Notley demands a ‘yes’ on pipeline for Alberta oil as province struggles with deficit


CALGARY — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, once a reluctant defender of the oilpatch, now says she won’t take no for an answer on getting a bitumen pipeline to tidewater.

The NDP premier made the pledge in a televised speech to Albertans on Thursday evening, a week before presenting a budget that will come with a $10-billion-plus deficit and help for the needy as the once oil-rich province struggles with a price shock that has destroyed government revenue, investment and jobs.

“We can’t continue to support Canada’s economy, unless Canada supports us,” she said. “That means one thing: building a modern and carefully regulated pipeline to tidewater,” she said. “I can promise you this: I won’t let up. We must get to ‘yes’ on a pipeline.”

In the 15-minute address, pre-recorded from her kitchen Tuesday, Notley spoke frankly about the “economic pain and anxiety” felt by Alberta families and about the challenges her government was up against.

Revenue from oil and gas royalties will plummet by almost 90 per cent this year, she said.

Two years ago, it collected $10 billion in royalties, which represented one-fifth of government revenue.

Notley said she appreciates efforts by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to improve unemployment insurance for Alberta’s jobless, but was critical of the exclusion of Edmonton and surrounding communities, which she said needs to be fixed.

She said Ottawa needs to give Alberta the tools to better manage its economic crisis by allowing its oil to reach new markets.

“It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the energy exports that are permitted under our climate leadership plan get the best possible world price,” she said. “We must get this done, or everybody loses. Let’s leave the divisive battles of the past in the past, and keep working together.”

Notley’s impatience about getting a pipeline approved marks a change in tone since her election last year, which scuttled four decades of Conservative rule.

Over the past decade, the oil and gas industry has proposed several plans to diversify the market for its oil to eliminate discounts due to its dependence on a single market, the United States. But the plans have been frustrated by opposition from environmental organizations, aboriginals, and provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec worried about oil spills and demanding benefits.

During her election campaign and early in her mandate, Notley sided with critics. She said she would not lobby for the Keystone XL pipeline to link Alberta’s oil deposits to refineries in Texas, was opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, jacked up corporate taxes that hit oil companies hard, and increased taxes for those with higher incomes.

But she addressed many of the perceived shortcomings by implementing an aggressive climate change plan and boosting environmental oversight, capping carbon emissions from the oilsands and supporting green energy to address the concerns of pipeline opponents.

We must get this done, or everybody loses. Let’s leave the divisive battles of the past in the past.

She also backed off from increasing royalties and worked co-operatively with the sector, which is in survival mode after 18 months of rock bottom oil prices as a result of a price war started by Saudi Arabia to push competitors out of business.

Some 110,000 direct and indirect jobs have been lost and investment is down 62 per cent, to $31 billion in 2016 from a record $81 billion in 2014, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said Thursday.

Notley said the province is “dangerously dependent on the price of oil” and the budget will include initiatives to promote economic diversification, such as investment in infrastructure and green energy.