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Well, so much for spring in Alberta. After a few days of unseasonably warm temperatures that melted the last pieces of ice and snow, the bill came due in the form of wildfire smoke settling over Calgary, Edmonton and most of the rest of the province.

It provides a useful reminder of what’s really at stake in this provincial election. Yes, properly funding and running our health-care system matters. And yes, having the right mix of tax policies is important. But at the end of the day, these are secondary concerns, ones whose importance will continue to fade with the passage of time. Whether Albertans like it or not, this is a climate change election, one where the outcome will determine whether we (and by extension, Canada) try to move ahead with ambitious climate policy or bury our collective head back in the tar sands and continue ignoring the change that’s so clearly afoot.

Part of the problem is the NDP’s unwillingness to clarify the stakes for voters. From a purely tactical perspective, it probably makes sense to focus all of their energy on Danielle Smith and her litany of gaffes, goofs and outright knee-slappers. The UCP leader’s bizarre opinions on everything from the pandemic to policing are rich grist for the NDP’s mill, and they’ve done well to remind Alberta voters what they’d really be getting with four years of a Smith government.

That’s the safe play, anyways. But as the latest batch of polling shows, it still isn’t moving the needle far enough toward the NDP in places like Calgary. For whatever reason, there are a lot of voters who seem to be OK with the things Smith’s said in the past if it comes attached to a tax cut and the promise of low taxes to come.

The riskier approach, but perhaps the one with more political upside, involves telling Albertans the truth. By failing to take the climate crisis seriously, and pretending it can either be avoided or ignored, today’s voters are effectively imposing a tax on future citizens — including their children and grandchildren. Perhaps the NDP could show Albertans what that might look like and how it could be avoided.

They could also tell the voters about the economic upside associated with riding the wave of technological change that keeps building around the world. There are jobs to be had, businesses to be built, and wealth to be created in the work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and scaling up the alternatives. In the process, we might even be able to clean up the mess of unreclaimed oil wells and tailings ponds that’s been getting larger and larger, one that could employ thousands of people for many, many years. We could even turn some of those old wells into new batteries for renewable energy, as one company has proposed, or pull lithium out of the briny water that’s pooled in the province’s depleted oil reservoirs.

It would be nice if we could actually have a proper conversation about this. In a more perfect world, we’d have an entire televised debate dedicated to a discussion of climate policy, with experts at the ready to fact-check any statements that run afoul of reality. Instead, we might get a question or two in tonight’s debate — if we’re lucky.

This is one of the fundamental problems with our politics right now, and it extends well beyond Alberta’s borders. For all the time, energy and emotion people pour into political debates, they’re rarely discussing the things that actually matter. Instead of a meaningful conversation about foreign interference in Canada’s democracy, whether it’s from China or other malign actors like Russia, we get the rending of garments over a new passport and the images that are — or aren’t — inside its pages. And instead of talking about the enormous impact a changing climate and the global response to it will have on Alberta’s very way of life in the future, we get bogged down in what was said and done by each leader in the past.

It reminds me of Logan Roy’s withering comment to his children in one of the last moments on the television show Succession: in Alberta, and in Canada, we are not serious people. I long for the day when that changes, but I’m not exactly holding my breath right now — and that’s not just because of the wildfire smoke.

The wildfires in Alberta are just the latest reminder of how omnipresent the climate crisis has become. So why hasn't the campaign focused more on climate issues — and what does that say about politics right now? @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

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Pure fantasy.
Neither of the two main contenders has a science-based climate plan. Both parties vociferously oppose Ottawa's inadequate climate action.
The NDP's 2015 climate plan was more likely to boost AB's emissions than reduce them. AB's emissions increased from 2016 to 2019.
Both the UCP and the NDP premise their "climate plans" on oilsands expansion. A non-starter.
The best on offer is a plan to fail.

Long past time to give up the pretension that Rachel Notley, Alberta's Pipeline Queen, will take us to the promised land of science-based climate action. Never going to happen.
Let's not delude ourselves. A science-based climate plan is not an option for Alberta voters. Rachel Notley took that option off the table in 2015. Notley's swing to the right on energy issues precludes any meaningful reduction in emissions.
Even today Notley publicly opposes federal efforts to strengthen Canada's climate targets. She also opposes federal plans for a "just transition".

"Alberta NDP leader wants Ottawa to drop 'just transition' bill" (CBC, Jan 11, 2023)
"Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley wants the federal government to drop the so-called 'just transition' legislation it plans to introduce in the House of Commons this spring.
"…Notley also blamed Ottawa for not consulting with Albertans and releasing the proposed legislation a few months before the provincial election.
"'Just take it ... and basically get rid of it.'"
"…Notley's call for Ottawa to drop the bill completely is new.
"When asked if she thought the move would alienate her base, who favours moving away from oil and gas production to stop climate change, the NDP leader said she wasn't certain.
"'Maybe, maybe not,' she replied. 'Not sure. It's hard to say.'"

"We are in what I would describe as a crisis right now, in that we have a federal government about to move forward on legislation that has wide-ranging consequences, particularly to the people of Alberta. My view is that the federal government has to put the brakes completely on its legislative plans for this spring with respect to the sustainable jobs legislation, as well as plans for the emissions cap." (Calgary Herald, Jan 17, 2023)

"Alberta's Opposition leader Rachel Notley said she didn't agree with the federal government's plan to reduce Canada's emissions by 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, nor federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's assertion such targets weren't aggressive enough.
"'Both are wrong, and I've been very clear on that, and that has been my position and I will advocate that position with every tool and tactic that I can muster, should I be given the opportunity to do that job, because it's not practical.'" (CBC, Jan 17, 2023)

"Trudeau's oil policy is too harsh for Alberta's left-leaning contender" (Bloomberg News, May 10, 2023)
"The woman who’s looking to reclaim power in Canada’s energy heartland is pushing back against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s targets for cleaning up the O&G industry.
"Rachel Notley … said Trudeau’s plan for cutting the sector’s emissions by more than 40% by the end of the decade is too onerous.
"Her stance mirrors that of the country’s largest crude producers — and it’s also one that may be a political necessity as her New Democratic Party battles for votes in a province where oil is king and the prime minister is deeply unpopular.
"'I don’t believe that the current drafted emissions caps that we’ve seen are realistic.'
"'Using aspirational numbers to drive practical policy is not a recipe for success. The key is making sure that what we put in place is practical and achievable, and it doesn’t become so oppressive that we find ourselves shutting in production.'
"Notley said she doesn’t oppose a cap in principle, but she declined to provide her own emissions target, saying she’d consult with experts and industry on the matter.
"'We’re not going to be unambitious. But we are going to be realistic, and we’re going to make sure that the industry is able to continue to flourish.'
"'Both Alberta and Canada do best when energy policy is crafted, quite frankly, by Alberta. So we want to be at the table, we want to be driving the conversation, and we want to be coming up with solutions that ultimately drive investment and grow our markets.'

"Why Indigenous people must take part in the Alberta vote. And why it's unlikely to happen" (CBC, May 11, 2023)
"When the choice is a rotten apple or a rotten orange, too many of us just abstain
"…For far too long in Alberta, power has rested with politicians who cater to corporate interests. This has had devastating effects on Indigenous lands as companies swoop into native communities to exploit resources, then leave behind trails of clear-cuts, pollution and broken promises."

When it comes to a government willing to take meaningful climate action, Alberta has a choice between really horrible and even worse.

So first, Notley herself isn't actually interested in climate action in any sense that's very meaningful in Alberta. She's willing to have Alberta use renewable sources of electricity, maybe switch away from internal combustion vehicles. Maybe even quietly move on buildings. But she is absolutely not willing to take on the oil patch in any way.

At the same time, if I were her I would want to make sure I had a massive and incredibly effective alternative media campaign to work with before I made the slightest noise about climate change in any way that might even hint at annoying the oil lobby, because ALL the media in Alberta is pro oil and if I couldn't end run it in smashing style I would be toast.

If there was a climate debate between these two sisters-in-oil with expert fact checkers standing by, furious fact checking activity and streams of corrections would dominate the entire debate.

If Notley was secretly worried about climate (that's not at all clear), and if she wins (likely by a hair's breadth, if at all), she'd be best advised to keep her mouth shut on renewables, and quietly stand out of the way and allow solar, wind, EVs and batteries do their job raking the ground with fossil fuels on price alone.

Given her past performance and the great possibility of a repeat, she'll embarrass herself if she dares cajole, threaten and sarcastically denounces BC-based opponents again on TMX, which has now become a gold-plated ornament to foolhardy public ventures and an icon for economic illiteracy stemming from a vacuum in due diligence.

I would love to see a federal clean electricity corridor crisscross Alberta using the same legal precedence TMX used to cross the Alberta-BC boundary to counter any legal challenges. The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed that the feds alone have absolute jurisdiction on federal projects and the ability to cross any provincial boundary with them. So, what about a national smart grid, Mr. Prime Minister?

TMX may not run dry, but given the massive progress and advancements in renewables and batteries since the SCC decision, I wouldn't be surprised if the dilbit slowed dramatically in the pipe as the gasoline burners on the other end started disappearing. That will happen concurrent with the TMX debt clock furiously dinging away.