Friday, August 17, 2007

Will Peter Lougheed's Comments Set the Alberta-Ottawa Agenda?

UPDATE: AUG 18 - I recommend you read Blogger and lawyer Robert Janes take on the implication of the Lougheed comments. His URL is
You have to love it (or be terrified depending on which side of the issue you are on) when a news story takes on a life of its own. Such is the case with the former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and the comments he made at the recent Canadian Bar Association earlier this week.

I promised on Wednesday to comment further on Mr. Lougheed’s speech once I had read it. I have requested a copy but have not read it because I can’t. His office replied to my request as follows: “Unfortunately a copy of the speech is not available as Mr. Lougheed delivered the speech by reference to his personal notes.”

Fair enough, he is a gifted speaker and very knowledgeable on the subject matter. He has commented on issues of the pace of oil sands development and the ecological and social impacts and implications before. His comments last Tuesday at the annual gathering of the Canadian Bar Association. I checked the CBA website and it does not even identify Mr. Lougheed as being on the program of their meetings in Calgary this past week. Hummm!

One can't help but wonder about the forum, timing and the motivation behind Mr. Lougheed's comments. For me, this initiative of Peter Lougheed is pure political theatre of the highest order, and I applaud it. His political instincts are as sharp as ever. You have to admire how he has skillfully and politically positioned issues, created an event and defined relationships in one carefully constructed stream of consciousness.

Even without a written text, one can conclude Mr. Lougheed’s remarks were not made as an aside nor were they impromptu. That has never been his method of operation. These remarks have to be his considered opinion and that opinion is foreboding and politically charged.

Already John Baird, the federal Environment Minister is in full damage control. When Lougheed says the emerging and inevitable fed-prov battle looming between Alberta and Canada “will be ten times greater than in the past.” Baird’s pull quote in the Edmonton Journal today says it all. Our government would never do what was done with the national energy policy of the early 80’s.” Ouch!

While Lougheed is reported as “surmising” about such matters in his speech, everyone should realize that he is not unschooled in such matters. He was Alberta’s Premier in the days of the National Energy Policy, which is believed by many to be the sole source of the demise of Alberta’s economy and destruction of our emerging political clout in the 80’s.

So here we have, it one man with great influence and respect, making some significant personal observations at a forum where he appears not even to be on the program. Serendipity or opportunism? Does that matter? His comments focused on some of the most serious issues of the day. The rapid and pronounced media uptake with front page headlines of his warnings have resurrected past ghosts and bogeymen.

In one carefully considered trip to the podium Peter Lougheed has actually done more to set the future political agenda of Alberta and focus it around the critical relationship between the energy economy and emerging ecology issues. He has also done much to frame the politics on this policy concern in terms of good old Canadian jurisdictional wars between Alberta and Canada.

The major difference is that the constitutional and jurisdictional wars Lougheed sees this time has Ottawa controlled by Harper, a power controlling, centralizing Conservative. In Lougheed’s NEP wars he dealt with Pierre Trudeau, a centralizing and power controlling Liberal Prime Minister.

One wonders, based on reports of Lougheed’s comments this week, if he sees this change in leadership as a distinction without a difference when it comes to taking on Alberta...or is Ottawa just Ottawa where Alberta is concerned?