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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Admit it, Wildrosers: Denis Coderre's zinger burned because it landed a little too close for comfort

| January 27, 2016
Denis Coderre

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It sure doesn't look as if the pipeline safety concerns of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre were all that unreasonable now that we've learned about what a lousy job the National Energy Board was doing to ensure the safety of pipelines during the decade of Harperism, does it?

Certain people in Alberta got a whole lot angrier than the circumstances actually warranted when Coderre shot back at some sniping by Alberta's Opposition leader with a comment that Brian Jean and his advisors are "probably the same people who think the Flintstones is a documentary."

Up to that point, Jean's noisy complaints were mainly pro forma Alberta political posturing, designed to reinforce his Wildrose Party's narrative here in Wild Rose Country that the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley isn't doing its job right because it's using a different strategy for getting pipelines approved from the foot stomping and bullying that has proved so ineffective and unproductive for conservative federal and provincial governments.

It must worry Wildrosers that Notley's approach has on the face of it been more effective in nine months than theirs has been through nine years plus nine months of Harperism. At least they can pat themselves on the back for persuading the media that the NDP ought to be implementing Albert Einstein's definition of insanity by doing the same thing their side did over and over again in the expectation of different results.

Complaining about Quebec, of course, has always been a popular pastime in certain circles in Alberta -- and those tend to be the same circles that vote Wildrose. So from Mr. Jean's perspective, cracking wise about the problems with Montreal's sewerage system was a great way to score a couple of cheap points off the Alberta NDP. When he made his comments, Jean obviously knew a mayor wasn't going to be the person making decisions about whether pipelines get built through Quebec, even if the mayor in question used to be a Liberal cabinet minister.

But the Alberta right went completely bonkers when Coderre landed his Flintstones shot -- and it's said here that's because it contained just enough truth about the Wildrosers to really burn.

Jean is no Stockwell Day -- the former Alberta Progressive Conservative treasurer, federal Canadian Alliance leader and Biblical literalist about whom the one-liner first gained currency in Canadian politics is said to have actually believed men and dinosaurs strolled on earth at the same time.

But whatever Jean may actually believe, there's absolutely no question his Wildrose Party is the home to plenty of climate change deniers and folks who don't feel a lot of sympathy for the idea of scientific enquiry on those occasions when its results contradict their ideological predilections.

So like all good zingers, Coderre's spoke to a profound truth about he conservative opposition in Alberta, especially the Wildrose Party, and that's what set of the cacophony of whining and wailing here in Alberta about how unreasonable he was being.

In Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to have talked Mayor Coderre into behaving. But in Ottawa, Conservative Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose moaned that Coderre's zingers were threatening national unity and tried to trigger Alberta's unique provincial false-memory syndrome about prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy program, a dead horse that’s if frequently flogged to good effect hereabouts.

In the media, the response was nearly unanimous. Over the course of 48 hours, Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson, Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid and National Post writer Jason Fekete all composed bloviations resurrecting the zombie western separatist movement that never was. The Calgary Sun's Rick Bell actually got his national unity warning in first, on Friday, but we should probably stand by for another blast from the Dinger soon. All the newspapers named are owned by Postmedia.

Then came yesterday's report by federal Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand, who reported that under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the NEB failed to properly track whether pipeline companies were actually implementing the board's own conditions for allowing them to build pipelines. Given the record of the Harper Government, this should surprise no one.

Five years ago, with half Canada's lost Harper decade still to run, the same office released a report finding similar deficiencies in the work of Calgary-based regulatory agency.

Auditors working for Gelfand, who come from the department of the Auditor General, found that "in half of the 49 pipeline approvals they examined, the NEB did not adequately track whether companies satisfied the conditions set by the board," the Globe and Mail reported.

So, wouldn't you be concerned if you were a voter in the principal municipality in a region of 4.5 million people through which the $15.7-billion Energy East Pipeline, which is yet to be approved by the same NEB, is supposed to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude every day? And wouldn't you want your mayor to say speak up about it on your behalf?

That would be the expectation in most democratic jurisdictions, and obviously Montreal is no different -- no matter how loudly the Wildrose Party protests.

Plus, of course, the normal rules of local politics apply in places other than Alberta too. Just as Jean reckons he can score some easy points by taking cheap shots at Quebec politicians, what makes him think Quebec politicians won't score easy points taking cheap shots back at him?

If you dish it out, you're supposed to be able to take it -- especially when, one way or another, a couple of your MLAs could be mistaken for Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble if one didn't look too closely.

As for that renascent western separatist "movement," remind me again how being a separate country is going to make it easier to move our oil through British Columbia, which doesn't want it, the United States, which doesn't want it, and Quebec, which still has its doubts.

No, sorry, but the only thing that's likely to work is stronger regulation and social license for the projects that Alberta needs, and unless things change in other jurisdictions the only formula that stands a chance of getting those things is the one advocated by Rachel Notley and her NDP government.

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

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