley asking Alberta’s mayors to ‘raise the volume’ to sell climate plan

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to reporters at the McDougall Centre in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is calling in reinforcements and asking her province's mayors to "raise the volume" across the country and help sell her government's climate plan nearly a year after it was unveiled.

Ms. Notley's plan has already had some success changing the province's image, according to environmental leaders contacted by The Globe and Mail. They say activists have softened their tone toward Alberta over the past year, and the province is not criticized as often during conversations. However, the plan has persuaded few to support Ms. Notley's call for new pipelines.

"Alberta's social licence has changed somewhat," said Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of the environmental group Equiterre. "The province's climate plan has had an influence on social discourse. Alberta is far less vilified than it used to be, but there is still opposition to tar-sands expansion."

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That opposition has been clear in Mr. Guilbeault's home province of Quebec, where municipalities and local groups oppose the proposed Energy East pipeline that would link the oil sands to Canada's Atlantic Coast.

Alberta's New Democrats are imposing an economywide carbon tax starting in 2017, capping emissions from the oil sands and phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. The sweeping plan to fight climate change is expected to reduce carbon emissions below current levels within 15 years.

Ms. Notley has been explicit that she sees her government's climate plan as Alberta's concession to get at least one pipeline approved and built, although her office has said two new pipelines would be better.

"Alberta is the world's most progressive oil producer," Ms. Notley said on Thursday morning in a speech to her province's mayors that deviated considerably from her prepared text. "Building pipelines is not at odds with protecting the environment … I'm asking you to talk to the federal government, and to your municipal colleagues in other provinces, so the logic of our position comes across loud and clear."

The request came only days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans for a national carbon price that would push beyond Alberta's tax of $30 a tonne and reach $50 by 2022. That's too high, according to Ms. Notley, who has told the Prime Minister she will not support his climate plan unless he approves a new pipeline for Alberta's oil.

Ms. Notley has said Alberta needs a fast-growing economy with a healthy oil sector to afford the higher carbon tax.

The federal cabinet is expected to pass judgment on Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion before Christmas. That proposal would nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline linking Edmonton with B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

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Ms. Notley's ultimatum is a change of tactics for the Premier. For most of the past year, she said that support for a pipeline would require the "social licence" created by her climate plan. The term, first used by oil and gas companies, has been adopted by politicians and activists on energy projects.

Mr. Guilbeault is among a handful of green leaders who stood on the stage and applauded last November when Ms. Notley announced her climate plan. While he says he has reservations about the scheme, especially a cap on the size of the oil sands that he considers too high, he supports Ms. Notley. However, he does not support new pipelines.

Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, also supports a price on carbon in Alberta. His group applauded Ms. Notley nearly a year ago. He also does not support new pipelines.

Alberta is exporting all the oil it wants to export, he told The Globe, questioning why new pipelines are necessary. "If these things are going to be built, we need to be convinced that they're essential and not a pipe dream."

Both men also approved of Mr. Trudeau's plan for a carbon tax that would push provincial leaders to go further than most would do on their own. While some premiers such as Saskatchewan's Brad Wall have rejected a carbon tax, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has frozen her province's carbon tax until neighbouring jurisdictions catch up. A tax set in Ottawa would end fears in some provinces that their neighbours might undercut their carbon price or set none at all.

"We've seen the consequences of a carbon tax that doesn't escalate in B.C., where emissions reductions have not only stopped but even gone in the other direction," Mr. Gray said. "This is clearly needed."

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More


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