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

20 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.

    • Rick says:

      The job losses due to the drop in oil price is very bad. But there are 4.2

    • Les Johnston says:

      Amen! Sign me up!

    • Alana says:

      Did you actually read the article? you may view Brian Jean’s statements as “standing up for Albertans,” but as the article states, the very people he needs support from to HELP Albertans get their jobs back are the ones that Jean is losing support from. If the eastern premiers mayors and other politicos make a big enough stink, the feds will kibosh Energy East. And as the article states, because of Christy Clarke and her BC gov’ts 5 conditions for pipelines, Trans Mountain is struggling and Northern Gateway is an almost dead project. So while you can’t get past the fact that Brian Jean’s comments are actually HURTING the process, you can thank Rachel Notley and the NDP government for doing what so many PC and WR supporters in this province have been condemning her for – they keep complaining that she’s not doing enough to get people back to work in O&G. Well, from the information in this article, I see that as a wholly untrue statement now. Just because she’s not grandstanding about it, people think she’s doing nothing. And the mainstream media won’t report on what she is doing, save for the shortest soundbites they can manage and still call themselves “real” news. Perhaps instead of whining about what you think the AB government “isn’t doing,” perhaps you should fight against what the other politicos and provinical/territorial/municipal governments are doing to stop these projects.

  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.

    • Chris says:

      Rural simpletons are the backbone of this province. You’d do well to remember where your food and fuel come from.

      • Julie Ali says:

        Thank you for responding on behalf of rural Albertans. It never fails to amaze me how city folks denigrate rural folks as country hicks when in fact the rural folks are pretty smart citizens.

        I believe it might be productive to reflect on the concerns of rural folks as voiced by the Wildrose Party. What are they trying to say to the rest of Alberta? And are we listening to them?

        Instead of putting them down, why don’t we try to listen to rural and city Albertans who are not whining by the way but who are dealing with problems such as unemployment, loss of homes and debt. Mr. Jean seems to be a nice man. I see no reason to insult him or Ms. Notley when remarking on their performance.

  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?

    • Alana says:

      and do you truly think that the past PC governments didn’t cowtow to the big oil companies and basically give them “free money” with a 1% royalty on crude oil? And why were so few refineries built in this province to upgrade our crude? Because the PCs did deals with big oil and countries like China to send our crude offshore to be upgraded, so the big oil companies and countries like China didn’t have to pay the 40% royalty for refined product.

      don’t get up on your high horse about “backroom deals” and the NDP. Have you been watching the news and all the fuss about the PC government and the “Enron clause”? you think that’s the only backroom deal the PCs did? Pffft, you’re the one living in a dream world. You’re bashing the NDP for doing backroom deals with big oil, and condemning her for getting in bed with big oil. Yet, between the lines of your statement, you are still saying that we need the O&G industry. yeah, we do need O&G industry. And just like every other government, we have to play the game, because governments really don’t run things anymore, the corporations have all the power now. But we also have to play in the sandbox with the other provinces if we want our product running over their territory. And that means climate change plans that are acceptable to other provinces. Perhaps all the folks from the rest of Canada who came rushing to Alberta for jobs during the boom would be wise to tell their provincial/territorial/municipal governments to get onboard with the pipelines, lest all of Canada, and Canadians suffer the economic consequences

  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.

    • Willy says:

      You say Union like its a bad thing. If it wasn’t for unions I’d like to see what the average wage would be. Also don’t forget who builds and maintains the oil sands, mainly Union contractors (well, was mainly a few years ago until non Union signed contracts that under cut everything unions taught for).

  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.

  9. John says:

    The wildrose and conservatives would love to see Notley fail in getting pipelines built. They will do everything they can to see that happen. Then they can sit back and say she did nothing. They don’t give a crap about the people out of work, they just care about making the NDP a one term government.

  10. Mike says:

    Hey Quebec. Just keep buying those tankers full of oil from the Suadi Arabia so they can continually fund radical groups in the middle east. Kiĺling women and children. When the western provinces equalization payments stop don’t be whining and sniveling to anyone but yourselves.

  11. Lenore says:

    And you think that Redford didn’t use “backroom deals”. There wasn’t one PCer that didn’t use “under the table deals” most of the time. They NEVER thought of the people that put them into office and as long as the oil flowed and they could fill their pockets, the voters had no say in our province or any other decision the PC’s instilled into “their law”. They put Alberta into debt (and don’t tell me that Ralph paid off the debt, because he did so by selling off all our assets and when the oil went belly up we had nothing to fall back on). The oil patch was in the tank before the NDP took power so Premier Notley did not cause this recession in our province she inherited it. Now that she is trying to do some good for the province with no resources to fall back on (we don’t even have a Heritage Trust Fund anymore because the PC’s conveniently got rid of that too) everyone is knocking her for spending money. If you don’t spend money you will have nothing. the pipelines are a must. They will create jobs not only in Alberta but across the country. There are too many disgruntled people in Alberta, all use to making the big bucks in the oil patch, but how about the ones that spent their paycheck two or three years in advance because they needed all the toys to go with their high priced homes and vehicles. Now they don’t want to lose them and live the life they were accustomed to. Well, nobody seems to remember that the oil patch went on it’s rear a few years ago and a know fact that history repeats itself. The PC’s just helped it along by trying to drill the province out in two or three years. In the meantime, while everyone in the patch seemed to be flying high, the stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. all wanted a piece of the action and up went their prices to match oil field prices. Did they think that everyone in Alberta worked in oil? So the rest of us paid the piper and you who worked in oil, never gave us a thought. Our wages, compared to yours, was peanuts but if we needed to buy something we paid dearly while you just paid without a second thought because you had the bucks. Now the shoe is on the other foot because you forgot to save a few pennies, and the prices have remained the same. Most of the people in the province are in the same boat so quit your whining. Go our a get yourself a job that maybe doesn’t pay 5000.00 or 10,000.00 a month but it will give you some satisfaction in knowing that you tried, (maybe). For those who didn’t work in the oil patch and find it hard to make end meet, I tip my hat to you because we know how to survive. UI seems to be the answer for a lot of people but that runs out too. Talk to the big oil companies that run the world’s oil and ask them to turn on the taps. Don’t put blame where blame does not belong. We need pipelines. Alberta has the oil and gas resources to refine their own. Put in the pipelines and refineries and support your government. If we refine our own crude oil we WILL be the richest province in Canada. That may be a little threatening to some provinces but I’m sure they will all get their share. All of Canada can be self-sufficient only if you help the cause and not try to hinder it. Be proud of what your Premier is trying to accomplish to make things better….and the only way to do it is by spending the money to get things done.

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