Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dion's Visit and Record Shows He Gets Alberta

It is interesting to see the diverging perspective in the MSM print media in Edmonton over Stephane Dion and his policy ideas, especially on the environment. The Edmonton Journal is sympathetic and the Edmonton Sun is mostly sarcastic. Even the Toronto Star is running an op-ed from the Dominion Institute suggesting Dion run in Alberta.

The Harper Cons are trying to say Dion was a disaster as Martin’s Minister of the Environment to try to undermine his high ground and personal ownership of the #1 policy issue in the country – the environment.

As an Albertan I know one thing Dion did in that portfolio that was very positive for this province. When Chr├ętien unilaterally committed Canada to Kyoto without any advanced notice the resource sector in Alberta went apoplectic – and rightly so given the uncertainty that political chicanery caused, especially in the oil patch.

GHG emissions were the hot topic and the cost and controls for CO2 reductions was the source of the energy sector angst and anger to fight Kyoto at all costs. Then the mood shifted dramatically when some energy industry leaders did some real calculations on the costs of Kyoto. They determined it to be pennies a barrel and all of a sudden the emphasis shifted from one of costs to what are the levels and the controls.

That is where Dion came in. He and his senior staff came to Alberta and negotiated directly with industry the GHG emission levels and timing for implementation with all of the so called “big emitters.” Those deals were done in about three weeks under Dion’s stewardship and to the satisfaction of all the big emitters. The levels Dion negotiated were based on the Alberta government’s intensity model and not any absolute targets.

That Dion/Alberta model is still applicable today and is the reason behind the increases in total GHG emissions the Harper Cons like to trot out as an indication of Dion’s shortcomings while in Environment. The intensity model requires amount of GHG per barrel of oil decrease but total GHG can increase because of the overall growth of the economy and in the energy sector specifically.

The second part of the Alberta government response to Kyoto was a solution based on improved technology. Dion also embraced this aspect of environmental policy as Canada’s Minister of Environment and pushed it in his successful Liberal leadership bid and now as Leader of the Opposition.

For the Cons to say Dion did nothing on his watch in Environment is patently not true. To say he is at odds with Alberta and the aspirations and needs of the energy sector here is also not supported by the facts. Dion now says that we need to do better on GHG emissions and start to really deliver on the technology solutions. He is very clear that policy and fiscal “carrots and sticks” will be how he will change behaviours to enhance our environmental sustainability and improve our economy at the same time.

To suggest Dion run in Alberta would be fun for journalists but not great for the country. Alberta and Quebec have often had strong political alliances especially when provincial jurisdiction interference is threatened by the Feds. I believe it is time for such a Quebec/Alberta alliance to be revived again. That means we first need Charest to win in Quebec and the sooner the better.

If the next Prime Minister is to be from Quebec, we don’t need him running for office in Alberta. We need him to respect and understands Alberta and our potential as a way to strengthen Canada not weaken it. Dion is well positioned on both counts. He has proven that “gets” Alberta already and need not run here to prove it again.