Mr. Mulcair was more statesman than firebrand in his whirlwind tour of Edmonton and Fort McMurray, which began late Wednesday and concluded on Thursday afternoon. He’d visited Alberta before, but never the oil sands, and not as party leader.
He sidestepped attacks and toned down his language – in particular, referring to the “oil sands,” and not the “tar sands,” a term he had often used, but which carries a negative connotation in the West.
“They’re bitumen sands, because the chemicals are neither oil nor tar. But if removing that linguistic impediment can make the conversation easier, I’m not going to keep it in place intentionally,” Mr. Mulcair said.
He nonetheless stuck to his arguments, which he has repeated often but only this month erupted into a war of words with western premiers. Environmental oversight of the oil sands is subpar, he said, and the federal government should enforce its laws. “They’re not even interested in doing the right thing on the environment.”
Cracking down would force polluters to pay and clean up their act, rather than getting a “bit of a free ride in terms of using the air, the soil or the water,” he said. He repeated his calls for a cap-and-trade limit on carbon pollution.
Mr. Mulcair also repeated his belief that Canada suffers, in part, from a phenomenon known as Dutch disease – as the energy sector drives up the dollar, other industries suffer, including manufacturing. Two major reports have at least partly agreed with his contention; another, released this week, disputed it.
Finally, the NDP Leader said Canada should upgrade and refine oil sands bitumen rather than exporting it raw.
If Mr. Mulcair's visit has three public messages:
- that requiring extractors to pay the costs of environmental recovery, protection and sustainability from the "bitumen sands" is not being done now and needs to be done
- that we should refine that bitumen in Canada
- that a petro-dollar is impacting the industrial sector with high prices on exports
"Tarring" Mr. Mulcair as a wild socialist, which he has vowed not to be, and never was anyway, and as "threatening" and "harmful" to Alberta (as the Opposition Leader did) is childish, immature and narcissistically short-sighted.
Alberta does not, will not and must not, even with the Harper "endorsement," stride the national landscape like a colossus. We, in the rest of Canada, respect and honour their heritage of abundant, and currently saleable, resources, without bowing systematically to all of the whims of the corporate leaders of that resource extraction industry.
And because we take a longer term view, and because we are interested in setting and enforcing standards of extraction and environmental protection, we are not betrayers of the national interest, as some would suggest.
In fact, the Mulcair visit and position is far more reasonable than we might have expected. He might have threatened to nationalize the extracting companies, and put them under the thumb of the federal government. That would certainly have been political suicide for him, and would have resulted in a public wailing not heard since Pierre Trudeau attempted his own national energy policy.
Let's get rid of the "east-versus-west" conflict that may make some puffy and huffy headlines but really does very little to contribute to the national policy debate or agenda.
And that requires national leadership, something the Harper government has shown itself quite short on.
At least in Mulcair, we have a leader who is treading "where angels fear to tred" in Canadian historic terms, and putting some risk in his steps, knowing that both reason and responsibility are on his side.
Now, let's hear from Mr. Rae, about the Liberal position on the need for both environmental protection and restoration of the oil sands, and Canadian refining of the extractions.