Alberta’s New Democratic Premier Rachel Notley has more in common with the late, much revered provincial premier Peter Lougheed than with the later Ralph Klein when it comes to managing development of the province’s tar sands/oil sands, Calgary author, researcher, and journalist Gillian Steward concludes after studying half a century of bitumen policy in the province.
As Alberta’s premier for three terms from 1971 until 1985, Lougheed supported development of the bitumen resource, Steward writes in Betting on Bitumen, produced for the Corporate Mapping Project. But the popular premier also “saw government as a counterweight to the economic power and influence of the petroleum industry. He believed that since government managed natural resources on behalf of Albertans, it had a responsibility to obtain as much revenue and other benefits as possible from those resources.”
Klein, who came to power in Alberta in 1992, “gave almost full rein to the industry while sidelining other stakeholders,” Steward recalls. Taking its policy cues from the Alberta Chamber of Resources (ACR), “an industry association comprising oil producers, pipeline operators, oil well servicing companies, and other businesses providing goods and services to the oil and gas industry,” Klein’s government allowed tar sands/oil sands operators to “pay lower income taxes and pay almost no royalties on bitumen until all construction costs for new projects had been recovered.” It also “agreed to fast-track approval processes and environmental reviews.”
Klein’s approach put “industry in the driver’s seat and the government in the passenger seat,” Steward writes. “No longer would governments be overseers and financial partners—they would be mere facilitators, removing obstacles so the industry could forge ahead on its own terms.”
In contrasting the two Conservative premiers’ records, Steward concludes, “it also becomes clear that Rachel Notley’s NDP government leans more to the Lougheed model than the Klein model.” Far from socialist revolutionary, Notley is a throwback to an era when Canada’s Conservatives embraced social obligation alongside social censure and corporate profit as values.