EDMONTON – Amidst rising rhetoric over the Keystone XL pipeline, Alberta Premier Alison Redford clarified Tuesday that she isn’t urging the federal government to impose a national tax on carbon emissions.
“I am in no way advocating any sort of a national carbon tax. That’s for other governments to decide,” Redford said at the legislature.
Redford made the comment following a Postmedia news story quoting her talking about such a plan while in Ottawa on Monday.
Redford said her position has been consistent.
“The comments yesterday were about the fact that we have a (carbon tax) model that we like here in Alberta,” she said.
“If other governments choose to adopt (such) programs, we suggest that they look at this. That was the context of the comments, and that’s as far as I go.”
Alberta’s environmental record is under close scrutiny with U.S. President Barack Obama expected to decide in the coming months whether to approve Keystone.
The 1,800-kilometre TransCanada (TSX:TRP) line would ship oilsands crude from Alberta across the U.S. Midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas.
Federal government politicians along with Redford, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and the petroleum industry have been lobbying for Obama to approve the line.
Redford said a lack of export capacity is one reason Alberta is taking in $6 billion less than hoped for from oil revenues this year.
However, the $7-billion project is facing sharp resistance in the U.S. Protesters showed up by the thousands in Washington D.C., last month to urge the line be scrapped.
Obama himself has stressed that projects such as Keystone need to be assessed with an eye to global economic stewardship. Last week, an editorial in the influential New York Times urged Obama to say no to Keystone. A rejection would send the message that short-term energy needs don’t trump the long-term health of the planet, the paper argued.
The federal government has already stated it does not wish to pursue a carbon tax, believing regulatory rules are a better way to go.
Alberta currently taxes heavy emitters $15 a tonne above greenhouse gas emission intensity limits, and then uses that money to fund green initiatives and programs.
Critics says the tax doesn’t go far enough, and officials have conceded Alberta isn’t even close to meeting its goals for reducing greenhouse gases.
Alberta has pledged to reduce emissions by 50 megatonnes a year by 2020, but has averaged just over five tonnes a year since 2007.
In Edmonton, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Redford is coming across as wishy-washy on a national carbon tax, and needs to make it clear that Alberta opposes such a levy.
A national carbon tax, Smith told the house Tuesday, only means more taxes on Alberta families that in turn flow to national coffers for redistribution to Ontario and Quebec.
“Albertans have been fighting this eastern Canadian, socialist, redistribution agenda for decades,” said Smith. “They should have a premier who is fighting with them, not cozying up to easterners who have been angling for a greater cut of our resource wealth for a generation.”
Smith’s comments underscored how the Keystone debate in Alberta has morphed from an economic issue into a litmus test of loyalty.
Debates in recent days have seen a spike in words such as fear, fear-mongering, sabotage, and betrayal.
On Monday, Redford rebuked federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair for criticizing Canada’s environmental record in Washington. She called it “a fundamental betrayal” of Canada’s economic interests.
That prompted Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason to accuse Redford of having “betrayed” Albertans by pushing a pipeline that would create thousands of refining jobs in the U.S. rather than Alberta.
On Tuesday, Mason accused Redford of linking love of Keystone with love of country.
“When anyone tries to stand up for Alberta jobs and responsible resource development she calls them unCanadian,” Mason told the house.
Redford replied: “The Keystone pipeline is going to be fundamental to Alberta and Canada’s economic growth. One in six Albertans is directly or indirectly employed by the energy industry.”
Energy Minister Ken Hughes took it a step further, comparing the Keystone lobby effort to the group of nations that joined forces to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein a decade ago.
“(It’s) the Coalition of the Willing, if I can call it that,” Hughes told the house. “We’re working with First Nations leadership, we’re working with union leadership, we’re working with political leadership right across this country.”