Conservative, Wildrose leaders jockey for support of oil industry

Two of Alberta's main contenders for political power are fighting for the support of the province's massive energy industry as they prepare to battle it out in a provincial election campaign

Premier Alison Redford expressed confidence Wednesday that the Progressive Conservative dynasty's ties remain strong with an industry that has been in the Tories' corner for most of its four decades in power.

Speaking to reporters ahead of her speech at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' Responsible Canadian Energy awards dinner, Redford dismissed the notion of any lingering political hangover from the royalty regime change introduced by her predecessor, Ed Stelmach.

Those changes were reversed after being blamed for causing a major slowdown in industry activity in the province.

"I've always had a very good relationship with the energy industry," said the Calgary-Elbow MLA, who said she had fought for the royalty scheme to be changed back.

"I've worked very closely with a lot of those organizations and I believe what we currently have in place, with respect to royalties, regulatory enhancement and support for industry - the work we are doing with respect to oilsands and Keystone - show we have a very clear alignment and I've been very happy with the support we've had from the energy industry."

In her speech, Redford praised the energy industry for its environmental and social record and pledged to be its advocate and defender.

While Redford received a warm reception at the CAPP event, the Wildrose Party - in second place to the Tories in most polls - has been picking up financial support from the energy sector in recent years.

Party leader Danielle Smith said there is continuing mistrust of the Tories over royalty and land use policy and Redford, as a former cabinet minister, "does not get a free pass."

"The PCs have not always been in the energy industry's corner and that came through loud and clear in this last four-year period. I think there's a lot of concern about what might happen after the next election. This is what the government does. They say all the right things before the election and then it's anybody's guess what will happen after," she said.

The two parties appear to have few major differences on energy policy, with perhaps the greatest divide being Redford's call for a Canadian Energy Strategy, which was lauded by CAPP chairman Lowell Jackson on Wednesday evening.

Smith said a Wildrose government would continue the streamlining of regulations taking place under the PCs and the federal Conservative government. It will also continue the joint environmental monitoring plan with Ottawa for the oilsands.

CAPP president David Collyer said he expects energy will be a topic in the campaign given the importance of the resource to Alberta.

But there is no wish list to be brought to the table, he said. "The industry, from a policy perspective, is in a pretty good place right now."

Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: James Wood

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