Dion heads to cowboy country to push green strategy
CALGARY - Federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion rode into the heart of cowboy country Friday to lasso support for his green plan in a province that snorts at any whiff of the old national energy program.
The policy brought in by the Trudeau Liberals in the early 1980s is still despised by many in Alberta who felt it siphoned oil revenue from the province and sent it to Central Canada. It's a spectre that has been raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Dion travels the country selling a green plan that includes a carbon tax.
"The NEP was a program to change the oil price in order to accommodate nine provinces," said Dion in an interview with The Canadian Press. "What we are doing this time is to be in full conformity with the world economy - and what the world is expecting from a developed economy like Canada is to have carbon pricing. If we don't, we are in trouble in our ability to trade and to export."
A political scientist doesn't think Albertans will see any difference between the two concepts.
"The carbon tax in Alberta is right up there with the NEP. On the mantelpiece you put them side by side," warned Peter McCormick, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge.
"It's going to be a hard sell in Alberta because Alberta feels it's being made the target again."
Dion's arrival coincided with the start of the Calgary Stampede - the annual 10-day celebration of cowboy culture in the heart of Canada's oil country. His visit raised some eyebrows even before he arrived. One political cartoon in a newspaper showed him on a spit roasting over a fire. "If Westerners are so upset, why have I been invited to so many of their barbecues?" read the caption.
"Alberta is not a monolithic society, you have people with different views," Dion said with a chuckle. "Just from the airport to the hotel I met maybe 10 people who came to me, shook my hand and said, 'you're right. I agree it is the right thing to do for Alberta.'
"So many people are convinced it is the right thing to do but we need to convince others."
Dion has a number of events planned for the Stampede and also in Edmonton. He has acknowledged his party's green plan would cost Saskatchewan and Alberta more because their coal-fired generators and oilsands plants are major emitters.
But the federal leader also said the two provinces would be better off in 10 years because the carbon tax would force their economies to become more diversified.
The Liberal plan includes a $15.4-billion-a-year tax shift that would punish polluters and reward green businesses and consumers. The carbon tax would be offset by income tax cuts to lower-income earners.
Greenhouse gas emissions would be taxed at $10 per tonne, rising to $40 per tonne in the fourth year.
"I'm not certain he will get the warmest welcome, but being that it's Stampede he'll probably be tolerated," said Tom Olsen, a spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach, who was not available for comment.
Olsen said tapping into Alberta's wealth will not be tolerated.
"It's more the patriarchal NEP-type of program the green shift - or shaft - represents. Mr. Dion had the gall to talk about how this would hammer Alberta and Saskatchewan, but how Canadians would be thanking him.
"I don't think many Albertans buy that."
Dion said the Alberta government's animosity is misdirected.
"I have ideas how this may help Alberta at a time when the premier is going to the United States and saying our oil is not dirty," said Dion.
He said the Liberal plan would send the message to the Americans that Canada is doing its homework and shouldn't be boycotted when it comes to oil imports.
"I am arguing that carbon pricing, the way we are proposing, will help a lot with that."
McCormick said Dion isn't looking for converts to his plan in Alberta.
"The point isn't to come and win friends and influence people in Alberta. The point is to show Dion as a courageous leader who will go and confront the problems where they are and call it like it is," McCormick suggested.
"It's a national message he's trying to get out and if he dodges Alberta and Saskatchewan, given the impact it's going to have, he would be tagged for being a bit of a coward and for not being honest.
"I think he gains political points by coming out and being vilified. The battlefield is Ontario and Quebec and that's where this message is being piped to."
The leader of the national Green party, like most of the other federal leaders, is spending time at the Stampede trying to sell her message. Elizabeth May says the Liberal carbon tax is a plank from her party, but she is fine with anything that gets the message out.
"One thing Stephane Dion, (NDP Leader) Jack Layton and I have in common is we understand the climate crisis is real, and not acting on it is not an option," May said. "I think Albertans realize that."