Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

Recent Alberta governments of both the left and the right have promised working families they can bring back “the good times” and restore jobs in the oilpatch, and have falsely told Albertans that new pipelines to tidewater would result in greater wealth and revived investment.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, in contrast, has been trying to tell working-class Albertans a more complex and challenging story. “We have seen the last of the boom years,” McGowan told a just transition conference in Edmonton in the summer of 2019.

As he explains, a trifecta of factors is fundamentally impacting Alberta’s oilsands. First, there is an oversupply of oil in the market, driven by the fracking revolution in the U.S. Second, automation is transforming the oilpatch, such that even a return of some capital investment will not bring back lost jobs.

“For example,” noted McGowan, “you have drilling rigs that used to need 15, sometimes 20 people to operate. The new drilling rigs can be operated by two people with laptops.”

And third, climate change and the global policy response mean demand for Alberta bitumen and investment dollars will be in long-term decline. The upshot is we will not see a return of large-scale employment to Alberta’s oilpatch, regardless of who is in government. Instead, McGowan and the AFL have sought to advance a vision for what they call “The Next Alberta,” in which they urge the provincial government to make the energy transition a top priority.

Can the Alberta NDP be straight with Albertans and embrace a new narrative about the province’s future, one that explains demand for fossil fuels will now be in steady decline, and that this necessitates a speedy transformation to renewable energy and a carbon-free economy? If Alberta can capture the same can-do spirit that has marked so much of its economic history, this grand task can be a generational opportunity.

“Many want the Alberta NDP to tell an honest story about what is necessary in order to meet the climate targets, and the challenges that will entail, but also the opportunities that go with that,” Bill Kilgannon, executive director of the Alberta-based Parkland Institute, told me.

But Kilgannon, who also served as a chief of staff to three ministers (not with the energy or environmental portfolios) under the Notley government, also wants Canadians outside Alberta to appreciate how challenging this task is and to be consistent in their demands. “As far as I know, no one in the Ontario NDP is saying: ‘Shut down the fossil fuel auto industry,’” he observed. Fair point.

“We’re talking about real people’s lives and livelihoods, and so we need to do this in a way that doesn’t destroy those lives and can offer them a real alternative,” said Kilgannon. He believes the terrain has shifted such that the NDP can say today what might have felt too hard in 2015.

"A key indicator that a government understands the #ClimateEmergency is a willingness to tell the truth," writes @SethDKlein. In Alberta, that means "admitting the oil and gas sector needs to be ... managed for wind-down over the next 20-30 years."

“It has to be about articulating a real plan that speaks to the challenges and opportunities. The NDP has to tell the story about what this existential challenge means. They need to talk about what is going on in the world, what it means for the future of oil and gas and that it means no new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

He also contends this is an active debate within the NDP. (I reached out to the Alberta NDP for their thoughts for this article, but unfortunately, the environment critic for the caucus was not available for an interview.)

A key indicator that a government understands the climate emergency is a willingness to tell the truth. In Alberta’s case, that doesn’t mean we have to shut down the oilsands tomorrow. But it does mean admitting the oil and gas sector needs to be carefully and thoughtfully managed for wind-down over the next 20 to 30 years.

Would doing so provide Jason Kenney with the foil he wants in the next election? Perhaps. But maybe, after all the upheaval and false promises of recent years, Albertans would respect a political party that respects them enough to tell them the truth.

A number of factors are shifting Alberta’s political and economic terrain. Some of the most damaging extreme weather events to hit Canada in recent years have occurred in Alberta, including the 2016 wildfire — “The Beast” — that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray and destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses, and the 2013 floods that devastated large swaths of southern Alberta, driving home that the climate emergency is not some distant threat.

Ongoing job losses within the oil and gas sector — the industry has shed 36,000 jobs in Alberta since 2013 — and the continuing withdrawal of investment in the oilsands by leading international oil companies are exposing the tumult of relying on this industry and the willingness of the industry’s major players to abandon workers.

This provides an opening for the Alberta NDP to be more confrontational with the industry. The key is to carefully and consistently distinguish between the corporations and its workers, and to ensure those employed in the sector do not feel under attack. That ought to be doable. After all, in the years since the collapse of oil prices in 2014, the major oil companies have continued to record massive profits, even as they laid off tens of thousands of people and abandoned communities from which their wealth was amassed. According to Ian Hussey, a researcher with the Parkland Institute, “There is less trust of the industry.” He believes most Albertans understand there is no going back to the heydays of the 2004-14 boom.

Contrary to simplistic national caricatures of Alberta, there is in fact a vibrant climate movement in the province. Climate Justice Edmonton is very active, along with many young and Indigenous climate leaders. The global Sept. 27, 2019, climate strike protests drew a crowd of approximately 5,000 in Edmonton. And when Greta Thunberg came to Edmonton on Oct. 18, 2019, to join a #FridaysForFuture climate strike, 10,000 to 12,000 Albertans joined her in front of the provincial legislature.

These events are reflected in opinion polls, revealing movement in the political-cultural landscape. Opposition to climate action among Albertans is often overstated. In a 2019 Abacus survey* I commissioned as part of the research for my book (A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency), the level of support in the province for climate action was heartening, notwithstanding Alberta’s current economic reliance on fossil fuels. For example:

  • 58 per cent of Albertans report they either think about climate change often and are getting really anxious, or think about it sometimes and are getting increasingly worried. That’s lower than other regions of Canada, but still a majority who are worried.
  • 47 per cent of Albertans agreed climate change is now an emergency, or will likely be one in the next few years.
  • 67 per cent of Albertans agreed climate change represents a major threat to our children and grandchildren.
  • Surprisingly, 50 per cent of Albertans support or can accept phasing out the extraction and export of fossil fuels over the next 20 to 30 years.
  • 51 per cent support or can accept banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2030.
  • 64 per cent of Albertans support or can accept requiring all new buildings and homes to heat space and water without fossil fuels by 2022.
  • 62 per cent of Albertans support our governments making massive investments in new green infrastructure, such as renewable energy (solar panel fields, wind farms, geothermal energy, tidal energy), building retrofits, high-speed rail, mass public transit and electric vehicle charging stations, as well as reforestation.
  • When given a definition of the Green New Deal, 56 per cent of Albertans support it (and only 21 per cent oppose it).
  • Only 18 per cent of Albertans say they would want their children to be employed in the oil and gas industry.

All of these views are stronger among younger voters. Climate activist Emma Jackson (who works with and is active with Climate Justice Edmonton) contends, “There is a massive generational distinction that I have seen. I think that young people in Alberta really, deeply understand the climate crises and are hungry to see their province taking far more ambitious action.” She wants to see training and alternatives that allow younger Albertans to envision a different future.

Hannah Gelderman, another activist with Climate Justice Edmonton, also believes “the broader political terrain has shifted. People are more aware of the climate crisis and that transition is coming, that it will be hard but possible. People could be galvanized by a real plan that looks out for people’s well-being. But there’s been a lack of leadership.”

Jackson, Gelderman and other Climate Justice Edmonton activists would like to see a coalition of organizations in Alberta calling for a Green New Deal. They believe such a populist program, centred on large-scale investment and job creation, is needed not only to tackle the climate emergency and offer employment security, but also to confront a troubling rise in the far right that is making its own populist appeal.

The Notley NDP folks have thus far been fierce in their defence of an incremental approach, insisting politics, especially in Alberta, is about the art of the possible. The problem, however, as the great climate leader Bill McKibben articulates, is that “winning slowly on climate is just another way of losing.” Politics may be all about compromise, but there is no bargaining with the laws of nature, and by all indicators, nature is now telling us something much more fierce.

In the face of a civilizational threat, real leaders don’t seek to bargain with the laws of nature. They are forthright with the public about the crisis and rally us to the task at hand. Albertans have shown ample evidence of a willingness to collectively rally in the face of crises (from wartime to wildfires to pandemics). They share a history of bringing innovation and a strong work ethic to challenges. They deserve a chance to meet this moment.

* Abacus conducted this national survey of 2,000 people between July 16 and 19, 2019. A random sample of panellists were invited to complete the survey online from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/– 2.19 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment and region. The full public results from the poll can be found on the Abacus website here.

Keep reading

Seth Klein: "A key indicator that a government understands the climate emergency is a willingness to tell the truth."
And if a political leader is not willing to tell the truth, it follows that she does not understand the climate emergency. Or chooses not to understand.

Notley's 2019 assessment of climate change and prospects for action on this issue:
"To Notley, the NDP tensions are part of a long-standing debate within the party that she casts as one between workers’ ability to put food on the table and 'LONGER-TERM, SORT OF ACADEMIC-Y CONCERNS around environment.'"
Does that sound like someone who understands the concept of "climate emergency"?
Ms. Notley is scientifically illiterate. Maybe start there.

Notley cites the concerns of "working people" to justify support for Big Oil's agenda, even as the oilpatch automates jobs out of existence, while returning billions of dollars to shareholders.
Notley & Crew wield the phrase "working people" as a rhetorical sledgehammer to defend the indefensible — the NDP's neoliberal anti-climate policy. The NDP used that phrase over and over to bludgeon their critics on the left.

Notley: "Ignoring the very real needs and concerns of these working families only feeds the growing inequality that fuels so much of the extreme politics we see around the world."
"…climate action, a strong and competitive energy industry, and the well-being of working people go hand in hand in hand."
“On this issue of standing up to B.C., and their attack on working people across Canada, we are very aligned.”
“(There are) those who want to write working people out of climate action…"
"To do that and forget the needs of working people, or to throw working people under the bus, means that both economic growth and environmental protection are bound to fail."
"Here in Alberta, we ride horses — not unicorns — and I invite pipeline opponents to saddle up on something real."

From Premier Notley's 2018 address to the Alberta Teachers' Association:
"And I submit that the approach of anti-pipeline activists is a disaster not only for working people but, quite frankly, for effective climate action as well because if we write off the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of working women and men, I guarantee you we will write off the ability to move forward on climate or, quite frankly, on just about any other progressive change.
"...But here's the bottom line. Climate action is not free. There is a cost. And to cover that cost, we must grow our economy. We must diversify our economy. We must create jobs. We must fund the things working people depend on. And, that's why we need to build Trans-Mountain.
"...And I would say to those who oppose our fight to build this pipeline that they are being extremely foolish."

No climate action possible on the oil & gas front. Emissions to rise indefinitely. Because "working people".
That argument is a ruse. A deception. Neoliberalism doesn't help working people. It helps the rich get richer at the expense of working people.
Fossil fuel expansion doesn't protect working Albertans. The oil & gas sector has been shedding jobs for years.
The NDP did "working people" no favor by enabling oilsands expansion. That just sets us up for bigger crashes and economic ruin down the road. AB's over-dependence on oil & gas is our vulnerability, not our strength.

Who exactly is "working people"? Why the obsession with "working people"?
The only "working people" the NDP seem to care about work in oil & gas. Down to 128,000 jobs in AB and falling.
Whom does Notley leave out? Children. High school students. The unemployed. The disabled. The sick. The homeless. Seniors. Future generations yet unborn.
These long-time NDP constituencies no longer seem to matter.
Don't they count?

How about "working people" in First Nations' communities in the oilsands region? Already paying bigtime with their health and loss of culture. What will be left for them when the oilsands industry collapses?

No jobs on a dead planet.
Here and around the world, the poor and disadvantaged are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Doubling down on fossil fuels only makes the problem worse.
For example, the elderly, children, women, those with chronic diseases and people taking certain medications will be at highest risk for heat-related illness and mortality. (IPCC)
Oil spills and climate change impacts (more intense/frequent/prolonged drought, crop failure, heatwaves, wildfire, extreme weather, floods, erosion, storm surges, coral reef destruction, etc.) threaten entire communities and the ecosystems on which working people depend. The livelihoods and communities of "working people" in Canada and around the world are threatened by climate change.
So who is defending working people? Rachel Notley?

Notley's NDP also appealed to democracy to justify its pro-oil stance. Can't give the people what they don't want. Can't provide climate leadership — unless the people are willing to go there. (Which defeats the concept of leadership.)
Of course, the NDP had already received their mandate in the 2015 election. The NDP chose to ignore their campaign platform and the wishes of NDP voters. Notley put Big Oil's agenda ahead of the public interest.
Who told Notley to get into bed with the oil industry? Who told the NDP to throw billions of dollars at oil & gas? Who told Notley to cheerlead for pipelines? Who told Notley to keep royalties absurdly low?
Democracy? Give us a break!

How did that first conference call go between Rachel Notley and oilpatch CEOs around the time of the NDP's 2015 election win?
"Hi, I'm Rachel Notley, I'm your premier, and here's my climate plan."
"Hello, we're Alberta's CEO's, you're our premier, and here's our climate plan."

Listen to Notley's stumbling speech regarding a just transition for oil workers (AB Teachers' Association conference 2018):

Q) "You talked about the coal industry and how you have a plan for supporting those industry workers till 2030 when it becomes kind of obsolete I suppose. I'm just wondering is there is a plan long-range to support the oil industry as it, I mean yes it will grow in 20 years but it may start to deplete but what is the plan there?"

Notley) "With the coal plan, because we very definitively said we're phasing out coal by this day and we identified the plans and we knew what was going to change as a result of our policy we were able to identify the workers who were going to be impacted and so we put together a just transition plan, roughly $40 million dollars that's set aside.
With respect to the energy industry it's a slower process, I actually believe that should [we] be successful in getting this pipeline built as well as the other two that I think the industry itself is going to be able to fund its own transition, support its workers, provide other opportunities.
We, of course, all many of us, suffered significant losses in 2015-2016 because of the price drop and the commodity drop and it wasn't just oil workers, it was the people whose jobs depended on oil workers to have, you know, money so since that time we've done a number of things to stimulate economic growth and to try to find and to try to support those workers. As you probably know since last year, last summer 2016 the Alberta economy has created 90 000 new jobs so we are making good headway there but there's no question that the other thing that's going to support workers in the oil and gas industry is the ability to support the industry as it transitions itself to a smarter way of doing business and finds new roles for the workers there. So, that's sort of my answer."
Notley neither envisions nor supports a phase-out or decline of AB oil production. She has no concrete ideas to offer on the subject. Notley's notion that the industry will manage its own decline and fund the transition to more sustainable industries is risible.

Former AB Liberal leader Kevin Taft: "Through her whole career and her whole party, up until they became government, [Notley and the NDP] were very effective critics, counterbalances to the oil industry. As soon as she stepped into office, as soon as she and her party became government, they've simply became instruments of the oil industry."
Taft: "The world is working hard to end its dependence on oil, so hitching the country’s economy to an industry that must be phased out is recklessly short-sighted."
Taft: "… I’d like there to be a much more lively debate in this province about democracy and about the oil industry. We need to regain, as citizens, control of our government."

Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes (CBC Radio): "It's such an idiotic argument, it's really hard to give a rational answer to it. If you are building pipelines, you're committing yourself to another 30, 50, 75, 100 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. If we're really serious about decarbonizing our economy, it means we have to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure."

Seth Klein: "A number of factors are shifting Alberta’s political and economic terrain. Some of the most damaging extreme weather events to hit Canada in recent years have occurred in Alberta, including the 2016 wildfire — “The Beast” — that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray and destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses, and the 2013 floods that devastated large swaths of southern Alberta, driving home that the climate emergency is not some distant threat.
"Ongoing job losses within the oil and gas sector — the industry has shed 36,000 jobs in Alberta since 2013 — and the continuing withdrawal of investment in the oilsands by leading international oil companies are exposing the tumult of relying on this industry and the willingness of the industry’s major players to abandon workers.
"This provides an opening for the Alberta NDP to be more confrontational with the industry."

Seth Klein's hopes are empty.
All these factors were in evidence at the beginning of Notley's term and persisted throughout. The 2014 oil price crash preceded Notley's election victory in 2015. The Fort Mac inferno was 2016.
Notley was not persuaded. She is not persuaded now.

Seth Klein: "In the face of a civilizational threat, real leaders don’t seek to bargain with the laws of nature. They are forthright with the public about the crisis and rally us to the task at hand."
Exactly. Alberta is spectacularly lacking in "real leaders". On the issue of our time, we have a vacuum of leadership. By Notley's choice.
The question is whether Notley's NDP (make no mistake, it is NOTLEY'S ndp) is able and willing to provide that leadership in future.
Unfortunately, Seth Klein's analysis fails to turn up any evidence to support that assertion.

Notley will never out-UCP the UCP on oil and gas — but she will never stop trying. Inexplicably, Notley has committed herself to fossil fuel follies. There is no going back.
So where do we go from here? What is the way forward? How do progressive Albertans reclaim the NDP party from its present neoliberal tar pit?
In particular, how do we move past The Notley? Or does the cancer goes much deeper than just one person? Who are the people behind the scenes?
For now, there is no budging Notley. She's the leader of the NDP until Enbridge offers her a seat on its board of governors.
This is not your father's NDP. So how do we get our father's NDP back?

My browser has a nice little add-on that counts the words selected with the mouse. The article is 1713 words, your multiple responses add up to 1972.

As a fellow sufferer of "TL;DR Syndrome", you have my sympathies.

No, I didn't read them. Sorry. Too long.

You need to stop replying with thesis sized comments. You have good information but you appear to be carpet bombing these stories.

My suggestion is to summarize and bullet point the major concerns you have.

This is a coherent assessment of the reality facing Albertans....and the world. For those who think it is an easy reality to tackle though, I'd refer them to Naomi Klein's work on Disaster Capitalism. The Shock Doctrine might seem like old news, but you can't read it without understanding the very real power wielded by neoliberal wealth and ideology around the globe....for the last 40 years.

Too often, we let old line parties off the hook.......we give up on them, or see them as TOO BIG TO we turn all our venum on a party few of us have had the courage or stamina to work for over these same 40 years. Canadians keep voting for the Dumb and Dumber duo......a pattern comedians Wayne and Schuster, whom most of us can't remember, identified in the early 60's.
And as for climate activists? Many of them will argue voting makes no difference and so is a waste of time. But if we want governments to act on climate change, we have to not only vote for them, we need to work everywhere to change the conversation.

That is happening in Alberta. And it is happening because of people who speak up at events, work in constituencies, write letters, resist stupid ideas like open pit mining in what will be our only watershed going forward. It is happening because of those of us who give money, time and voice to the real emergency.

But government bashing? Expecting a provincial government take on CAPP in its first mandate after 44 years of Petro Cons? Foaming at the mouth over what has not been accomplished?

Turns everyone off..........and solves nothing. But watch for the Albertans active on the Eastern Slopes this spring. There's going to be a lot of us...and no party who wants a chance in the next election is going to stand up like men and support Gina Rinehart and Australian coal companies.

And in Alberta, that's real progress.

When I meet a climate activist that took a 3-day bus ride across Canada, and another 3-day bus ride back to get home, rather than spend 6 hours each way on an aircraft - I'll have found an honest climate activist like Greta Thunberg. The "honest conversation" is that Alberta's industry is driven by its consumers, not producers.

How many honest climate change deniers have you found?
The trite argument that the oil industry merely supplies what consumers demand is disingenuous.
Consumers demand energy, not fossil fuels per se.
Environmentalists have tried for decades to change the menu options.
No one has obstructed change more than the oil industry.

Over recent decades, the fossil fuel industry has obstructed climate solutions, funded climate denial, opposed alternatives, campaigned against carbon pricing, lobbied to weaken and delay regulations, attacked ENGOs, co-opted Big Green groups, and bought politicians and parties who oppose change.
Around the world, the fossil fuel industry does everything in its power to perpetuate demand: by funding climate change denial campaigns and blocking alternatives. Predatory delay.
-Big Oil spent millions of dollars on a campaign to defeat a carbon tax plan in Washington State.
-Fossil fuel and utility companies spend millions of dollars on lobbyists to shut out renewables from the market.
-Millions of dollars more on climate-change-denial campaigns using Big Tobacco's playbook.
-Milking govts for endless subsidies.

Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman on the fossil fuel industry's "predatory delay":
"Earth, Wind and Liars"
"In the long run, these tactics probably won’t stop the transition to renewable energy, and even the villains of this story probably realize that. Their goal is, instead, to slow things down, so they can extract as much profit as possible from their existing investments.
"… Every year that we delay the clean-energy transition will sicken or kill thousands while increasing the risk of climate catastrophe.
"The point is that Trump and company aren’t just trying to move us backward on social issues; they’re also trying to block technological progress. And the price of their obstructionism will be high."

"Can the Alberta NDP be straight with Albertans and embrace a new narrative about the province’s future, one that explains demand for fossil fuels will now be in steady decline, and that this necessitates a speedy transformation to renewable energy and a carbon-free economy?"

Based on past evidence, no. They need to change their sheet music and drop the tiresome three-chord Country music.

Taking a hard line with the oil and gas industry starts with the premise that negative marketing is appealing to the majority. That would be a mistake, in my view. Setting itself up with a confrontational narrative will not win any new friends outside of a base that needs to be appeased by angry, Doomer rhetoric. It's not at all clear that the industrial labour base within the NDP has made any peace with the environmental would-otherwise-be Green Party base.

The best approach in this truth-telling initiative would be to actually develop a long-term Transition Plan that, through necessity must involve lots and lots of ideas about creating good quality jobs and generating economic multipliers. Green prosperity is very appealing. It must also involve the federal government which, under Trudeau, needs to be rudely shoved in the mass electrification direction. Who better to do the shoving than a known Alberta leader bully who previously blamed Trudeau for not rescuing a pipeline project fast enough from private sector cancellation? Rumour has it Trudeau is secretly trying to sell said pipeline back to the private sector with the pot substantially sweetened with -- no surprise -- more public money in the form of billions in annual operating subsidies.

Without a gas tank market Alberta's stature will be diminished even further regardless of the movement of world oil prices. Volkswagen is doing its best to knock Tesla off its Number One perch in electric vehicle manufacturing and sales. And it is actually succeeding to do that in the EU where it is outselling all other cars. VW will also eliminate all non-electric models in a few years. There are at least seven other big car makers following a similar path. Alberta cannot serve or accommodate EVs unless it does the research and places investments into batteries, the supply of component metals and minerals and such, like Quebec currently is. And once substitutes for liquid fossil fuels have been actively explored, what's to stop Alberta from adopting extremely efficient urbanism (pedestrian-only covered streets, transit expansion, planning for walkable multi-zoned neighbourhoods ...). That and knowledge, tech, data ... these are some of the topics that could have their own chapters in a thick Transition Plan.

It appears world events, policy, economics and the effects of global heating are quickly outplaying Alberta. Klein's plan may be too slow, bureaucratic and unaffordable in light of the need to adapt to these externalities, or at least roll as professionally as possible with the punches. To assume the NDP will (i) win the next election, (ii) be capable of change, and (iii) be willing to enact the consumer taxes everyone else lives with before massive debt-accumulating climate subsidies are delivered to them by Canadians, are unproven.

It may be more fruitful to work on a draft Transition Plan couched largely as job and wealth creation initiatives with practical, achievable, attractive and ideology-free goals and ask the parties to adopt it, or use its skeletal outline to flesh out their own details. In that respect, I'd say the NDP may be a bit more capable of showing flexibility than the UCP ever could. On the other hand, the collective forces re-molding Alberta could see the PCs arise again after divorcing the UCP / Wildrose, and a fresh Green Party taking prominence over the NDP should the inflexible conservatism within traditional labour ranks not try harder to follow the science.

Re: the "fair point" about the Ontario fossil fuel automobile industry... It's not exactly booming. Oshawa's GM plants are shut down except for some warehousing (there is GM Canada HQ and a research centre, but fossil Doug Ford probably sent the signal that GM ought to look elsewhere for E-vehicle support). Windsor & St.Catharine are also hurting. Alberta should look to Ontario as a case study in not preparing for a transition.