MONTREAL — Most of the federal party leaders stayed off the campaign trail Saturday, but a comment from a high−profile New Democrat candidate on the oilsands stirred up a political hornet’s nest in Alberta.
Linda McQuaig, a well−known author and the NDP candidate for the riding of Toronto Centre, told a CBC television panel discussion on Friday that for Canada to meet its climate change targets, "a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground."
The comments contrasted with NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s past comments on Alberta’s oilsands. Mulcair has been open to oilsands development provided there is rigorous environmental protection and legislation to force oil companies to pay for pollution they create, including increased greenhouse gas emissions. He has favoured the development of an east−west pipeline.
Calgary Conservative Michelle Rempel, who was on the same panel, challenged McQuaig and said constituents were bringing it up while she was campaigning on Saturday.
"It came up at the doors three times without me even saying anything about it: ’I saw you on TV last night. Thank you for standing up for the energy industry, what that woman said is very concerning,’ so people are very concerned and rightly so about economic stability," Rempel said in an interview.
The Liberals chimed in with their own news release, accusing the New Democrats of saying different things to different people on key issues.
The New Democrats later released a statement from their natural resources critic saying McQuaig was not referring to party policy, but to an international report that said oilsands production might have to be curtailed to meet climate change targets.
"The NDP believes that developing our natural resources and lowering our green house gas emissions can go hand in hand," said Malcolm Allen in an emailed statement.
Alberta’s Opposition Leader Brian Jean tried to make it a provincial issue, saying on Saturday that McQuaig’s comments were "deeply concerning." He called on New Democrat Premier Rachel Notley to stand up to her federal cousins.
A spokeswoman for Notley said the provincial NDP government remains committed to the sustainability of the energy sector.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne continued to be a visible presence in the federal election campaign, reaching back to the 1800s to find ammunition to criticize Stephen Harper’s track record on relations with the provinces.
She told a federal Liberal campaign event in Toronto on Saturday that if Stephen Harper had been the prime minister at the time instead of Sir John A. Macdonald, the transcontinental railway might never have become reality because he would have told the provinces it was up to them to build it.
The Conservatives countered by again blasting Wynne’s proposal for a provincial pension plan, calling it a tax.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe was the only leader doing any political campaigning, promising to serve his full term if elected no matter how his party fares.
After meeting party organizers and candidates in Montreal’s east end Saturday morning, the Bloc leader refused to say how many seats he hopes to win in the Oct. 19 election.
Smiling broadly, Duceppe would only say he wanted "the most and the best."
He also promised to "respect his mandate," and serve a full four−year term if he is elected, regardless of his party’s results.
"When you seek a mandate, you have to respect that mandate, but it’s not a scenario I expect," Duceppe told reporters.
The Bloc Quebecois has nominated 73 candidates, and has promised to run in all of Quebec’s 78 ridings. The remaining candidates will be declared in the upcoming weeks after nominations are finalized.
The three major party leaders had no public political events. Elizabeth May of the Green Party was to attend a music festival in Red Rock, Ont.
With files from Vicky Fragasso−Marquis in Montreal
The Canadian Press