OTTAWA—Alberta New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley says the federal NDP has lost its way and needs to find a better balance between protecting the environment and fighting for working people.
In an interview with the Star on Thursday, the former Alberta premier made it clear that the rift between her wing of the NDP and the federal party led by Jagmeet Singh is as deep as ever. She said Singh is wrong to oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that the federal government reapproved this week, and that the party is drifting too close to the environmentalism of the Green Party, which she argued does not prioritize the interests of workers.
“Finding a way to navigate the complexities of making real progress on protecting the environment, and at the same time standing up for working people and not allowing them to be collateral damage in service of the environmental agenda — that takes hard work, and we haven’t seen that out of the federal party over the last couple years. It’s disappointing,” Notley said.
“My view is that (federal New Democrats) have made that mistake, and they need to go back to the drawing board and think about working people.”
Notley was ousted as premier in Alberta’s provincial election two months ago. Her replacement, United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, has aggressively championed the oilsands sector by scrapping the NDP’s carbon tax and warning of a national unity crisis if the province is unable to export oil for better prices through an expanded pipeline to the B.C. coast.
As opposition leader in the Alberta legislature, Notley has continued to support the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline system, which carries bitumen from outside Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby B.C.
That position has put her at odds with B.C.’s NDP government, as well as with Singh and the federal party. In recent weeks, some in the party — like prominent member and returning candidate Svend Robinson — have argued the federal NDP needs to oppose all new fossil fuel resource development, as the Green Party has seen gains at the provincial level and won its second-ever seat in Parliament in a May byelection on Vancouver Island.
The party’s environmental platform for the coming federal election details $15 billion in proposed spending on public transit, rebates for zero-emission vehicles that are made in Canada, and a new “climate bank” that would fund low-carbon development projects. The plan is cast as a way to fight climate change while creating 300,000 jobs and supporting workers who need to transition away from fossil fuel industries like the oil and gas sector in Alberta.
Singh also dialed back his support of liquified natural gas developments in British Columbia, including a $40-billion export facility supported by the NDP government in the province that the federal Liberals boast as the “largest private sector investment in Canadian history.”
Speaking with the Star in the restaurant of the Chateau Laurier near Parliament Hill, Notley said she supports some measures the federal party has proposed ahead of the general election Oct. 21. She praised the NDP’s pitch to expand Canada’s public health care system to cover prescription drugs, hearing and vision care, mental health services and more. She also approved of the party’s plan to cap cellphone and internet bills.
But Notley said she believes the federal party is failing to stand up for workers in Alberta and elsewhere who would benefit from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other resource projects. Unlike the federal NDP, Notley opposes Bill C-48, the Liberal government legislation that would block heavy oil tankers from stopping at ports on the north coast of B.C. She also quibbles with the federal overhaul of environmental assessments, which she argued will leave proposed developments open to drawn out legal challenges.
All this will hurt Alberta’s economy, she said, arguing it needs to be strong if Canada as a whole is to transition to a cleaner economy.
“As a prosperous country, we can do the right thing to save the environment. We can’t do that by throwing massive groups of people out of work,” she said.
“My version of the NDP — and the New Democrats that I speak to understand that — it is a party that is built, foundationally, on serving the needs of working people. And so any plan that doesn’t take into account the need to preserve and grow jobs, is not really a plan that reflects one of the fundamental principles of the party.”
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga