Braid: Notley’s petrochemical promise doesn’t have election liftoff

On Thursday, Premier Rachel Notley promised more than $50 billion in petrochemical industry investment.

She was talking to stakeholders at the Industrial Heartland conference in Edmonton — the very people, in the very place, that would benefit the most.

And yet, nobody applauded. Nobody cheered.

She first said incentives for the new Inter Pipeline Petrochemical Complex project east of Edmonton has attracted $3.5 billion in private investment.

Then she added: “Imagine taking what we’ve done with Inter Pipeline and multiplying it by more than 15 times — that’s what our Made In Alberta plan means.”

Fifteen multiplied by $3.5 billion equals $52.5 billion in industry spending.

That’s a heck of a promise. You’d expect a twitch of life from the audience.

When Notley talks to a quiet crowd, she likes to say people were just paying close attention.

There is, however, a big difference between attentiveness and rigor mortis.

The signal is dangerous for the NDP because she was pitching her party’s core re-election strategy. If people find it hard to believe, that’s big trouble.

The early slogan is “The Future is coming — and it’s Made in Alberta.” This is a major government (not party) campaign on TV and social media. It focuses on upgrading oil, gas and other resources at home.

The promise is supposed to make people look beyond the Trans Mountain pipeline failures to a bright future that’s entirely in Alberta’s control.

Edmonton thrived for years as the staging point for northern oilsands growth. Massive petrochemical expansion would bring another economic burst (as well as equally huge environmental controversy).

A flare stack lights the sky along refinery row in Edmonton on Dec. 28, 2018.

But if this campaign isn’t firing people up in Edmonton, it’s likely dead on arrival in the rest of the province.

The program isn’t opportunistic, though. The NDP has advocated more upgrading and refining for decades. In government, Notley provided royalty incentives that attracted Inter Pipeline. She says talks are now underway with 14 companies.

What’s new, though, is the incentive program’s suddenly high importance to the re-election campaign. Notley’s claims about the mammoth scope and benefit seem to be inflating along with the election stakes.

The premier is by no means abandoning the pipeline fight. She continues to crank up the anti-Ottawa rhetoric, joking that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would like to put her on an ice floe.

But, in general, the NDP would much rather have you think about petrochemicals than pipelines.

After praising the diversification plan, Notley turned her sights on Jason Kenney and the UCP.


“The opposition in Alberta has no interest in diversifying our energy sector,” she said. “The choice as to whether we continue to diversify or bring it all to a screeching halt is in every way on the ballot in the next election.”

The UCP’s caucus spokeswoman, Christine Myatt, countered:

“The premier’s claims are patently false and this is just more of the same ridiculous desperation we’ve seen recently from the NDP.

“Jason has spoken at length about his plans to renew the Alberta Advantage and reignite our economy, which will help further diversify by attracting job-creating investment back to Alberta.”

Notley also claimed that Kenney would impose road tolls virtually everywhere.

“Tolls when you ship your equipment …

“Tolls when workers commute.

“Tolls on the weekend, when you head to Costco, to soccer, anywhere.

“Mr. Kenney needs to come clean about what his plan to toll your road is going to cost you, your family and your business.”

To this, Myatt said: “The United Conservatives have never suggested applying tolls to existing public infrastructure.

“This is more fear-mongering from an NDP unable to run on its own record.”

She said Kenney was talking about a common device used in other provinces — tolls to help pay for new infrastructure serving industry.

We haven’t seen full campaign platforms yet, of course, and nothing at all from the UCP.

There’s a long way to go, but already it seems the NDP will need a lot more than petrochemicals.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics

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