Considering the strained nerves that accompany protracted election seasons, concerned Albertans can be forgiven for looking to the looming October 19th election with resigned complacency. After all, the biggest political threat to the province’s well-being appears to have passed. Policy miscalculations in eastern Canada have left the federal NDP lagging a distant third according to the latest Grenier seat projection.
Canada will likely not see a repeat of the so-called orange crush that swept Alberta into the hands of the NDP. But complacency at this crucial time is ill-advised, because while the obvious political threat to the province’s industry has faltered, questions linger on regarding the intentions of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
Of course, the Liberal position as it concerns the industry appears to be the usual promises of continued prosperity coupled with the stubborn refusal to discuss how that is consistent with the party’s ambitious and potentially costly environmental policies.
This is not to deny that Mr. Trudeau has tried to strike a pragmatic tone with industry leaders, stressing the importance of balancing competing interests. Indeed, some of his public statements have been reassuring.
“We do need to get our resources to market, we just need to do it the right way. The alternative way of doing things right now is on trains, on rail. We don’t want to be shipping more oil on rail,” he said.
If Mr. Trudeau is to be Canada’s next prime minister, anxious Albertans should indeed hope for this iteration of the Liberal Party’s leader.
But the Liberal position warrants more scrutiny, because it appears heavy on potentially incompatible promises and light on costs. Taken at face value, one would be forgiven for thinking the industry’s future is one where environmental concerns are addressed painlessly and in a transparent manner, where its product reaches the markets without complications, and where the accompanying shift to “green” energy is painless and without substantial dislocation. In short, a win-win scenario.
Regrettably, genuine win-win scenarios are exceedingly rare. Someone almost always pays, and when that realization comes to light it yields the underlying assumption that someone other than the voter will pay. Thus the Liberal’s “polluters will pay” environmental policy comes to resemble Premier Notley’s “the rich will pay more” fiscal stance. Neither seems to acknowledge that the actors on the receiving end of these policies are also those who create jobs, so it would be naive to think that the average voter will not have to share the burden.
And while Mr. Trudeau’s team has been careful to run a centrist and relatively innocuous campaign, voters may unfavorably recall the Alberta NDP’s bifurcated approach to public relations, where it speaks to the importance of the oil & gas industry to the province all while pursuing royalty review, appointing anti-industry activists to key positions, and signalling a desire to end Alberta’s reliance on, and thus the NDP’s strained tolerance of, the industry.
It is precisely this audience-dependent pandering that voters should scrutinize the Liberals for. Political parties are in the business of winning elections, so the Liberals will understandably stick to the centrist course and refrain from causing offense in an effort to maximize votes. But as many new governments soon discover, promises made come with expectations of promises fulfilled. Where these become mutually exclusive, someone will be left out in the cold.
Indeed, given that Mr. Trudeau appeared to spend an inordinate amount of debate time sparring with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, it cannot be lost on the Liberal Leader that if he wins the upcoming election, it will be partly because of vote switching by formerly NDP-leaning electors. Many of these voters will take him at his word for stances contrary to the economy’s best interests.
It cannot be emphasized enough that industry and capital need stability and certainty. There has been precious little of either in Canada lately, and it stands to reason that the country’s well-earned reputation in this regard has been substantially eroded.
None of the three contenders in this election are responsible for the collapse of oil prices. But the burden is on them to refrain from delaying the recovery. Whatever the result of the October 19th election, concerned Albertans may well hope for the best, but they ought to ask themselves whether job creators already have enough uncertainty on their plate without having to divine the intentions of a new government.