Brian Jean may sabotage emerging political deal for Energy East

Rachel Notley’s quiet Energy East diplomacy starting to pay off, but Brian Jean’s hardline comments may damage Eastern political support

Someone needs to tell Wildrose Leader Brian Jean his shrill demands for the Canadian government to approve pipelines for Alberta bitumen exports aren’t helping.


Brian Jean, leader of the Alberta Wildrose Party.

Jean has been all over national media criticizing Premier Rachel Notley for not supporting the Alberta energy industry, specifically new pipelines, which are currently getting a rough ride from Quebec mayors, who announced their opposition to the Energy East project on Thursday.

Now, Jean is the leader of the Alberta Official Opposition and it’s his job to criticize Notley and her government. That’s the way the system works. From that point of view, his comment are perfectly legitimate.

They just may not be helpful. In fact, they may damage the prospects of ever getting approval for the very pipeline projects Jean says he supports.

Let me explain.

Brian Jean

Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley.

I’ve written columns, as well as a thorough piece in Alberta Oil Magazine, describing how the Canadian Constitution and legal precedent gives the federal government exclusive right to approve and regulate inter-provincial pipelines. Provincial and municipal governments have no authority. Zero. In fact, they are constrained by law from impeding Ottawa with their own laws, bylaws, and regulations.

Which leaves them one and only option to oppose pipeline projects: politics.

Local politics matter when it comes to pipelines.

And a potent combination of municipal politicians, well funded eco-activists like Greenpeace, and First Nations have come together to marshall political opposition to Energy East (TransCanada), Northern Gateway (Enbridge), and Trans Mountain Expansion (Kinder Morgan).

This loose knit coalition brought – and is continuing to bring – tremendous pressure to bear on the BC pipeline projects. Northern Gateway is considered by many to be dead. Trans Mountain is in big trouble, primarily because of opposition from Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan. And Christy Clark’s Liberal government is deftly painting the pipeline operators into a corner with her five conditions.

Brian Jean

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is a vocal pipeline opponent.

The exact same process is beginning to play out in Ontario and Quebec. And if the politics aren’t handled differently, a reasonable person could conclude Energy East will be hobbled in the same fashion as the BC proposals.

But this time around the politics are different. Or, at least, they could be.

I predicted last year, when the premiers announced their national energy strategy, that the stage was being set for Alberta to broker a “climate change initiatives for pipelines deal” with Ontario and Quebec. The idea is that if Alberta shows it is prepared to join the emerging political consensus on climate change and economic decarbonization, political support will be forthcoming for new pipelines to get more bitumen to tidewater and American markets.

Sure enough, late last year Notley’s NDP government announced its climate strategy, including a province-wide carbon tax, the end to coal for power generation, and a generous emissions cap for the Alberta oil sands. On the stage during her announcement were four high profile oil and gas company CEOs. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers supported the new policies as a strategy to gain market access.

The CEOs are not fools. They understand that when President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, he signaled to the world that fossil fuels had lost the battle for social license. Henceforth, it was either get on board the climate change train or be left at the station.

Brian Jean

Kathleen Wynne, Ontario premier.

Since that announcement, Notley has been quietly stumping in favor of Trans Mountain and Energy East.

In fact, what she’s doing is old-fashioned Canadian politics, building a base of support behind the scenes with the key movers and shakers in other provinces where she needs backing.

Is it working? Well, here is the statement released by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Friday morning: “I have said all along that we need to balance what must be done to address climate change and protect our environment and the development of our energy resources. That is why the Canadian Energy Strategy is so important. Alberta’s new climate plan – in particular the cap on emissions from the oil sands – makes the national conversation about climate targets and pipelines easier. We appreciate that there is a need for a way to get Canadian oil, which is allowed under Alberta’s new emission cap to overseas markets. And the people of Ontario care a great deal about the national economy and the potential jobs this proposed pipeline project could create in our province and across the country.”

Score one for Notley. A big one.

Brian Jean

Denis Coderre, mayor of Montreal.

Next up, Quebec. Which is why Jean’s rants during national interviews are hurting the cause. Here is Montreal Mayor Dennis Coderre speaking on a popular Radio Canada show about Jean: “First of all, you have to allow me a moment to laugh at a guy like Brian Jean, when he says he relies on science. These are the same guys who think the Flintstones is a documentary. But that’s another story.”

Jean has become a joke in Eastern Canada and that matters because he reinforces the redneck cowboy image so many other Canadians have of Albertans.

Normally, I’d ask who gives a damn what Quebecers (or Ontarians or British Columbians) think of Alberta? The Wildrose province is currently – or was until recently – the economic engine of the country and doesn’t have to kowtow to the mayor of Montreal.

But its premier does have to execute some deft political stratagems during the coming year or two.

And Brian Jean is likely making a tough job that much harder.

The Wildrose leader has to make a choice: Scoring easy political points with his Alberta political base or ensuring he doesn’t sabotage the emerging but still fragile political consensus Notley is building in favor of Energy East.

If getting Energy East built and Alberta bitumen to new markets is really the objective, Jean should rethink his current approach.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

11 Comments on "Brian Jean may sabotage emerging political deal for Energy East"

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  1. jack kent says:

    The reasonableness of the tone masks the unreasonableness of the argument. If standing up for 100,000 people who have lost their jobs and speaking on behalf of 4 million people who have subsidized Quebec’s cadillac social services for two generations only to be mocked and kicked when they are down makes someone a redneck, then sign me up.

  2. Darrell Roth says:

    Jean should be assisting Rachel in getting Energy East for the good of Canada and not acting like a clueless dumb ass.

    • Cathie Reid says:

      Energy East is not for the “good of Canada” it is for private/foreign profit and carries unacceptable externality taxpayer and climate impact risks.

  3. Douglas Taylor says:

    Brian Jean is a true bull in a china shop. Yes he has a soapbox as a Leader of the Opposition in our legislature but the man’s style is all pious and bombastic. He has no capacity for dialogue or collaboration. He only reflects a bunch of rural simpletons whose only mode is to whine and finger wave.

  4. Shayne says:

    I can’t say that I disagree with everything that you have said here but I do have to comment on the fact that if you believe that Rachel was working back room politics in favor of pipelines more than a month ago it was news to Alberta.

    She has been criticizing pipelines consistently sincere before she got elected and until December had no use for Alberta oil. I think it is finally sinking in how badly her policies are hurting the province and how badly she needs the revenue you continue on her mad spending spree.

    Justin has recently woken up to the same hard truth.

    As for how Rachel got the oil companies to back her plan you should cite some research you did because her plan is to tax the people to pay the oil companies. Why would they not get on board with free money?

  5. Kevin says:

    I suppose by that reasoning, with the commentary by Rick mercer recently, that he’s a redneck, and undermining Notleys progress. It’s time to call a spade a spade. As much as I hated the woman, Redford advanced albertas cause with Ontario before Notley even got on the pipeline bandwagon

  6. Mark says:

    You people are insane to believe any of this crap. Notley, NDP are anything but for Albertas energy sector. They are nothing more than finally realizing that the golden goose doesn’t actually have to stay here. There has never in history showed that this system of government works. Anybody that is pro for this is either Union or eagerly waiting with their handout.

  7. Travis MacDonald says:

    The two biggest receivers for equalization are Quebec and Ontario. Forgive my euphemism,but least Ontario realizes that you have to feed the cow to get the milk. Quebec just expects the milk to keep flowing!

  8. Welma says:

    Could the Anonymous people at least make up itrinesteng fake names so it’s easier to follow this and comment?Party of One’s suggestion of a non-partisan group to discuss topics with their elected official is amazing but could it ever happen? Does Linda Duncan want or need to engage with those in her riding that work for Big Oil (even those that work for Big Oil and own kitchen tables?) Does a Laurie Hawn want to meet with the local arts community (or do they want to meet with him?)Often groups find it way better just to complain over their Trad than ask to meet and talk.Paula Simons grading of Brian Mason was pretty accurate. He’s a perfect example of a politician who sounds like he revels in opposition where as you could actually see Rachel Notley as a cabinet minister.

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