CLEAN ENERGY NEWS: NDP proposes new approach to pipeline politics

Pipelines make good politics, they just do.

There is so very much to sink your teeth into: energy, environment, money, Canada-U.S. relations. The list is almost endless.

And so, as the Conservative government waits, increasingly impatiently, for proposed pipelines to be approved here and south of the border, New Democrats are trying to stake their own ground on the sprawling energy policy landscape.

In recent weeks, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has met with some disgruntled chiefs in British Columbia, who are firmly against the Northern Gateway pipeline and all-too happy to find someone ready to listen to their complaints.

Mulcair has also travelled to oil-rich Alberta, where the NDP holds just one seat but still sees opportunity.

In fact, the party sees lots of opportunity on energy if it can just get Canadians to listen and believe it can do it.

"It looks at least like Thomas Mulcair wants to engage on this because he knows it's going to be part of the debate about the future of Canada, and I think it's probably a good strategy in terms of trying to engage western Canadians," said pollster Nik Nanos this week.

Pan-Canadian plan

Mulcair has mandated his natural resources critic, Peter Julian, to come up with a pan-Canadian energy plan that he wants to announce parts of later this autumn.

Julian, a former oil refinery worker, has been talking and travelling to come up with the answers. Most recently he headed to Samso, Denmark (paid for out of his own pocket) to see what a world-renowned leader in energy can do.

Samso, a small island, was named Denmark's renewable energy island in 1997 and is now 100 per cent self-sufficient thanks to wind turbines and solar panels. For Julian, it is the ultimate example of the economic potential of the clean-energy boom, which he pegs at a trillion dollars now and growing.

"In the next few years, when we talk worldwide about thousands of jobs, Canada has to put into place the policies that allow us to capitalize on that," said Julian.

For months the NDP was attacked by Stephen Harper for being anti-pipeline and against job creation. The attacks were fuelled by Mulcair's attempt to sell his vision by talking about Dutch disease, the notion that a boom in the resource sector hurts manufacturers by creating a high Canadian dollar and making exports more expensive.

Mulcair no longer uses that term after his opponents successfully managed to turn it against him.

Now, he talks about sustainable development — how Canadians can benefit from their resources while striking the right balance for the environment. For the NDP this means not saying no to all pipelines, but rather focusing on a pipeline running West to East and keeping the oil within Canada to refine it here.

"What the NDP would do is looking for value-added alternatives, showing leadership to look at stimulating the upgrading sector and the refining sector here in Canada," explained Julian.

What about cap and trade?

Andrew Leach, a business professor at the University of Alberta who focuses on energy, met with Mulcair just this past week.

He says refining more oil in Canada is going to be a challenge. He also wants to know more about the NDP's plan for cap and trade, the other essential part of the party's energy equation: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Just to say, we're going to do a cap and trade, it's like essentially saying, we're going to have a speed limit. The next question you would ask, on what road and what's the limit going to be? Same principle here," Leach said.

But ultimately, this is not just about green technology, oil refineries and polluter-pay strategies, it's also clearly, about politics.

The NDP's ongoing challenge is to convince Canadians it can manage the economy, and that goes part and parcel with an energy plan.

Later this fall, it will start to talk about some of this energy blueprint, giving Canadians a chance to judge it and opponents a chance to pull it apart.

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