David Staples: Sohi missing one key ingredient to stop Conservative tidal wave

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Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods, has worked hard on negotiations with Indigenous groups on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion but unless more crude flows to the B.C. coast for export before the next federal election, his future political ambitions do not look promising.


Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press, file

A tidal wave of conservatism is cascading over Alberta, but you’d never know it by watching and listening to Amarjeet Sohi.

There he was on Wednesday, Canada’s federal minister of Natural Resources and Edmonton’s champion in the Trudeau cabinet, as calm and measured as ever. Sohi stood before a luncheon gathering of Edmonton business people at a Chamber of Commerce office and gave the hard sell on the Liberal plan for Canada’s economy.

Of course, Sohi has some reason to be upbeat. He’s worked hard on negotiations with Indigenous groups on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This paid off three weeks ago with the federal cabinet’s approval of TMX.

But there’s no denying that cresting blue wave of conservatism ready to wipe out every Liberal seat in Alberta, if not every single one between hoity toity Vancouver and working class Winnipeg.

That most reliable of polling aggregators, Canada338.com, has the Conservatives with 60 per cent support in Alberta, with likely-to-safe leads in 33 out of 34 constituencies. Only Edmonton-Strathcona leans New Democrat.

But at the chamber luncheon, Sohi sailed serenely ahead, voicing the Liberal’s mantra about the need for balance, to take care of the environment while also developing worthy natural resource projects, including “clean oil and gas.”

“We want to make sure that Canada is the supplier of choice for the world when it comes to energy.”

The pipeline expansion will start to be built in September and will create thousands of jobs, Sohi said. It will move Canada’s oil export market away from its 99 per cent dependence on the U.S. market.

The minister talks a good game, but his problem is authenticity. Are his federal Liberals truly committed to oil and gas exports or just bumbling along and doing the bare minimum?

Sohi’s narrative is that the Harper government was failures on oil and gas, mainly because it had a bad process for pipeline assessment that largely excluded Indigenous communities and avoided climate change concerns. This created unrest in First Nations and with many Canadians.

With Liberal leadership, Sohi said there will now be three new major pipelines — Trans Mountain expansion, Line 3 and Keystone XL — built in the next few years, enough capacity to handle new oilsands production until 2035.

But a competing narrative drives mistrust of the Liberals. It posits that U.S. foundations, with the now admitted goal of land-locking the Canadian oilsands, pumped tens of millions of dollars into Canadian green and social justice groups to demonize our so-called “dirty oil.”

As researcher Vivian Krause has shown, this funding was executed for years in secret and disguised as a grassroots effort.

The “dirty oil” campaign received a bonus beyond its wildest dreams, writes retired Alberta oil executive Gwyn Morgan in The Financial Post, when Justin Trudeau appointed to his government numerous leaders from these Canadian activist groups, such as Gerald Butts in the PMO, Marlo Raynolds in Environment and Zoe Caron in Natural Resources.

Such powerful insiders then pushed the Trudeau government to effectively thwart the Northern Gateway and Energy East pipeline projects, ban all future Alberta crude exports off the northwest B.C. coast with Bill C-48, and bring in a new pipeline assessment process, Bill C-69, packed with new litigation triggers that pipeline opponents can use in court to shut down future projects.

When I put Krause and Morgan’s critique to Sohi, he said: “I think the people that work within our government are committed Canadians. They deeply care about our economy, creating jobs. They deeply care about the well-being of working-class Canadians. They deeply care that we need to continue to develop our resources in a sustainable way. They also deeply care about the environment and about Indigenous rights.”

Sohi said Liberal actions speak loudest here. “We are the government that took the necessary step to purchase a pipeline when it would have basically failed, when the private sector was walking away from the project.”

He added: “A question I pose to those skeptics is that, ‘Why would we go to such a length to save a project that is important to Alberta, that is important to Canada, if we did not believe in the energy sector?’”

It’s a good question. But given the momentum of the Conservatives, and given that new legal challenges have already popped up on the much-delayed Trans Mountain expansion, I doubt it’s enough to satisfy voters here.

Only one thing would have stopped the blue wave: a new pipeline full of black Alberta crude flowing to B.C.

But it’s not flowing, not in time to prove Sohi correct and to bring him electoral success.



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July 12, 2019 |

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