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Alberta's NDP borrowed more than export-cut threats from Peter Lougheed for throne speech

Premier Rachel Notley speaks with well wishers in the Alberta Legislature Rotunda yesterday after her government’s Speech from the Throne. (Photo: David J. Climenhaga.)

Understandably given the nature of the daily news cycle, reporters covering yesterday's throne speech focused on the threats by Alberta's NDP government to punish British Columbia if that province's NDP government actually tries to block expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats, as journalists on the scene remarked in their stories last night, borrowed a strategy from Premier Peter Lougheed when she said she would cut oil exports to the province next door if Premier John Horgan won't behave.

Indeed, the throne speech made that point explicitly: "In the past, when workers in our energy industry were attacked and when the resources we own were threatened, Premier Peter Lougheed took bold action," Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell read aloud. (Emphasis added, of course.)

"Your government has been clear," the speech went on, presumably deliberately not mentioning Lougheed's political affiliation, "every option is on the table."

In 1980, the Lougheed government resisted the National Energy Program of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau by restricting the natural gas that could be shipped out of Alberta and ceasing to issue natural gas export permits.

"We will not hesitate to invoke similar legislation if it becomes necessary owing to the extreme and illegal actions on the part of the B.C. government to stop the pipeline," the Lieutenant Governor read, channelling the premier, as vice-regal personages are supposed to do on these occasions when a government's legislative agenda is publicly set out.

Of course, how extreme the B.C. government's actions to date have been is a matter of perspective. And how illegal they are is a matter of opinion until settled by a court. But no one can accuse Notley's government, as the Conservative Opposition was wont to do in the past, of not standing up for the interests of Alberta's principal resource industry.

That much said, if you look closely at the throne speech, you'll see the threat directed at B.C. wasn't the only idea borrowed from the strategies associated with Lougheed, whose Progressive Conservative government was elected in 1971 and stayed that way under a string of premiers until Notley toppled the dynasty on May 5, 2015.

Times have changed since 1971, of course. Lougheed, who died in 2012 at the age of 84, might not have made gender parity in cabinet a goal -- as the NDP did, and then surpassed with more women than men, as was noted with justified pride in this International Women's Day speech from the throne.

Nor, I expect, would a concept like LGBTQ2S have rolled off Lougheed's tongue any more easily than it did off Mitchell's in the Legislature yesterday.

But in addition to the strategy for asserting Alberta's trading rights, he certainly would have recognized his legacy in the NDP government's Keynesian approach to dealing with an economic downturn, its government-led effort to diversify the economy in general and the energy sector in particular, its (too cautious) efforts to smooth out the province's typical boom and bust economic cycles, its strategy to bring the most harmful features of energy deregulation under control, and its generally upbeat tone.

Conservatives and New Democrats alike will probably take issue with me on this, but this was, in philosophy and concept, a good, traditional progressive conservative throne speech.

It sets out the roadmap, therefore, for the good, traditional, post-recession progressive conservative budget that I expect Finance Minister Joe Ceci will deliver on March 22.

It is probably not all that different, truth be told, than the throne speech that would have been written for Jim Prentice's government about now -- had Alberta's last PC premier not foolishly called an election a year earlier than he needed to, to the obvious displeasure of a great many Albertans.

This is true right down to the speech's rural crime strategy and its repeated invocation of the name of the Deity in its closing lines.

It is a mark of how radicalized Canada's conservative movement became during the decade Stephen Harper ruled in Ottawa and Jason Kenney was his minion that such modestly progressive conservative policies as Notley's can be assailed as extremist, ideological and even communistic by the United Conservative Party Opposition that Kenney, after taking his seat yesterday, can now lead from inside the Legislature.

Were it not for the name of the party in power, it is said here, the Notley government's re-election in Alberta on a program like the one set out yesterday would be uncontroversial.

So we can expect Lougheed's name to be invoked more than once again in the lead-up to the general election expected in the spring of 2019.

One could argue the anticipated tone was set yesterday afternoon, after the vice-regal party had left the building and this throne speech was already receding into history.

As Margaret McQuaig-Boyd, minister of energy, observed as she introduced the government's Bill 1, the Energy Diversification Act, to the Chamber: "We are acting, Mr. Speaker, in the proud tradition of Peter Lougheed, who believed that government can, and government should, help foster the next generation of technology in our energy sector."

Well, "conservatives" nowadays advocate radical market fundamentalism, and social democrats implement policies that are as conservative as they are progressive. It's a funny old world!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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