Snubs evidently more important than engagement for government & opposition
By Bruce A Stewart
A funny thing happened yesterday in Fort McMurray. Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP leader, toured the oil sands.
The visit was dismissed out of hand, by both the Deputy Premier, Thomas Lukaszuk, and the Alberta Opposition Leader, Danielle Smith. Evidently there’s a desire here to just make him go away.
No message, by any politician, about something as complex and far-reaching as the oil sands, is going to be 100 per cent appropriate. There are reasonable grounds surrounding this venture for alternative courses of action to be discussed.
If that’s true within Alberta, it’s certainly true on the national stage, where political messages go into every corner of the country.
Engagement and persuasion would have seemed the order of the day. But, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, as they say.
At least Mulcair’s host, the mayor of Fort McMurray, didn’t miss his opportunity. Mostly he let the work being done in the oil sands speak for itself.
Mulcair was impressed with the endeavour. He also moderated his language significantly, away from “tar sands”, in an effort to open dialogue.
He also reiterated his views, so let’s look at what’s worth discussing there (since Alberta’s political leadership pulled a Klingon discomendation ritual rather than seize the moment).
Mulcair wants more processing of the bitumen in Canada, rather than an exclusive focus on exporting raw product. That this would allow us to use existing infrastructure to ship products to the east, and cut down on imports in Eastern Canada, creating both work for Canadians and increasing national energy security, seems like a good thing, not a bad thing.
Mulcair thinks that at the oil sands, as anywhere else in the country, pollution should be minimized, paid for, and restoration done by the polluter, not left for future generations. Again there’s not much to complain about there, unless you’re just plain afraid to ever tell a corporate giant to do anything in exchange for exporting their profits.
His criticism of environmental law enforcement was directed at the Federal Government, not the province — and any government, at any time, that refuses to uphold its laws is worthy of critique.
Mulcair talks about “Dutch Disease”, and on this score he’s wrong. Canada’s manufacturing decline is a function of management that coasted on a cheap dollar, and horrendous policy decisions in various heavily-indebted provinces. It would have been easy to make that case: all it took was engagement.
Finally, Mulcair brought up cap-and-trade carbon limits. If carbon limits aren’t required, the case needs to be made. Otherwise, carbon emissions are another form of pollution — and why wouldn’t you require remediation and limitation on that as much as any other form of pollution? (Never forget that his portfolio as a Québec cabinet minister was Environment.)
Again, to make a different case, you have to talk — not turn your back, cover your ears and go “la la la la, I can’t hear you”.
There’s still this attitude that a New Democrat is just “loony” and can be ignored. But in three more years this man could be Prime Minister as easily as Stephen Harper.
I’d be working now, and seizing every opportunity to make my case, if I thought he was wrong.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.