Saturday, February 28, 2009

Michael Ignatieff's Brave New Take on Unity

Ignatieff insists supporting the oil sands supports national unity

For years, federal politicians in Canada had a one-track mind in regards to national unity: please Quebec at all costs.

This view was particularly and logically typical of Liberal leaders, who have needed to maintain their strength in Quebec (along with Ontario) in order to remain formidable. For years being strong in Quebec has promised to make the difference between the Liberals governing and sinking to third party status.

Michael Ignatieff seems to have a new strategy toward national unity: appeal to Western Canada, particularly Alberta.

Speaking to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Ignatieff insisted that the oil sands don't merely benefit Alberta, but rather benefit the entirety of Canada.

"The oilsands are an integral part of the future of Canada," Ignatieff insisted. "No other country in the word would toss away this advantage."

Ignatieff also believes that Canadians are looking at the oilsands in a shortsighted manner. "We're operating this thing like it was the Klondike, and it's not the Klondike. We're going to be there for a century or more," he added.

Not that Ignatieff doesn't understand the environmental issues confronting the oilsands, as underscored in a recent issue of National Geographic.

"We need to be able to stand up for the oilsands and ask the oil industry to do better. These communities need to become environmentally sustainable, but they also need to become socially sustainable."

Ignatieff has suggested that the federal government should match the $2 billion recently pledged by the Alberta government to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the tarsand projects. He's also pledged his Liberal party to guard Alberta's interests in any national greenhouse gas reduction scheme.

"We will be watching in Opposition to make sure [a cap-and-trade system] won't hurt Alberta," he pledged. "We need to work with the industry, and not against the industry."

Ignatieff's support of the oil sands isn't a sudden change of policy on his part. Ignatieff has defended the oilsands on several occasions, including in Quebec.

"The stupidest thing you can do [is] to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and not just in Alberta, but right across the country," Ignatieff told a Montreal audience in January.

According to Ignatieff, another good reason to support the oil sands is the influence that gives Canada over its number one trading partner.

"We provide more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia. That changes everything," he continued. "It means that when the prime minister of Canada goes into the White House, he gets listened to, in ways that Canadian prime ministers have not been listened to before. We're not the nice little friendly northern cousin. They can't run their economy without us."

Back in Alberta, Ignatieff also took some time out to address how Stephane Dion's Green Shift was recieved in Western Canada. "I think you can't win elections if you are adding to the input costs of a farmer ...or a trucker," Ignatieff said. "You got to work with the grain of Canadians and not against them."

Of course, Ignatieff didn't mention that the central plank of Dion's Green Shift was actually Ignatieff's own carbon tax.

If Ignatieff is true to his words, Western Canadians may finally be able to trust the Liberal party on the topic of the national economy. "Alberta is a valued treasured part of our federation," he said in January. "Never pit one region of the country against the other when you develop economic policy."

But as Kelly McParland notes on the Naational Post's Full Comment blog, Ignatieff is accepting his fair share of risks in pledging his support for the oilsands.

For one thing, he risks alienating the environmental demographic that Stephane Dion worked so hard to connect with.

But as it regards national unity, reconnecting with the West is a positive step in the right direction.

This is not only good for Canada, but it will almost certainly turn out to be good for the Liberal party. If Ignatieff can convince Western Canadians he's sincere, the Liberal party may finally get a second look from many out West.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Montreal Simon - "Michael Ignatieff and the Clean Dirty Oil"

Michael Stickings - "The Rise of Michael Ignatieff"

Far and Wide - "It Is What It Is"


  1. Reasoned argument. See my take on Iggy & West:

  2. This is all well and good (and it's interesting to see that Ignatieff is getting criticized by left-leaning Liberals and NDPers for supporting the oilsands), but a part of me worries that many Albertans won't even bother giving him a fair chance, and condemn him just for being a Liberal. In a couple of articles in the Edmonton Journal, for example, I've read about how some of rural Liberal Adam Campbell's neighbours stopped talking to him when they found out he was a Liberal, and another column alluded to the fear some rural Liberals have of expressing their political leanings.

    After all, if Stephen Harper can be forgiven for some of his early statements, such as the Alberta firewall letter, his comments about Atlantic Canada's "culture of defeat" and his calling Canada a "Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the word", and people elsewhere in the country give him and the Conservatives a fair shot, then isn't it only fair that Ignatieff gets a fair shake from Albertans?

  3. Ignatieff will need to demonstrate that his words are more than just words before many Albertans will give him such an opportunity.

    I have a deep suspicion that Ignatieff is indeed genuine. Hopefully, he will get the chance to prove it.


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