With less than a week to go before the April 23 Alberta election, the race has offered a clear choice between two visions of the role of the provincial government and the role of Alberta in Canada.
Wildrose promises a more conservative Alberta with a smaller government and a greater orientation to the western part of the country. The Progressive Conservatives promise a more progressive Alberta in which the state plays a larger role and where Alberta seeks a more prominent role on the national stage. This choice also has clear implications for future energy policy in the Province and by extension in Canada.
While both Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives share some similarities – for example, both parties are supportive of Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, and potential pipeline links to eastern Canada – there are major differences in their energy platforms that result from their political orientations. Wildrose’s signature energy policy – at least in the media – is the Alberta Energy Dividend, which mandates that 20 per cent of all surplus dollars be sent to Albertans. This is a populist pillar of a conservative approach to government where dollars are put into the hands of ordinary citizens to spend as they see fit. For their part, the Progressive Conservatives have been receiving a lot of ink and air time for their promise of a $3 billion government research fund to develop new traditional and renewable energy technology. The fund is being promoted as the successor to the AOSTRA fund set up by former Premier Peter Lougheed that helped to spur the early development of today’s billion dollar oil sands industry.
Both parties recognize the importance of maintaining environmental responsibility in the course of energy growth, but their respective approaches are also influenced by how they view the role of government and its relationship to industry.
A Progressive Conservative government would focus on the development of a “25 or 40-year vision that secures Alberta’s place as a global environmental leader and enables sustainable economic and population growth.” A Wildrose government proposes “examining Alberta’s total emissions from all energy sources and working with energy producers to develop economically viable solutions that will yield measurable improvements to air, land, water province-wide.”
Since becoming Premier, Alison Redford has championed a national energy strategy that would see Alberta playing a key national role in helping to bring the federal government and the other provinces together to build consensus and support for market access, regulatory reform, and action on key industry issues such as labour shortages. This outward looking approach to encouraging a dialogue beyond the borders of Alberta contrasts with very specific proposals by Wildrose to encourage an intra-Alberta dialogue with industry on a number of fronts, including environment and electricity. These policies include “Work with industry to develop and implement a strategy that will see the eventual elimination of tailings ponds and an accelerated elimination and reclamation of existing tailing pond sites” and “promote more locally-generated electricity from natural gas.”
Based on some of the concerns that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has raised during the course of the campaign about provinces that receive equalization payments offering services that Alberta cannot afford (even though Alberta equalization payments are funding these services), it is very possible a Wildrose government would take a harder line in fiscal and energy related discussion with the other provinces.
Much hinges on the outcome of this election in the area of energy policy, not only for Albertans but for Canadians as a whole.
This post was originally written by Daniel Goodwin, who is no longer working at Hill+Knowlton.