EDMONTON – Alberta’s election campaign has hit the home stretch with the Progressive Conservatives accusing the NDP of being pipeline defeatists, while the New Democrats chastise the Tories for backing projects they know will never be approved.
Premier Jim Prentice attacked NDP Leader Rachel Notley on Monday for her promise to take a hands-off approach on two pipeline projects to get Alberta oil to the coast.
Prentice said it reflects an NDP ethos in other provinces. He noted the party in British Columbia is against the Northern Gateway project and the New Democrat government in Manitoba doesn’t like plans for the Energy East pipeline.
“We will fight for every single pipeline project to get our product out of this province to market,” Prentice told reporters at an event outside a pulp mill in Grande Prairie. “We need pipelines in every direction.”
The B.C. NDP has been one of the chief opponents of Northern Gateway, but Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has said little about Energy East.
Manitoba has applied for intervener status with the National Energy Board and a spokesman said Monday the province wants to “ensure that all environmental, public safety and economic safeguards associated with this project are met.”
Notley said on the weekend that her party would move away from the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would take oil from Alberta to tankers on the B.C. coast.
She also said she would let the Keystone XL pipeline debate play itself out in the United States. The Keystone line would take oil from Alberta to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast in Texas.
She said there is more potential for Energy East, which would take product to refineries in Eastern Canada.
Notley said Monday the Northern Gateway plan is hopelessly entangled in environmental fights and legal challenges by First Nations.
“Anyone who knows anything about the way these things unfold understands that nothing is happening there for decades.”
Notley said it makes little sense to focus time, money and strategy on long-shot causes.
“It becomes the law of diminishing returns … focusing or planning around something that they can’t control and can’t make happen in a timely way.
“We need to be realistic in our efforts.”
Notley has already said she will investigate ways to get more oil refined inside the province to add value and create jobs should her party win the May 5 vote.
Prentice called the election a year earlier than required to gain a mandate for his budget, which he calls a transformational blueprint for the next decade.
The theory was Prentice would cruise to another majority with the opposition in disarray, but polls are suggesting there’s a tight, three-way race between the Tories, the Wildrose and the NDP. Notley, whose party has never held more than 16 seats in Alberta, is coming off a leader’s debate that most pundits say she won.
Prentice’s budget increases 59 taxes and user fees, cuts or freezes most program spending, runs up a $5-billion deficit this year and is on track for $30 billion in infrastructure debt by the end of the decade. Opponents have criticized it for failing to address growth pressures in hospitals and classrooms.
The Tories said Monday that the NDP plan to continue investing in health and education, while balancing the budget by 2018, has almost $11 billion in unaccounted-for spending.
Notley said her numbers have been independently OKed by experts and suggested the attack “is a clear indication that the PC party is becoming increasingly desperate.”