The re-education of Thomas Mulcair [Alberta oil sands] – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – May 28, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The re-education of Thomas Mulcair starts this week, when the federal NDP leader is scheduled to visit Alberta’s oil sands after launching a series of offensive attacks on the resource’s place in Canada.
Like thousand of oil sands bashers before him who made the trip to Fort McMurray — from Hollywood celebs such as James Cameron to international politicians and media representatives, Mr. Mulcair will find the view on the ground doesn’t quite match the spin of the environmental extremists who seem to have his ear.
No question, the oil sands are a massive project that is impacting the environment and the communities around it. But to paint them as a Canadian economic and environmental scourge is politically immature — certainly for an aspiring Canadian Prime Minister.

When he visits Alberta Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. Mulcair will also find one of the earth’s most diverse and productive workforces, human ingenuity at its finest, scores of young people in leadership roles, a commitment to technological innovation, enterprising First Nations and a lot of unfilled, well-paying jobs.
That isn’t to say the oil sands are above reproach.
Indeed, there is a desperate need for critical thinking about the oil sands — but one that moves past the old political credo that scoring points in the East comes with trashing the West.
Instead, it’s a thinking that recognizes that the oil sands are as embedded in Canada’s future as the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada, the auto industry in Ontario, hydro development in Quebec, forestry in British Columbia. It’s a necessary thinking that aims to make them and Canada better.
Mr. Mulcair must make the transition from oil sands basher to oil sands watchdog.
There’s plenty to watch: ensure industry delivers on its promises to reduce environmental impacts, find solutions to labour shortages, help First Nations benefit from development, push for regulation that is tough but efficient, and spread the wealth across Canada.
The smartest oil sands critics in the environmental and labour communities (both major NDP constituencies) have already made the leap.

In a recent column, Ed Whittingham, executive director of the once anti-development Pembina Institute, one of the country’s top environmental organizations, laments it’s time for a more constructive political debate on the oil sands that moves beyond “accusations, counter-accusations, slander, hyperbole and hysteria.”
He advocates aiming for two related goals: how to “aggressively drive down the impact a barrel of oil sands crude has on the environment, even while we save and plan for its displacement by cleaner, cheaper sources of energy.”
They are goals embraced by Alberta Premier Alison Redford as well as many in the oil sands industry.
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