Thursday, October 16, 2008

MP Linda Duncan will help dispel stereotype of Albertans.

This is from the Edmonton Journal. This is an interesting article. A couple of additional points. The low price of oil may make it unnecessary for the environmentalists to campaign against oil sands development soon. Many of the new projects will probably have costs per barrel that are higher than the present price. They may simply be cancelled. Secondly, the race is so close that Jaffer could yet win. Thirdly, I wonder how representative of Alberta Edmonton-Strathcona is to elect Jaffer and then Duncan. I expect it might be a bit different than your average Alberta constitutency!

NDP upset is good for Stelmach Tories
MP Linda Duncan will help dispel stereotype of Albertans as environmental ogres

Paula Simons
The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Today's theme: Why Linda Duncan's unofficial upset win in Edmonton-Strathcona is an unexpectedly happy outcome, not just for Duncan and her New Democratic Party, but, in a funny way, for Premier Ed Stelmach, and all Albertans, no matter what their political ideology.
Sound a little crazy? Well, bear with me, as I lay out my little post-election thesis.
Let's start with 1997, the year that a brash Old Strathcona coffee shop owner, Rahim Jaffer, burst onto the Canadian political scene.
Jaffer, you'll recall, defied every central Canadian stereotype of the typical Reformer, or the typical Albertan, for that matter. He was young, suave, articulate and fluently bilingual, not to mention Indo-Canadian and Muslim. His presence and his public profile helped send the message that Alberta wasn't culturally monolithic, that it was far more politically and ethnically diverse than people from outside the province might appreciate. He gave the rest of Canada a broader, more nuanced perspective on this city and its unique political culture -- and that's no bad legacy for a defeated politician.
Now, his rival and successor, Linda Duncan -- though Jaffer has not yet conceded his narrow defeat -- is set, in an ironic way, to follow in his footsteps, at least when in comes to challenging political preconceptions. Alberta elected a fiery, feminist, environmentalist? You can practically hear the political observers in other parts of the country scratching their heads. Duncan just doesn't fit their tired, narrow idea of what an Albertan, especially an Albertan politician, is supposed to be.
And for Albertans at large -- including, in a backhanded way, the Stelmach government -- that's a good thing.
In the first place, it does Alberta no good to have the federal Conservative party take us, and our votes, for granted. In his first minority term, Stephen Harper barely acknowledged Edmonton's existence. Alberta accrued no major benefits from electing a prime minister from Calgary, especially not northern Alberta.
By poking the complacent federal Conservatives with a sharp stick, the voters of Edmonton-Strathcona may have finally reminded Harper that Edmonton and northern Alberta actually exist -- and that their votes matter. Perhaps a prime minister who dearly wanted a majority should have remembers that every seat counts.
But the public relations value of Duncan's election goes well beyond that.
Right now, Stelmach et al. are embarked on an international marketing mission, trying to convince the rest of Canada, and the rest of the world, that Albertans are not environmental ogres, that the oilsands are too valuable to the national and the global economy to spurn. Until now, it's been easy for green activists, here and abroad, to paint Alberta as the backwoods of Canada, a redneck jurisdiction where no one has an ecological conscience.
Duncan's election puts the lie to that stereotype. It's hard to paint all Albertans with a broad anti-environmental brush, when Edmonton voters have just elected a tenacious environmental lawyer, so boldly green she makes Elizabeth May look delicately chartreuse.
Though Duncan is certainly no advocate for unbridled oilsands developments, her outspoken critique of Alberta's leading industrial sector could actually lend indirect credibility to the Stelmach government's current charm offensive.
Passionate criticism from a well-informed local MP could, of course, provide valuable ammo to outside environmental activists. But at the same time, that same Duncan's robust dissent, and her election, makes this place look less like a Third World backwater and more like the kind of smart, functional democracy where people care about their environment and their economy. For that little improvement to our national and international image, Stelmach and his Tory team should send Duncan a bouquet of roses.
But let's go beyond the counterintuitive PR value that Duncan's election represents. Because what this province needs isn't just a show debate over the future of the oilsands in order to impress outside critics. We actually need our own made-in-Alberta debate about the environmental costs and economic benefits of heavy oil production, a passionate and informed discussion about the most responsible way to manage a valuable natural resource, while at the same time protecting our environment, and not leaving our children and grandchildren with an expensive, toxic mess to clean up.
If we want to derive the maximum economic value from the oilsands, we have to find ways to produce the oil that create less costly environmental damage, and which leave us less vulnerable to the threat of international boycotts or trade restrictions.
It's not enough for the Stelmachistas to promote the oilsands abroad -- the province has to clean up its act, quite literally, if we're going to convince the world that Alberta is not an environmental pariah, and that our synthetic crude is a legitimate commodity.
If Duncan, as an Edmonton MP, can kick-start that discussion on a federal and provincial level, then she'll have performed a service for all Albertans, present and future.
© The Edmonton Journal 2008

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