By Paola Loriggio
TORONTO – Alberta’s energy minister wants the federal government to promote the province’s oilsands in the face of what he calls “slam-the-oilsands” campaigns – and he’s going to Ottawa to push for support.
Ron Liepert says Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government need to embrace the oilsands in order to turn Canada into an energy superpower.
Liepert says he has yet to see Harper “speaking on an international stage, talking about Canada being a super energy power, a proud super energy power, one that is developing its resources responsibly.”
“That’s what I would like to see, I’d like to see the minister of finance, when he’s speaking in New York, talk about Alberta being a super energy power,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Liepert spoke to a Toronto business audience as part of Alberta’s efforts to clean up the oilsands’ “dirty oil” image, contesting recent criticism from environmental activists.
But some of those activists say Alberta’s attempts to talk up the oilsands is “insulting to Canadians.”
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, said he doesn’t buy Liepert’s message that Alberta “just suffers from a communications problem.”
“The Alberta government is being hoisted on its own petard because it’s not doing a good job controlling pollution from its industries _ that’s the problem,” said Smith, who was at the luncheon where the minister made his speech.
He said no amount of government support will staunch the rising backlash against the oilsands.
“The reason that there is a growing international opposition to the way the tar sands are being exploited is because what they’re doing is so anomalous,” he said.
“There’s no care for pollution control, there’s no talk of any limits whatsoever on the exploitation _ it’s totally out of keeping with what’s happening in other industrial sectors right around the world.”
Liepert, who is to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday in Ottawa, said the province is “working to extract oil in the least disruptive way possible.”
He added the wealth created by oil and gas allows the province to fund research into green energy.
The minister stressed the relationship between Alberta’s oil industry and the manufacturing sector, noting many of the pumps and equipment used in extracting crude are produced in Ontario.
What’s more, he said, many of the roughly 28,000 oil workers living in Alberta camps fly in from outside the province.
In a similar visit in September, a trio of Alberta ministers said some 23 per cent of oilsands-related employment is generated outside the province.
But Smith and his group argue the oilsands are largely responsible for boosting the Canadian dollar, which hurts rather than helps manufacturers in Ontario.
Environmental Defence is one of several organizations protesting the oilsands development.
A U.S. environmental group launched an anti- oilsands campaign called “Rethink Alberta” this fall, urging tourists to avoid the province.
A group of Alberta scientists and aboriginals is calling for the federal government to conduct an environmental study after finding deformed fish downriver of the oilsands in northern Alberta.
Film director James Cameron toured the region in September on a fact-finding mission after calling the oilsands a “black eye” on Canada’s image during a UN forum earlier this year.
The oilsands are the world’s second-largest crude oil reserve.