As Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP prepare for a spring election campaign, they have their sights trained squarely on Danielle Smith and her UCP government. But they ought to keep an eye on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals as well because they seem determined to play a role in May’s provincial election outcome — and not the one most people are expecting.

For all the talk about the “Notley-Trudeau-Singh” alliance, the prime minister keeps doing and saying things that put Alberta’s former premier on her heels. And for a guy who said he wasn’t interested in fighting with Alberta, Trudeau is sure throwing a lot of jabs these days. “One of the challenges is there is a political class in Alberta that has decided that anything to do with climate change is going to be bad for them or for Alberta,” he said recently in an interview with Reuters. “We’ve seen for a while Alberta hesitating around investing in anything related to climate change.”

To most Canadians, this probably sounds like an uncontroversial statement of fact. And in fairness to the prime minister, the current government and the oil and gas establishment that backs it have been remarkably stubborn when it comes to accepting the existence, much less the necessity, of a clean energy transition. They still cling to the idea that Alberta’s future involves new pipelines and expanded oil and gas exports, and they lash out at anyone who dares to suggest otherwise.

But the Alberta government is also very clearly spoiling for a fight with Trudeau’s government, and these remarks gave them the provocation they were looking for. Even some of the province’s more sober-minded pundits worked themselves into a self-righteous lather over the prime minister’s comment and his refusal to acknowledge Alberta’s apparent leadership on carbon capture technology. As the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid wrote in an unusually hysterical column, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is either clueless about what’s going on in Alberta, or cares nothing for the truth.”

Trudeau and his team are almost certainly aware of what’s going on in Alberta, though, and how they can use it to their advantage. They understand having Danielle Smith continue to serve as premier will help them make their own re-election pitch to Canadians when the time comes for another federal election. They know that she will be a useful foil for their climate policies and an anchor they can tie around the waist of Pierre Poilievre. And they can see the inevitable attempts by a Smith government to drag its feet on climate policy would force Pierre into either defending or disavowing it.

That helps explain why they keep lobbing political softballs in Smith’s direction, whether it’s the tabling of “Just Transition” legislation right before an election or comments that allow her to talk tough about federal-provincial relations. Yes, they’d surely prefer to work with a Notley government, especially on key areas like climate policy and natural resource development. But more than that, much more than that, they’d prefer to win another federal election. And that will be easier to do with Smith still in power.

This political calculus puts Notley’s NDP and its otherwise decent prospects of winning the next election in serious danger. If the ballot question in May is “who do you trust to manage Alberta’s health care and education systems,” the UCP is in deep trouble. In a December 2022 Abacus Research poll, Notley had a 13-point lead over Smith when it came to who respondents trusted more to handle those two areas. But if people vote on the basis of who they trust to defend Alberta’s interests against Ottawa, the UCP is on much firmer ground.

Notley needs to find a way out of this corner that the prime minister is painting her into, and she needs to do it fast. She started that work in a press conference on Wednesday when she took aim at the federal government and the gap between its rhetoric on a “Just Transition” and the need for real funding. "The object must be to support the growth of jobs within the oil and gas sector that are focused on the work that I think everybody within the oil and gas sector agrees we need to do, which is reduce emissions and ensure that we are well-placed to be the market of choice internationally," she said.

But Notley should remember that Albertans — and, crucially, Calgarians — aren’t as afraid of the energy transition as Smith wants them to be. According to pollster Janet Brown’s research from the fall, 64 per cent of Calgarians think the idea of transitioning away from fossil fuels could be a “good thing,” while only 12 per cent of Albertans think oil and gas is the “single most important issue facing Alberta today.” That’s a far cry from the 29 per cent that chose it in March 2020, much less the 40 per cent that put it atop their list of priorities in March 2018.

Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley have often been on the same page when it comes to climate policy. So why is the prime minister undermining her chances of winning the next provincial election? @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #abpoli

Rather than running from the issue or offering up some diluted version of Smith’s pugilistic populism, Notley should lean into that change in attitudes. The best way to defend Alberta’s interests isn’t by burying our collective heads in the oilsands. Instead, it’s by recognizing and embracing the low-carbon future that’s rushing toward us, and fighting for as large a piece of it as possible. That’s a fight that she can win. All it will take is a few well-placed punches of her own.

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Fawcett: "For all the talk about the “Notley-Trudeau-Singh” alliance, the prime minister keeps doing and saying things that put Alberta’s former premier on her heels."

Ironic, considering that both Trudeau's and Notley's climate plans are premised on oilsands expansion, new offshore oil projects, new LNG projects, new pipelines, new markets, and a global failure to take real action on climate. All of which blows Canada's climate targets out of the water.

In response to the catastrophe looming over mankind, public health, human infrastructure, communities, livelihoods and economy, ecosystems, and wildlife, Canada's climate "leaders" came up with plans to fail.

Fawcett: "And in fairness to the prime minister, the current government and the oil and gas establishment that backs it have been remarkably stubborn when it comes to accepting the existence, much less the necessity, of a clean energy transition. They still cling to the idea that Alberta’s future involves new pipelines and expanded oil and gas exports, and they lash out at anyone who dares to suggest otherwise."

Unfortunately, that's Trudeau's view as well.

When the IPCC issued its latest report, then-Environment Minister "Wilkinson reaffirmed Canada's commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but said achieving that target will require money generated by fossil fuels."
"Ottawa says it must maximize revenue from the Trans Mountain pipeline to fight climate change" (CBC, 9-Aug-21)

Trudeau has long insisted that fossil fuels will pay for the energy transition:
"There is growth to be had in the oilsands. They will be developing more fossil fuels while there's a market for it, while we transition off fossil fuels." (2016)
"Our challenge is to use today's wealth to create tomorrow's opportunity." (2016)
Trudeau (2017): "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."

Then-Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (2018): "Our plan is to use this time of transition to Canada's advantage by building the infrastructure to get our resources to global markets and using the revenues to invest in clean forms of energy."

Up until the last minute before Pres. Biden cancelled Keystone XL, the Trudeau govt was still advertising that Canada's climate plan had room for new export pipelines transporting oilsands bitumen.
Kirsten Hillman, Canada's ambassador to the U.S.: "Keystone XL fits within Canada's climate plan"
Fawcett: "If the ballot question in May is 'who do you trust to manage Alberta’s health care and education systems,' the UCP is in deep trouble."

If the ballot question is 'Who do you trust to govern with a semblance of sanity?,' the UCP is in deep trouble.
On climate, unfortunately, it's a race to the cliff.

Confirmed by today's Human Rights Watch report:

"Rights group releases scathing report on Canada's violations of Indigenous rights" (CP, Jan 12, 2023)
"A prominent human-rights group says Canada is failing to address long-standing abuses, delivering a rebuke of what it calls the federal government’s inadequate climate policy and violations of the rights of Indigenous people and immigration detainees.
"…The report censures the government for its G20-leading public financing of fossil-fuel projects and inadequate measures to support First Nations in adapting to the impacts of climate change.
"…As a top-ten global GHG emitter and one of the highest per capita emitters in the world, Canada is 'contributing to the climate crisis, and taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe.'
"Despite a new federal emissions reduction plan, Human Rights Watch notes the government continues to permit oil and gas pipeline expansions, including on First Nations land.
"'Plans to increase fossil-fuel production disregard the government’s human-rights obligation to adopt and implement robust climate mitigation policies.'
"'Federal and provincial climate change policies have failed to put in place adequate measures to support First Nations in adapting to current and anticipated impacts of climate change and have largely ignored the impacts of climate change on First Nations’ right to food.'"

""Our challenge is to use today's wealth to create tomorrow's opportunity." (2016)"
And that's what Canada must do.
So why not try for a just transition? The alternative to government intervention, weak as it has been so far, is either more intervention or let capitalism decide where the money should go. And short of intervention, capital will go to petroleum projects 'cos that's where the short term profit is.
Railing at Trudeau won't achieve much at all.

Not sure I follow, but …

Alan wrote: "capital will go to petroleum projects 'cos that's where the short term profit is."

Climate change is the biggest market failure in history. Fossil fuel producers and consumers use the sky as a free dump. The fossil fuel industry is viable only because it externalizes environmental, climate change, and health costs. Downloading those costs to the public purse, the environment, and future generations. Voodoo economics.
The obvious solution is to solve the market failure. Government correction — or "intervention", as you call it, in the market. Price those costs in, and the fossil fuel industry ceases to be viable overnight.

From fossil fuel profits, subtract lost jobs in other industries, towns wiped off the map, billions of sea animals dead in a week. Subtract subsidies. AB's oil & gas industry has barely started to fund its clean-up liabilities: north of $260 billion. The fossil fuel industry is killing us.
Wealth that degrades our life-support systems is illusory. We can't afford fossil fuel profits and jobs that destroy our future.
Price in the damage, and it becomes a losing proposition. The costs of climate change and fossil-fuel pollution are prohibitive.

Unfortunately, the market solution — incremental carbon pricing — is too slow.
The IPCC warns that the world must nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 to keep warming below the danger limit of 1.5 C.
IEA's Net-Zero by 2050 report says no new investment in fossil fuels after 2021 to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
No time for fossil fuel expansion.

Pipelines, LNG plants, and oilsands mines are not intended to last a few years. Major fossil fuel infrastructure takes decades to recoup its capital costs. You don't build big infrastructure projects only to run them for a decade. Making such huge investments locks us into a fossil-fuel future.
Alberta's drive for fossil fuel growth is irrevocable. There is no redemption of this policy. No going back. No path from oilsands expansion to lower emissions and Canada's climate targets.

Letting "capitalism decide where the money should go" is a non-starter. We do not have a free market. The market is tilted in favor of fossil fuels and polluting industries that externalize the costs.
If the idea is to get off fossil fuels, logically you do not want the fossil fuel industry to flourish. The goal is to put the fossil fuel industry out of business — or transform it.
If the oil industry and Big Banks go all out to protect profits now and obstruct climate action, how much more will they resist after they increase their investment? Feeding the fossil-fuel monster only whets its appetite.
A thriving, profitable, powerful, expansionist fossil-fuel industry (or sputtering oil industry propped up by tax dollars) is antithetical to climate progress. A rich, powerful oil industry — and governments dependent on resource revenues — will only delay the transition.
Anything that reduces the fossil fuel industry's profitability diminishes its power to control politicians, capture govts, water down regulations, and obstruct change. Anything that limits the fossil industry's profits, reduces its economic power, and curtails its political influence is a step in the right direction.

Climate action and a thriving fossil fuel industry are incompatible notions. Choose one or the other. Not both.

@Alan Ball (#3): Doubling down on fossil fuels takes us in the wrong direction.
Canada does not need fossil-fuel dollars to fund the transition. Like selling cigarettes to cure lung cancer.

This proposal defies the central logic of the energy transition. Why do we need to get off fossil fuels? Because the environmental, health, social, and economic costs are prohibitive. Costs exceed benefits. Costs, debts, and liabilities outweigh revenues. Externalities overwhelm profits.
Fossil fuels are a losing proposition. That's why we're ditching them. Why go deeper into debt to finance the solution?

Naomi Oreskes (CBC Radio, Sep 14, 2017): "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."

If Ottawa has billions of (our) dollars for pipelines, it has billions of dollars for renewables. Put a realistic price on carbon. Invest carbon revenues in our sustainable future. End fossil fuel subsidies — or divert them to renewables and public transit.

When you're in a hole, stop digging.

P.S. AB's oil industry is at the mercy of global oil markets. AB gets hammered every time the oil price crashes. Massive job losses. Huge holes in AB's budget and loss of services.
Tens of thousands of Albertans lost their jobs in recent last oil price crashes. Doubling down on fossil fuels only sets AB up for even bigger crashes in future. More job losses, more dislocation. The opposite of a just transition.

More of us need to say that.........out loud. And perhaps vote with our money as well. I'm likely pulling my pac...since no one wastes my time, and joining Danielle's stupid deflection from the real challenges we face, to Trudeau bashing, is a dog whistle that tells the discerning you have no solutions to the actual problems we're all facing.

We're wasting time in denialism lite just now. When there is no time to waste.

Notley and her backroom advisors have no plan to transition out of oil & gas. The Alberta NDP show no signs of adopting one.

Notley: "Here in Alberta we ride horses, not unicorns, and I invite pipeline opponents to saddle up on something that is real."
"'In Alberta we ride horses, not unicorns': Rachel Notley calls pipeline opponents unrealistic" (CBC,2018)

Notley has no plan to bend the curve on AB oil production, or initiate a "just transition" for oil workers, much less get AB off oil.
Under the NDP "climate plan", AB's emissions would likely go up, not down.

Notley's climate plan was NEVER going to take us where we needed to go. Building fossil-fuel infrastructure locks us into a fossil-fuel future.

"Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan has accomplished some good things, many of which were unfathomable just a few short years ago, but it's not enough. The provincial govt recently predicted that there would be a slight reduction in total emissions by 2030, but that overly optimistic forecast depends heavily on the implementation of the federal climate plan and on oil prices remaining low. It also does not fully account for the emissions impact of upping production to fill new pipelines. Without the federal plan, or with increased prices and/or production, there is no date in sight for when we might expect Alberta's emissions to actually go down.
"The sad reality is that neither the NDP nor the UCP have produced a credible and implementable plan to meaningfully reduce Alberta's total emissions over the short- to medium-term, let alone bring us anywhere close to meeting our share of Canada's commitments under the Paris Agreement."
Ricardo Acuña, "Will Any Party in Alberta Support the Notion that We're Killing the Earth?" (VueWeekly, 2018)

Naomi Klein (2018): "Alberta has a left-wing political party in power, one that has somehow convinced itself it can beat the right by being a better suck up to Big Oil."

Trudeau can afford to ignore Smith and her ultra-loopy UCP. He can't ignore Notley's advocacy for the O&G industry.
On every other count, Albertans fare worse under Smith's UCP, but on climate all we have are two fossil fuel cheerleaders vying to be Pipeline Queen. With TMX under her belt, the advantage goes to Notley.

Notley's response to a question at the 2018 Alberta Teachers' Association meeting:

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.

Thank you, Geoffrey, for our ongoing commentary.

It does make me wonder, however, if you have a mind like Will Hunting or Mike Ross, a very well organized database, or both! :)

Thank you for your perspective....yet again. I can't wait for someone else in the Liberal Party to take over as PM. He has very good people around him, but he so often manages to seem condescending even when delivering a sombre message.

Full disclosure: I dislike polling for public consumption. Intensely. I see it as nothing more than manipulation of public beliefs.

I don’t disagree, necessarily (see below), with Mr. Fawcett’s contention that the federal Liberal Party would rather see Danielle Smith win the coming Alberta election. Nor do I dispute suggestions that more Calgarians may be tending towards progressive views, over time. (Recall that they elected, and re-elected twice more, Naheed Nenshi).
What I do dispute are some of the author’s blanket characterizations, and interpretations of the polling data.

For example.

“...the current government and the oil and gas establishment that backs it”

I think it’s fair to say that while “the oil and gas establishment” might “prefer” – I’m stating without evidence either way -- to see the UCP win, Ms. Notley’s record during her gov’t suggests that she was also solidly in its corner. The establishment is also not at all stupid; they may well see Smith as an ill-disciplined, destabilizing wing-nut who poses a risk of scoring an own goal. So, I imagine that the establishment is not overly concerned about Notley returning as premier. Maybe they’d even prefer it.

Regarding the fall of oil and gas from top of mind concern which Mr. Fawcett views (wrongly, in my opinion. Did I mention I dislike public polls?) as indicative of O & G being of decreasing import.

Albertans value their healthcare, as do we all. Your colleagues at The Tyee, in an article recapping the Notley years ahead of the 2019 election,

included this observation:
“For the first time [David] Climenhaga can remember in Alberta, “there’s a sense that there’s no crisis in healthcare, it’s properly funded, it’s running smoothly.””

People respond differently to acute vs delayed (chronic, say,) threats. If I’m cozy at home, bingeing Netflix with a purring kitty on my lap, my biggest concern might be thinking of the snowfall outside that I’ll have to shovel come morning. Tout à coup(!), the wolf is pounding on the door threatening all sorts of nasty things if I don’t come out (did I mention I’m a little piggy?) Well, do you think I’m concerned, any longer, about shoveling snow?

Mr. Fawcett, inexplicably, also chooses to lend credence to CCUS: “…[Trudeau’s] refusal to acknowledge Alberta’s apparent leadership on carbon capture technology.” (I’m quite certain I’ve not taken this out of context). The reality is quite different.

(Any number of scholarly primary sources can be found through Google).

Returning to Mr. Fawcett’s belief that a Premier Smith would be good for the Liberals, I’d point out uncertainty over the potential dynamic between Poilievre and Notley, ahead of the federal election, were she elected. First, I can’t imagine that Notley would support Poilievre (but, we’ll see if that very subject arises in the Alberta election, which could be intriguing). So, if elected, I think it likely that, if asked, Rachel Notley would be holding her nose when asked for her prognosis for the next federal election. Do you think Notley believes Poilievre would be good for the country (I believe she does hold that concern, certainly more than Smith)? I think a Notley victory could easily work in the federal Liberals’ favour in the next election (even while I hope that Trudeau steps down as leader beforehand).

My perspective is different. I think this is a possible gift to Notley. She can retaliate against Trudeau, showing she sticks up for Alberta while being the rationale, pro-social & pro-business choice. Create a stark contrast to Smith's extreme, populist, anti-everything-sane rhetoric. Notley can steal some wind from the sails of UCP.

Whatever you 'steal' with the politics of personality conflict, generalized hate, and finger pointing.........doesn't amount to enough collatoral to do anything substantial about the real problems we face.

The NDP promised not to run a negative campaign this time. They didn't say we'd start joining in on the Trudeau bashing. Says something about what the pollsters think of Albertans though.

The big picture disappears from focus SO much more readily now. To recap: Conservatives are climate science deniers. No longer able to openly dispute that it IS happening (the only headway we've made with them all these years) they still dismiss the human connection. These people are profoundly irrational. That's really all that matters in our politics right now. Never has it been so clear who should NOT be in government. It's the same in the States.
But the melee continues unabated; it's like the fight is the thing, regardless. D
Despite being a bona fide pugilist who clearly enjoys it, Trudeau has in fact been a model of restraint when it comes to conservatives generally and Alberta specifically, pulling his punches for years. The fact that he's now simply stating the obvious about Alberta under the UCP should be an opportunity for Rachel Notley to differentiate the NDP at a crucial time, rather than muddying the waters conservative style. Clearly she also likes the fight for the sake of it so I hope she doesn't blow what should be a slam-dunk by getting drawn into it.
The right wing and social media have so skewed political discourse at this point that it's not worth even trying to follow it. And Don Braid gone full-on tribal? No fool like an old one.

Meanwhile, renewables are quietly mushrooming in the Crowsnest Corridor, indeed all over southern Alberta. There are no doubt federal grants for wind snd solar, but the perception is that they are nickels and dimes compared to the subsidies for Canadian fossil fuel development.

There is an outside but growing chance that renewables (mainly very competitive clean electricity prices) within Alberta will catalyze the transition from left field into the centre of play based on economics and quiet investment alone, rather than on the noisy theatrics about federal-provincial relations and its 50-year old circular narrative emanating from Alberta like the long-term leakage of stale air from a moldy basement.

Spiked consumer demand for renewables and electrification will be a breath of fresh economic air that blows the political BS, hubris and cobwebs away that otherwise tend to preserve sunset industries. Trudeau, Smith and Notley all possess these three traits in spades.