Making a case for the oil sands

Alberta Enterprise Group says oil sands are key to Canada's economy

AP Photo / Jeff McIntosh

Back in 2007, the Alberta Enterprise Group, then a new business organization, sent a delegation to Washington as its first big initiative—only to be greeted by global warming activists dressed as polar bears. Three years later and those same environmental image problems have prompted the group to shift its focus from selling Alberta abroad to shoring up its image at home. “The challenge isn’t just in Washington and Europe,” says David MacLean, the group’s vice-president, “it’s right here in our own backyard.”

So this week the group brought a delegation of 50 to Parliament Hill to make the case that Alberta is centrally important to the Canadian economy, a case that might have seemed obvious in an Albertan Prime Minister’s Ottawa. MacLean chose a surprising comparison to illustrate what the oil sands mean to the country as a whole. “When they bailed out the banks last year, they said they were too big to fail,” he said. “I think Canada’s energy project is too big to fail. We need to get it right.”

MacLean wasn’t precise about his group’s view of the right policy mix. They accept the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector, but contend that Ottawa should rely mainly on “rewards for private-sector investment in technology.” Just now there’s no great sense of urgency on the file, since the Conservatives are committed to harmonizing with whatever approach the U.S. adopts, and progress in Washington toward a new emissions law is sluggish.

With few hard policy details to argue about, Canadian politicians—and not just Tories—welcomed the Albertans. “The reception has been wonderful,” MacLean said, “especially Michael Ignatieff’s office.” Maybe Alberta’s economic and political stature is better understood than the province’s lobbyists feared.