Ignatieff eyes energy as way to win western votes
COMMENT: Ignatieff views the road he will take to the Prime Minister's office to be one that must play nice with entrenched energy interests in Alberta. He wants to absolve himself and today's Liberal Party from historical Liberal "missteps". Read: the National Energy Program of 1973. Ignatieff says that his Liberals won't have energy or environment policies that alienate the west.
This is bad news.
Canada's democracy and environment need a government with progressive and somewhat fearless views on energy and the environment. We need a national energy strategy. And the last thing we need to do is make nice with the oil and gas head offices in Calgary and all the business-as-usual vested interests in Alberta's energy biz.
By Angela Hall
REGINA -- Michael Ignatieff used his first visit to Regina since becoming Liberal leader to acknowledge some of his party’s past missteps in Western Canada's energy sector and appeal to voters in the “new economic centre” of the country.
“I’m willing to put in the time and the effort because I know one thing: My party needs to be where the economic action is, and the economic action is here,” said Ignatieff, whose party has just one of Saskatchewan’s 14 seats, and none in neighbouring Alberta.
"We need to, I think, constantly send the message that we're here to listen and learn," he said in an interview Sunday with the Leader-Post.
"We need to figure out energy and environmental policies that don’t alienate the west, that treat the energy sector not just with respect but say 'How can we work together to be environmentally and socially sustainable? How can we use the federal lead in research, for example, to partner with industry to get technological solutions to some of the environmental challenges?'" he said, adding the party also has to work with aboriginal communities and farmers and ranchers.
In a speech later to a sold-out crowd of more than 300, Ignatieff reiterated the importance of the Western oilpatch to the Canadian economy - adding that "the dumbest thing you can do is run against the energy sectors in Western Canada."
He explained the comment by saying his party has sometimes failed to understand the tremendous importance of the sector, dating back to the 1980s-era National Energy Program.
The Liberals also had a tough time selling the carbon tax proposed in former leader Stephane Dion’s Green Shift environmental plan.
Ignatieff, who became leader in December, insisted he’s not walking away from commitments Dion made to environmental sustainability, but said some lessons have been learned.
"We want to bring energy policy and environmental policy together around a simple goal, which is make Canada the most efficient user of energy and the most efficient developer of sustainable energy on the planet," he said to reporters at the event, where he was flanked by Regina Liberal MP Ralph Goodale. "When we elaborate those policies in details, I think it'll be a vote winner out west."
Ignatieff also said it's tough to attract votes in a province with a huge agricultural industry, “if all you’re saying to people is we’re going to add to the price of diesel in your tractors."
"When a policy doesn’t work you have to change the policy, period," he told the Leader-Post.
Ignatieff also said it was the West’s strong feelings about the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, that contributed to his decision not to continue to pursue it.
“You are after all looking at someone who turned down the chance to become prime minister of Canada and I did so, in part, because I felt that it would divide the country,” said Ignatieff. "I want to be someone who unites the country and that includes the West."
Ignatieff is on record saying the coalition wasn't mistake, but Liberal support of the recent federal Conservative budget essentially killed the deal that had threatened to topple the minority Tory government late last year.
“I’m in this business to win a majority Liberal government. But I have to also responsibly say if we fall short of that then it might be conceivable to be in discussions with, say, the NDP. Not on a coalition basis but, ‘Let’s get some legislation through. How do you feel about that?’ That’s the normal business of Parliament and so I wouldn’t exclude that. But I think we’ve had an interesting debate about coalition in Canada and we’ve decided that we’re not comfortable with it,” Ignatieff said in the interview.
As for where he can draw voter support in the Conservative stronghold of Saskatchewan, Ignatieff said he’s not a “unite the left guy," but he does want to pull votes from both sides.
“The Liberal party is a party of the centre. Part of my difficulty with a coalition is that I felt it would take my party off the centre,” said Ignatieff.
“I need a lot more votes and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be grateful to have NDP voters come to me, but I have to tell you there are more compassionate Conservatives out there than there are NDP. Just in straight terms those are the votes I need," he said.
Meanwhile, Ignatieff, as Leader of the Official Opposition, will meet briefly with the President Barack Obama on Thursday during the U.S. leader’s short visit to Ottawa. Ignatieff said trade is one of the issues he expects to raise, including the concerns of livestock producers struggling with new American country-of-origin-labelling rules.
“(Protectionism) is a huge problem in the agricultural sector and unless we get some movement in Congress and from the U.S. administration the livestock industry is going to continue to be hurt,” he said.
The Liberal leader - who has an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Regina - is a Harvard alumnus, as is the president, and counts three members of Obama's senior staff as personal friends.
"I don't want to overdo that," he said of the connection. “My job in Canadian politics is to defend the national interests of my country, you know with friends, with foes, with anybody."
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-PostPosted by Arthur Caldicott on 17 Feb 2009