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Alison Redford’s energy record as Alberta premier more talk than results

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is shown on Nov. 17, 2011.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Warm tributes didn't exactly flow on Wednesday when former Alberta premier Alison Redford bid her farewell to politics.

Interim Alberta premier Dave Hancock commended her for having "done the right thing and taken responsibility for her actions," though he said he'll be handing over findings of a probe into her travel spending and use of government aircraft to the Mounties.

Jim Prentice, the leading candidate to become the next Progressive Conservative leader and premier, said Ms. Redford "did the right and honourable thing" by resigning as member of the legislative assembly.

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Yes, it was a chorus of politically expedient Tories urging Alberta's first female premier to do all she could to prevent the legislature doors from hitting her in the backside upon her exit. In the more than four months since she stepped down as premier, revelations about misuse of taxpayer dollars have not stopped, and Ms. Redford said in a statement on Wednesday that looking back, she would have done things differently.

Does that extend to her efforts on energy and the environment? Let us, for old times' sake, take a look at Ms. Redford's scorecard on those crucial issues during her short stay at the top.

As a rookie premier in 2011, Ms. Redford said she wanted to shift the focus about Alberta's massive bitumen resources from a polarized debate about TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline to a broader discussion about market access and a national energy strategy.

She pursued that as energy producers struggled with a growing price discount on their oil due to export transport constraints. That in turn weighed heavily on provincial coffers; in early 2013, Ms. Redford warned that a glut of supply – the "bitumen bubble" – would sap $6-billion from the province's revenues.

She sought to forge links with her provincial counterparts in efforts to remove the spotlight from just Alberta oil sands and look for ways to realize the promise of all of Canada's energy resources. She got enthusiastic response from some premiers, such as Saskatchewan's Brad Wall and New Brunswick's David Alward. Less so from B.C.'s Christy Clark.

When meeting with officials from the U.S. or from other potential trading partners, Ms. Redford often touted Alberta's $15-a-tonne levy on carbon from large industrial emitters and the province's increasingly stringent monitoring of air, land and water around the oil sands.

So how did it all work out?

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Keystone XL: Ms. Redford made several trips to Washington to lobby U.S. officials on the pipeline, pushing the message about the carbon penalty and the responsibly developed oil sands crude the line would carry. It's hard to see where she changed anyone's mind. It became a cause célèbre for environmental groups and, nearly six years after TransCanada filed to build it, the application is still in limbo. Alberta provided no incentive to U.S. President Barack Obama by moving forward with tougher carbon rules.

Pipelines to the Pacific: Enbridge Inc. has won federal approval for the Northern Gateway project to move Alberta oil to Asia, but it still faces stanch opposition from several native groups. Ms. Redford's famous scrap with Ms. Clark over bitumen pipelines was unnecessary and, if anything, made life tougher for a while for companies seeking to move crude across British Columbia. The two leaders patched things up last year, and B.C. and Alberta officials met to find common ground on five stipulations that Ms. Clark has said must be met. So far, nothing formal has been announced beyond a "framework agreement" to access new markets.

Environment: Ms. Redford did the energy sector a disservice by delaying a decision on toughening carbon rules and extending them to more emitters. Investors still have no certainty on whether higher costs will have to be factored in. The province's carbon reduction targets, set by Ms. Redford's predecessor, Ed Stelmach, relied heavily on unproven carbon capture and storage technology and some of those proposed projects have now been scrapped. The province will fall well short of its goals.

Ms. Redford's government also suffered a black eye when it emerged that officials had barred the Pembina Institute and other environmentalists from participating in an oil sands hearing. A judge called the process "tainted," citing an internal briefing that said Pembina had "published negative media on the oil sands."

Oil pricing: The bitumen bubble has deflated in the past 11/2 years, though that is thanks mostly to the industry's own search for alternatives, such trains and expansion of existing pipelines.

As premier, Ms. Redford liked to talk often about conversations – continuing them, changing them. It's clear her successor will have to do that latter in a big way if he expects to make more headway on the energy front.

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About the Author
Mergers and Acquisitions Reporter

Jeffrey Jones is a veteran journalist specializing in mergers, acquisitions and private equity for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2013, he was a senior reporter for Reuters, writing news, features and analysis on energy deals, pipelines, politics and general topics. More

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