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Alta. minister calls NDP 'anti-oil and gas activists' and 'woke' during well cleanup debate

Alberta Energy Minister Peter Guthrie and NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt in the legislature in Edmonton on March 14, 2023. (Source: Government of Alberta) Alberta Energy Minister Peter Guthrie and NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt in the legislature in Edmonton on March 14, 2023. (Source: Government of Alberta)
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A fiery exchange over whether Alberta should give royalty breaks to oil companies that clean up their inactive wells drew warnings on both sides of the argument Tuesday in the legislature.

NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt called the government's proposed $100 million Liability Management Incentive Program "a scam."

The NDP has repeatedly claimed the final bill to taxpayers will be much larger.

"I'm hearing from Albertans who say it doesn't matter what the premier calls it or the size of the down payment on the $20 billion, it's still a scam. Does the energy minister agree with Albertans?" he asked during question period.

"It's a sad state of affairs with the Alberta NDP," energy minister Peter Guthrie responded.

"These anti-oil and gas activists must be tortured watching the industry come back to life after they did everything in their power, over their four years, to destroy the resource sector."

Speaker Nathan Cooper warned Schmidt not to use the word "scam." Guthrie was told he could not say the NDP is "fabricating" a crisis.

Premier Danielle Smith has defended the program she promised during her campaign for leadership of the UCP by saying that governments share some of the blame for regulators letting companies off the hook without cleaning up their wells, something they're required to do by law.

Guthrie briefly argued the program will be good for jobs before again attacking the NDP.

"Let's take a trip down woke memory lane to expose the NDP's just transition plan. They were the creator of Canada's first carbon tax. They oppose any and all pipelines. They support the west coast tanker ban, taking a position against our province," he stated.

"With [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and [federal NDP Leader Jagmeet] Singh behind them, the NDP will continue to sabotage our industry."

'GIVE ANSWERS TO THE PEOPLE'

Guthrie's comment on pipelines does not align with the political history of Alberta.

While in government, the NDP fought in favour of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, even briefly banning wines from British Columbia and passing legislation that would restrict how much oil was sent to the protesting province, in an effort to get it built.

"There's a strong record that the NDP government in Alberta did support the oil and gas industry," political scientist Lori Williams said.

"It supported diversification, it invested in cleaner production and consumption of energy and in pipelines. There's just no question about their record on that."

She suggested both the UCP and NDP stop name-calling and focus on talking about the benefits and drawbacks of the program itself.

"Give answers to the people who are questioning, and certainly credibly questioning, the fairness of this program," Williams urged, although she believes selling it to Albertans will not be easy.

"This idea that someone who had nothing to do with creating the liability is now on the hook to pay for it, and if it's taxpayers that are on the hook for it, it's an impossible position to defend."

NDP MLAs are not the only critics of Smith's Liability Management Incentive Program.

Analysts with Scotiabank said in a report that the proposal “goes against the core capitalist principle that private companies should take full responsibility for the liabilities they willingly accept.”

Former UCP MLA, now independent, Drew Barnes has called the plan “corporate welfare.”

UCP MLA Sonya Savage has recently confirmed that she was not in favour of "RStar," a former name for the concept, when she was energy minister in 2021.

The head of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta said last year that RStar is "exactly how a fox would design a henhouse."

'WHY IS THIS GOVERNMENT REFUSING TO LISTEN?'

Schmidt continued to press Guthrie to explain why he supports the program.

"What Albertans can't afford is a $20 billion giveaway to an industry that it doesn't deserve," Schmidt argued.

"Why is this government refusing to listen to Albertans, economists and even their own minister on this issue? Is it because she promised her leadership donors $20 billion if she got her own way?"

Guthrie ignored the question but Smith rejected that suggestion during her call-in show last month.

Instead, Guthrie spoke about a $235 million dollar loan NDP Leader Rachel Notley offered oil companies when she was premier in 2017.

"The goal of these activists is to end fossil fuel production and to do it at any cost," he said near the end of his answer.

Smith also praised the federal government's Site Rehabilitation Program in February, which provided $1 billion for well-site recovery, but she stated the program missed the worst sites.

With Files from CTV News Calgary's Jordan Kanygin and The Canadian Press

 

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