Lougheed legacy brought into play at pipeline hearings

The late Peter Lougheed's enduring legacy in Alberta's oil industry was evident Monday as the former Alberta premier was cited by both proponents and opponents of the contentious Northern Gateway pipeline during regulatory hearings in Edmonton.

Both sides claimed support from the widely respected Lougheed, who died Sept. 13.

"In one of his last interviews, didn't he say the (Northern Gateway) pipeline was essential for Alberta?" Enbridge lawyer Rick Neufeld asked at one point during his cross-examination of Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

McGowan responded that Lougheed shared the federation's concerns about the pace of oilsands development, that too many oilsands projects exported raw bitumen and there are not enough benefits to Alberta from upgrading and refining the bitumen into consumer products locally.

"Lougheed took an activist approach to ensure we had a value-added industry," he said, according to a story from The Canadian Press. "It (the oilsands industry) wouldn't have been here without government policy and intervention."

Here's a thought: both sides should cease and desist with the Lougheed references.

Lougheed was a champion of oilsands development but he was also concerned about the rapid pace of development. He has been widely lauded since his passing as one of Canada's greatest politicians and statesmen. His family and friends continue to mourn his passing even as his name is being bandied about the hearing room for one of the most contentious public policy debates in Canada in years.

To be clear, it's as far from speaking ill of the dead as possible. There's presumably nothing but respect for the former premier from everyone involved in these exchanges, but it still comes off as ill-timed at a minimum.

The allure of an "endorsement" from Lougheed for either side is obvious.

Third-party endorsement - especially from a credible and respected source - is invaluable to any communication campaign. Make no mistake, every word uttered during the hearings is part of a broader communications strategy by all sides in the campaigns for or against regulatory approval and public support for any pipeline.

Regardless, it seems inappropriate to cite, or even imply, support from Lougheed as if it was some sort of message from on high or death-bed confession simply be-cause it serves your political or commercial endeavour.

It's not as if the current premiers - from Alberta's Alison Redford, among the proponents, and B.C.'s Christy Clark, for the opponents - haven't provided enough commentary on the $6-billion pipeline project. Both have offered up more than enough observations to provide fodder for lawyers at the Joint Review Panel for weeks.

They can also explain or defend their positions and not leave it to others to interpret and infer what may, or may not, be relevant.

The references to Lougheed came as Enbridge and some oil producers that have secured ship-ping on the 525,000 barrel a day pipeline got to cross examine witnesses before the Joint Review Panel for the first time in the hearing process.

The Edmonton portion of the hearings, which addresses economic issues, are scheduled to conclude this week. The hearings will resume in October in Prince George, B.C., to address concerns about the environment and First Nations along the 1,172 kilometre route. Finally the panel moves on to Prince Rupert, B.C. to address maritime issues once bitumen is moved onto ocean-going tankers.

A decision from the Joint Re-view Panel is expected in 2013.

The federation has said the pipeline taking bitumen from the Edmonton area to the B.C. coast at Kitimat for export to Pacific Rim markets will make it harder to create upgrading and refining jobs in Alberta and increase fuel prices throughout Canada. Enbridge contends that isn't the case.

Neufeld noted there is plenty of bitumen available in Alberta and Enbridge has never said it would restrict bitumen for refineries or upgraders.

McGowan also said export pipelines would add to an already overheated economy with higher labour and material costs.

Neufeld challenged economist Robyn Allan over her statements the 550,000-barrel-per-day pipe-line would push up the price of crude oil by $2 to $3 a barrel annually in Canada. Enbridge said Northern Gateway would create a one-time boost of $2 to $3 per barrel if it comes on stream at the end of this decade.

Allan responded: "When you take oil out of North America and take it to Asia the price increase is going to affect all markets in the long run."

And that is exactly the difference.

Allan, McGowan, Neufeld and the others can all speak for themselves. Lougheed cannot and, as a sign of respect, he should be left out of these hearings.

Calgary Herald, Tues Sept 25 2012
Byline: Stephen Ewart

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