Opinion: Stay focused on pipelines, Red Deer city councillors

Red Deer city council continues to stand up for Alberta’s beleaguered energy industry, but if it wants to get its message across, it should stay focused.

Earlier this week, council unanimously passed a motion expressing support for more pipelines to get our landlocked oil to new markets, where it can fetch a better price than the Americans, who are essentially our only customer, are willing to pay.

The common-sense endorsement had been well crafted by administration, but some of our civic politicians couldn’t let a good thing be: they had to muck with the resolution, watering down what should have been a direct and powerful message to the federal government and others who underestimate the importance of the energy industry to not only Alberta’s economic well-being, but Canada’s as a whole.

RELATED: Red Deer city council reaffirms support for pipelines, as well as sustainability, diversification

Council decided to include the encouragement of economic diversification and environmental sustainability in the same motion, giving the subjects equal weight with pipeline infrastructure.

These last-minute add-ons touch on important topics, but they distract from the crisis created by the failure to increase the capacity to get the country’s most important export to market.

City council diluted the effectiveness of its message, perhaps leaving people to wonder what the real priority is. Is getting approval for new pipelines the No. 1 aim, or is vital infrastructure simply on a list of other laudable goals, all competing for attention?

Everyone knows, after all, that diversification of the economy is important. But the desire and ability to create new sources of wealth isn’t being held up by government and special interest groups in the same way the energy industry is being held hostage. No one is picketing outside high-tech companies — or thwarting the growth of tourism by preventing international visitors from checking into their hotel, for that matter.

Economic diversification will be created by clever innovators and bold investors, not politicians sitting in a cosy room mouthing words of good intentions. A politician’s role in economic diversification is to establish a low-tax environment where entrepreneurs can hire people and create prosperity.

Previous provincial governments, including those led by Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, have attempted to kick start economic diversification, usually with disastrous results.

Similarly, city council’s sop to environmental sustainability was unnecessary. Our energy industry performs to some of the highest standards in the world, unlike the producers in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria that central and eastern Canadians prefer over domestic suppliers.

There’s no better way of shipping oil than pipelines. Relying on rail cars is less environmentally friendly and less safe, so if council is concerned about Dear Mother Earth, it should fiercely advocate for pipelines and not lose focus on what’s important.

Red Deer’s city administration notes that delay of expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline alone puts $46.7 billion in government revenue at risk in the next two decades.

“The project will assist Canadian markets to get full value for oil,” reads the background notes provided to councillors.

That was, and should have remained, the focus of the resolution passed by city council.

Rocky Mountain House’s town council got the exercise right, penning a well-crafted letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the subject in late December.

“We are particularly concerned with a lack of pipelines to safely move oil and gas to tidewaters and the impact that proposed legislation in Bill C-69 will have on an industry that all Canadians benefit from,” wrote Mayor Tammy Burke, who called for a meeting between Trudeau and municipal officials.

“The oil and gas sector provides a vital service and support to our local, provincial and national economies through employment and the generation of tax and royalty payments.”

That’s how it’s done.

There’s no questioning Red Deer council’s commitment to the energy industry, but our politicians must demonstrate the ability to stay on topic.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer advocate.

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