Iggy flirts with the West

Why the Liberal leader is making goo-goo eyes at the Alberta oil sands


Iggy flirts with the West

Over the last few days, in an apparently deliberate attempt to signal a shift in the federal Liberal Party’s approach to Alberta, rookie leader Michael Ignatieff has been busy wooing the oil sands, that homely but lucrative spot in the Western hinterlands. This from the party that, under former leader Stéphane Dion, campaigned on the Green Shift? “It’s kind if astonishing,” laughs Michael Bliss, the retired University of Toronto historian and distinguished political observer. “If you were a Liberal follower, it’s like when the party line changes in Moscow—you’ve suddenly got to be very agile. You run in the election campaign in favour of carbon taxes and all of a sudden you’re a friend of the tar sands.”

The first smell of this came, appropriately enough, in Vancouver’s Gastown district last week during a pub-night exchange between Ignatieff and a group of youthful Liberals. It was all caught on video, including the hubbub that erupted when Ignatieff declared: “This is where a chill falls over the room because everybody expects me to say they’re terrible and shut them down.” Then he raises his voice above the crowd. “Absolutely not,” he cries. Describing the oil sands as “awe-inspiring,” he goes on to argue that the resource gives Canada hammer in the world. Then there’s the little side issue of Alberta. “Energy policy in our country is a national unity issue,” he says. “The dumbest thing you can do, and no Liberal must ever do it, is run against Alberta, make Alberta the enemy.”

What is he up to? Such a liability is the Liberal brand in Alberta that the provincial iteration of the party is now considering dropping the name entirely. Surely Ignatieff doesn’t believe he can make inroads in Alberta by making nice-nice with its sands?

“I think the question is whether he’s doing it deliberately or whether he’s winging it and making up policy on the fly,” says Bliss, making reference to Ignatieff’s bungles on the Quebec nation question and Israel’s bombing of the village of Qana, in Lebanon, during the 2006 Liberal leadership race. “He has had a tendency in the past to get into Joe Bidenisms.”

But Ignatieff’s position on the Alberta oil sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases, appears deliberate, thought out, strategic. He has repeated it in a chat with the Calgary Herald editorial board and, this week, during a question and answer event with students in Quebec, in full view of le Trudeau.

What does he have to lose? “Given that the oil sands are in such desperate shape right now,” says Canada West Foundation President and CEO Roger Gibbins, “it’s kind of a free ride for Ignatieff to say good things about the oil sands because the environmental critique has kind of lost a lot of its sting.” Adds Gibbins: “It’s also a recognition that the political agenda has shifted in a very significant way from concern about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions to a concern about the economy.”

More than that, the shift in position has much to recommend it, says University of Calgary political scientist and former Harper advisor Tom Flanagan. “I think it’s part of a broader strategy to bring the Liberal Party back into the centre,” he says. Indeed, Ignatieff has been stepping in line with the Tories in a number of ways: by stepping back from the Bloc-supported Liberal-NDP coalition, now making goo-goo eyes at the oil sands, and by taking a position on Israel’s Gaza offensive similar to that of the Conservatives.

Ignatieff, then, is matching the Harper government, biding his time until an issue emerges that he can seize on and take the advantage. “Harper did quite a lot of this too when he was leader of the opposition,” says Flanagan. “Moving the Liberals to the centre is a short term necessity for Ignatieff –and the oil sands position is part of that.”

That’s the short term. But Ignatieff’s cozying up to Alberta hints something more far-fetched. Ever think a one-time Reformer (Harper) would ever make inroads in Quebec? How about 10 Tory seats in the province in 2006 (we’ll forget what happened last November). Is it so far-fetched to think the Liberals could, years down the road, do similar magic? “Ignatieff has said repeatedly that the Liberal party has to rebuild in the west,” says Flanagan. “They have to have more western support if they ever hope to form any kind of stable government again.”

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Iggy flirts with the West

  1. I gotta give the guy a few cookies for this move -> straight to the perceived heart of the hated enemy … maybe for real or maybe a gambit – who knows … way to go Iggy keep em guessing.

  2. I gotta say, if Iggy continues to talk like Alberta exists and is somehow important to his party… I might have to consider voting for them. Or, at the very least, start paying attention to whomever they decide to run as a candidate in my riding.

  3. That’s all it took? You guys are cheap dates.

    • Well, it could have to do with the fact that I’m naturally left-leaning, but haven’t particularly enjoyed being treated like a political liability my entire adult life simply because you could win cheap political points in the more populated portion of the country by attacking the interests of people in mine. It’s not that everyone in the west is unwilling to vote Liberal; it’s that they’ve rarely given us much reason to. Or even any indication that they want us to.

      • well said

  4. Alberta won’t vote for Liberals in a big way. NEP will never be forgotten or forgiven. Best outcome would be perhaps a few Edmonton seats… I wouldn’t count on that much.

    Not sure what Iggy’s up to.

    • Alberta can be won back..People are tired of almost 40yrs of being a one party state. They’ve never had a real alternative.

    • Brain Mulroney once won the largest majority in history and later lost all but two seats albeit he quit and let Kim Campbell take the fall ……. so who knows? …. but this we do know …. all voters like to have a good second choice if for no other reason it keeps their demands on the front burner ….. taking anything for granted is never considered wise…. so spouting off about the long ago NEP with billions of yet to be sifted Tar Sands means very little. All politics is local, a PM from Quebec is almost mandatory for a sound majority and greed is here to stay like it or not …. Justice is fine but give me my share first eh. So what is Alberta to do …… take a chance on a government that meets there needs and can give them 4-8 solid years of support without National issues clouding them …… that they would take in heartbeat

  5. What’s so hard to understand? If (and I admit, these are big ifs) the tar-sands can be exploited in a way that is environmentally-responsible and doesn’t distort the national economy the way petroleum distorted the economy of the Netherlands (and which the Norwegians prudently avoided) there shouldn’t be any objection to that on the basis of good environmental stewardship and good economics alone. There can be other objections to them (like exploiting a resource to feed unsustainable consumption habits, disregarding Canada’s energy security, wasting the last of fossil fuels without regard to transitioning away from them and finally, the objection to revenues from tar-sands exploitation financing the climate-change denial industry), but the basic issues are not really political nor ideological, decades of NEP propaganda notwithstanding.

    • “If the tar sands can be exploited in a way that is environmentally-responsible…”

      Sure, Ti-Guy, that shouldn’t be any more difficult than finding a way to eat kosher pork, or responsibly avoiding risk of STDs while having regular no-condom anal sex with a crack-addicted transvestite on the Downtown East Side, or work with the armaments production industry to promote peace whilst simultaneously increasing weapons exports.

      At some point we have to stop lying to ourselves by pretending that there are no tough decisions to make.

      • Sure, Ti-Guy, that shouldn’t be any more difficult than finding a way to eat kosher pork…

        Comparaison n’est pas raison.

        I did say they were “big ifs.”

      • LMAO…haha…poor green fanatics. Sold out once again by the latest savior. What did you expect? Iggie actually wants to get elected. His memory only needs to be a few months long to remember what happened to the last guy who wanted massive taxes on gasoline, heating oil, desiel and just about anything else that moved. And that was when times were good. Canadians roundly rejected Dion and his goofy plans , even with Lizzie May’s last minute shananigans. His own party then threw him under the bus. Rather ironic too, as he stomped out the door with his backpack he couldn’t take his beloved transit back home as the drivers were on strike. Holy cow Cdn, take a pill! The rethoric! STD’s, crack addicts, transvestites, nuclear holecaust, everything but bigfoot. Anyway keep ranting because I predicted this exactly and you are in for another massive disapointment from Obama. He will make all the right sound bites(in very earnest tones),surround himself with earnest greenies who will write reports and collect hansome pay checks and shut up. It will all be put on the back burner(no pun intended, well kinda),and Omaba will get to work on real problems like getting millions of people back to work who are leaving a zero carbon footprint because they are destitute. I know, you’re gonna tell me we can put them all back to work making windmills, ya right. Cheers

        • I’d rather listen to green fanatics than insufferable boors.

          • God, don’t listen to yourself then, you will probably catch fire. I notice all you could do is name call as you usually do..oh wait, dazzle everyone with a few french phrases, that will do instead of rational argument.

          • Don’t a churlish as well as insufferable. It doesn’t become.

  6. After the oil sands are depleted, nature will take over and in 20 years there will be little evidence of what was removed. We do lot of worse things to the environment than this, why pick on the oil sands which afterall produces something we desperately need for now. Alternative? Send your money to stone age minded middle easterners who use your money to fund bad guys. This is a no brainer, go Alberta!

    • Really! Go up there and take a look! yes it’s important economically but don’t pretend that there’s no lasting damage there.

      • You mean like the lasting damage the City of Toronto has done to the environment. Did you know that the area of Oil sands that are mineable for shovels in open pit total about 8200 sqkm and less that 500 sqkm have been mined since the 1960’s.(over 50 years) Metro Toronto is spread out over 7000 sqkm.
        Hmmmm…. 500 compared to 7000. Who has done more damage to the earth?

        • Nothern Alberta is not being turned into a

          • – disaster area for homes or whatever. If the plans for the area do get implemented we are looking at an area the size of Switzerland being impacted. Albertan’s themselves should be concerned with impact on the environment.

    • Two points: it’ll be centuries before they are depleted, and much of the land rehab is being done by the oil companies, giving nature a big break. Otherwise, I agree completely.

  7. It seems everybody is either for or against the Alberta tar sands development. If you are an environmentalist you want to shut down the tar sands production; if you are an Albertan, you may favour rapid, uncontrolled expansion.

    Neither of these extremes is a responsible position to take. The tar sands are a valuable resource and may be the key to our future prosperity. But we need to balance growth with environmental responsibility and no one seems to advocate this balanced approach.

    GNG gas emissions from tar sands can be reduced – with new carbon capture technology.But we need to force the industry to do this, by better environmental regulation. We dont need vague targets but active legislation to control GNG levels. Its the same with the pollution on the ground – the industry can clean up the tar ponds if it has to do it due to regulations that are enforced.

    We need to encourage rapid development of tar sands but with more regulations in place and with more enforcement . Even more important, the regulations must be seen to be in place, so countries like the US have no hesitation in buying Alberta oil. Also, we need more stories in the press about how the oil producers are cleaning up the tar ponds.

    Please do read more of my writing at http://www.wecanadians.com.

    • Please dispense with the straw-man argument. No one, not the most ardent oilsands fanatic, is advocating “uncontrolled” development. The middle ground has, essentially, already been reached; it’s just the enviro-fanatics who refuse to recognize that fact. Carbon capture, if it ever takes off, will make the industry more emissions friendly but is essentially irrelevant as the whole GHG issue is a sham, as is increasingly evident.

      You hit the nail on the head with: “Even more important, the regulations must be seen to be in place, so countries like the US have no hesitation in buying Alberta oil.”

  8. Meanwhile the provincial Alberta Liberals are considering a name change, because the brand is perceived as damaged beyond repair.

  9. “Why the Liberal leader is making goo-goo eyes at the Alberta oil sands”

    He likes to waste his time.

  10. I recall Paul Martin words “Western alienation is my top priority”. Than ravaged Albertans as soon as he needed votes in eastern Canada. You see poking Albertans is great fun for Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc. Easterners love it. But don’t call separatists, separatist as Ignatieff has done because it’s offensive.

    Ignatieff will play the game long enough to run against those evil Albertans during an election. Right now it’s great fun watching Liberals change their spots so soon after Dion.
    But I have to ask what about the Liberal alliance with the Green Party?

    • Than ravaged Albertans as soon as he needed votes in eastern Canada

      How exactly did he ravage them?

  11. “Flirting” implies some mutuality of affection, or at least the potential of that. Saying Iggy is “flirting” with Alberta is like saying the homely, high school geek was “flirting” with the homecoming queen.

    Iggy is trolling for votes anyway and anywhere he can. The reality is the Liberals are dead as a political force in all areas of Canada, but for a handful of urban areas. Outside of select urban areas of Montreal, Downtown Toronto and a smattering of Vancouver ridings, Iggy has a lot of “flirting” to do.

    I wonder,

    when he goes out “flirting”, does he leave his seperatist mate waiting in the car. It doesn’t seem that he’s decided to dump her yet.

  12. the comparison with harper in quebec is pretty apt. (though the writer of the article thinks something unmentionable happened last fall, though the news tells me harper kept his seats.)

    I think Ignatieff’s move here is legitimate and heartfelt but does anyone else think that he’s choosing this shift NOW as opposed to six months from now to bait the NDP and Bloc MP’s into trashing him / wanting to leave the coalition?

    writer of article is VERY astute to point out that this is a no-loss move doing it at $35 oil. Iggy is going to be one interesting guy.

  13. Iggy will need to make nice for a long time before he’s actually trusted.
    I like the fact that there’s a liberal out there that can see reason.

    The fact remains that something like 25% of liberal supporters are actually NDP types. These same people will ALWAYS hate Alberta. They would like nothing more than to tax Alberta into oblivion (and anyone else who gets in their way). It would suit them fine if all the energy provinces were depopulated wrecks, correctly subservient to imperial center and its handouts.

    Tell me Iggy, what is to stop the same mysterious elites who elevated you to king, from elevating some crackpot to the throne next? I’ve seen your party in civil war before. Can you promise us that Bob Rae or David Suzuki or even Belinda Stronach won’t suddenly kick you into the same play pen as Dion?

    I don’t think you can.

  14. There is no way this would fly with the NDP. Too non-green. What this tells us is that the Coalition is indeed dead. In turn this tells us that the budget will pass in the House.

    Beyond those, I don’t think it tells us much. Ignatieff is a Liberal, for which the working definition is “one who will say or do anything, without regard to truth or national interest, in order to increase his own political power.” With such people, a statement tells you nothing more than where they think their political interest lies.

    • Ignatieff is a Liberal, for which the working definition is “one who will say or do anything, without regard to truth or national interest, in order to increase his own political power.

      That’s really funny. Seriously, exquisite satire, given the last three years of Conservative rule.

      • The other working definition is “having one’s head so far up one’s ass it sticks out one’s throat”. You qualify.

        I haven’t forgotten your willingness to barter children’s lives for political gain (children in the last few days prior to birth – you may recall this discussion vis a vis the legality of abortion in Canada through all nine months of pregnancy). You have no grounds to criticize with respect to selfish interest over the common good. You are a quintessential Liberal. Pull it out dude. You’d be amazed what the world is like beyond the confines of your large intestine.

  15. 1. Now that is a creepy smile, Iggy. I like it (perhaps that is why I like Harper too).

    2. This move makes sense in the context of Ignatieff’s move on Quebec. What we may see is a switch-around between which party is the centralizer and which the decentralizer in Canada. How to stitch together Alberta and Quebec (Ignatieff”s main front)? Same way Mulroney did – run against Ottawa. This also turns Harper’s captain Canada reaction to the coalition against him. The price? Iggy needs to let up on oil.

  16. No matter how many times it’s repeated by fanatics or lazy headline writers, ALBERTA IS NOT THE WEST. Excuse the caps – NOR CAN ALBERTANS SPEAK FOR “THE WEST.” (if such a place even exists).

    “The West” consists of 3 other provinces besides Alberta. Albertans do not speak for me. Heck, to me they’re also “easterners.” Let *them* freeze in the dark.

    Any benighted place electing the same party as government since the early 1970s (and if you count the Socreds back to what, the 1930s?) has a lot of internal political reform of its own to complete before having any right to preach to any other part of Canada, let alone claim to represent a larger region of the country. Doctors, heal thyselves.

  17. Sure the Conservatives have flip-flopped repeatedly. Each time they told us what they really wanted to do, the opposition blocked them. Flips are not a proud thing for them, but a military like retreat to stay alive. Often during such retreats much infrastructure gets destroyed before the enemy moves in. No one is happy about the loss, but if you can survive long enough to take back what was lost, infrastructure can be rebuilt.

    Take for example of the failure to depoliticize appointments. The retreat position for the Conservatives can never be to give that power away to the Liberals, so heavily political [Conservative] appointments are made instead.

    What I ask, is why did the Liberals flip-flop so much when they had a majority government and the power to install their published vision?