Thomas Mulcair seems to have found his sweet spot in his efforts to relate to the Alberta energy patch. The NDP leader had a rocky start when he took over, slamming fracking and blaming the energy sector for causing Dutch disease.
But in Calgary on Tuesday, Mr. Mulcair hit the right notes when he spoke about the need to clarify the rules on foreign investment, particularly by state-owned enterprises like those from China.
The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources
The federal NDP leader also said pipelines to carry oil from the West to the East should be a priority because they would build energy security, get higher prices for Canadian oil, and create jobs.
Both positions show greater political maturity for the aspiring prime minister. They will resonate even in the Tory stronghold, where there has been hostility to CNOOC Ltd.s takeover of Nexen Inc. and where the oil sands industry is desperately looking for new markets following controversies around their top export plans the Keystone XL project from Alberta to the Gulf Coast and the Northern Gateway project from Alberta to the West Coast.
The NDP will be a partner with the development of energy resources, if it forms a government in 2015, Mr. Mulcair told a luncheon organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by oil sands producer Suncor Energy Inc. and pipeline company Enbridge Inc.
We will be there with you, he said, while also inviting the sector to work harder to earn its social licence to operate, have meaningful consultations with First Nations, and take its environmental responsibilities more seriously.
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Its quite a turnaround from the recent past, when Mr. Mulcair pandered to his Quebec base by blaming the Alberta oil sands for boosting the value of the Canadian dollar to the detriment of the manufacturing sector and accused the sectors main lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, of pulling a con job when claiming there are regulations to ensure that shale gas fracking is safe.
But when the foreign investment debate erupted last summer, Mr. Mulcair and his party shifted to the mainstream by seizing on national discomfort with Chinas aggressive acquisition spree and asking many of the questions that needed to be asked.
It led to an invitation to the NDP leader to speak in Canadas energy capital about his views around foreign investment, which happen to be aligned with those of the Calgary Chamber, those of many oil patch thought leaders and of many in the market.
In his speech, Mr. Mulcair said foreign investment rules remain obscure following Prime Minister Stephen Harpers approval of the CNOOC/Nexen transaction and of Petronass takeover of Progress Energy Resource Corp. last December.
Mr. Mulcair said the Prime Minister failed to explain which foreign takeovers will be allowed in the future and the commitments made by the purchasers may never be made public or even be enforced.
The Conservative government even ignored Albertas request to ensure the CNOOC deal guaranteed that: 50% of management positions are held by Canadians; workforce levels are maintained for at least five years and planned capital spending becomes a priority, Mr. Mulcair said.
Calling the CNOOC/Nexen transaction a tragic deal for Canada, Mr. Mulcair said the implications could get worse once the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement is ratified.
Under the deal, once a Chinese company is established in Canada, it must receive national treatment for expansion and operations meaning it must be treated as if it were a Canadian company, Mr. Mulcair warned.
The agreement also gives CNOOC powerful rights to expand its ownership in Canadas oil and gas sector as any Canadian company would and provides China with a mechanism to sue the federal government if its rights to expand its oil sands interests are impeded.
The combative Mulcair did resurface in a scrum with reporters, when he called Northern Gateway the most abject misunderstanding of the importance of protecting the environment that I have ever seen.
After years of controversy around the project, few in the oil industry will disagree.