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The Pipeline File: NDP's 'social license' approach worked where Conservative shouting failed

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Rachel Notley & Justin Trudeau

Without the Alberta NDP's climate strategy, no pipelines would have been approved yesterday. It really is that simple.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced approval yesterday afternoon of the controversial expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline to Canada's West Coast and Enbridge's Line 3 into Minnesota and beyond, he told reporters in Ottawa: "Let me say this definitively, we could not have approved this project without the leadership of Premier Notley and Alberta’s climate leadership plan."

As blogger Dave Cournoyer put it, "Mr. Trudeau basically said everything but 'Hey Alberta, Rachel Notley is the reason you got a pipeline'."

Notley, who made it clear almost from the moment she took office as Alberta's premier that the provincial NDP would fight for access to a seaport for her province's oil, and that it would do so by building "social license” through positive environmental measures, thanked Trudeau for his "extraordinary leadership" on the pipeline file.

Indeed, it was extraordinary. It seems clear the prime minister expended a considerable amount of his political capital, especially in British Columbia, to help the economy of Alberta, a part of Canada that historically has had very little good to say about him or his party and done even less to help him.

This demonstrates a level of public spiritedness -- even if you believe support for pipelines is deeply wrongheaded -- that is unusual in politics, and that seems to be almost completely missing on the other side of the political spectrum in the Canada of the early 21st Century.

So the Alberta right's nightmare scenario -- and so they described it when they were pretty certain it would never happen -- has come true.

It would be remarkable if politicians and commentators on the right would now have the grace to admit that a New Democrat premier and a Liberal prime minister have accomplished something valuable for Alberta that no Conservative was able to achieve. We all understand, of course, how unlikely this is.

Count on it, there will be an enormous amount of verbiage in the days to come from the province's two right-wing political parties and the large number of federal Conservatives that make up their Ottawa auxiliary, not to mention the usual suspects in the think tank sector and their media echo chamber, to the effect that it just ain't so. Many die-hard conservative supporters will believe it all.

They will say the pipelines aren't built yet -- and pray for the success of the environmentalists opposed to the project on the West Coast. They will say it all would have happened anyway, thanks to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. (WRONG!) They will stick with their climate-change denial and their promises to dismantle the very program that made this hopeful development for Alberta's battered economy possible. And they’ll fume and stomp their feet at Trudeau's rejection of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and his ban on tanker traffic off the North Coast.

All this is writ in stone.

If only you’ll elect us, they'll promise -- although not in these words, of course -- we'll drive Alberta right back into the same old dead end that got no results at all throughout the decade Conservatives ran things in both Ottawa and Edmonton and made pipeline extensions the sine qua non of their leadership.

Well, they've dug themselves in so deep, what else could the parties of the right do when Notley has just proved, as she said yesterday, that we were always bound to get better results by "working constructively with other Canadians instead of just shouting at them."

Still, it should be clear to all but the most bone-headed ideologues and cynical political liars that Notley's social license strategy to sell Alberta's resources is working -- and not just better than the strategy advocated by the Canadian right. It's the only strategy that's worked, and the only one that ever will. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! … Who knew?

Well, in fairness, Conservatives like the late Jim Prentice did get this, even when the extremists that surrounded former prime minister Stephen Harper never did.

Speaking of Harper, his former lieutenant Jason Kenney, who is running to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and then merge it with the even more intractable Wildrose Opposition, has vowed to eliminate the NDP's carbon tax and other aspects of its climate leadership plan.

"I would start by repealing the NDP's job-killing carbon tax," he said in September. (Note: Anything Conservatives don't want to do for any reason is described as "job killing." The locution is treated by savvy observers as meaningless.)

Beleaguered Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has said exactly the same thing. "We're the only party that has actually stood up and said we will repeal the carbon tax immediately upon getting elected," he said last month.

Something for these gentlemen to think about: What is the chance Trudeau will continue to spend political capital to accommodate the economic wishes of a province that only elects four Liberals in a good year in the face of heavy opposition on the West Coast if Albertans bring back the climate-change denying petro-bullies of the past?

All things considered, not good.

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

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