Photo courtesy Ontario Federation of Labour

Leaders’ stances on oil creates discrepancies between federal and provincial NDP

By Muhammad Naeem, September 12 2018 —

The recent diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia compelled political leaders to take stances on a number of charged issues. This included trade relations between the two countries.

Earlier in August, federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh suggested that Canada look to countries other than Saudi Arabia for importing oil. Reaction to his statement from provincial politicians was swift and critical, especially from both sides of Alberta’s political landscape.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney tweeted that Singh’s stance was “Just embarrassing.” Singh’s provincial party-mate, Rachel Notley, was equally disapproving, saying that Singh should have thought the idea through before saying it.

Singh’s suggestion of looking for alternative sources to import oil from was pitched without looking into the realities of oil politics in Canada. The statement also ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia is a large source of Canadian oil imports.

Every day, around 70,000 barrels of crude oil are imported from Saudi Arabia to Canadian refineries. According to Natural Resources Canada, 12 per cent of crude oil imported into Canada in 2017 was from Saudi Arabia, greater than any country outside of the United States. Instead of taking a pragmatic approach, Singh voiced a suggestion that is impractical and unsustainable.

Singh later backed down on his comments, saying, “Some options were put forward, and, I said, you know, we can look at it but that’s not my priority and it’s never been.”

As Prairie provinces have endured hardships as a result of dropping oil prices in recent years, Singh stating that the issue is “not [his] priority” is concerning. Not only that, but Singh’s frequent disagreements with Notley over his views on the now-cancelled Energy East pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the response to the recent Saudi-Canada spat demonstrates that the NDP’s Alberta provincial government and federal party are not on the same page. Politicking is a likely factor for the discrepancy in their positions — Singh is running in the byelection of the riding that has resisted the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for years, while Notley is facing Alberta’s provincial election next year.

Running in the byelection of the Burnaby South riding — right in the centre of the opposition of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion — exemplifies Singh’s continuous trend of neglecting the regional interests of Alberta speaks volumes about the NDP’s seriousness towards Albertans and our oil economy. Will this discrepancy make it difficult for the Alberta NDP government to defend its victory of the last provincial election in May? Their chances of re-election are already precarious.

Regardless, Singh’s suggestion to look for alternative sources for imported oil is a blindly confrontational position against Saudi Arabia and was suggested without taking regional oil interests of Western Canada into account.

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