Alberta’s Wildrose leader is no shrinking violet

Gary Mason
The Globe and Mail
December 16, 2009

Danielle Smith is not entirely convinced there’s a climate-change problem. And that will make the many skeptics in her province happy.

If recent polls are to be believed, Alberta’s four-decade-old Conservative government could be toppled in the next election – by an even more right-wing alternative.

Only in Alberta.

The Wildrose Alliance Party seems for real, however, even though it has only one MLA. Party leader Danielle Smith possesses an intelligence, charm and charisma that belies her days as a newspaper columnist. Her speeches and public writings are receiving more attention – and scrutiny. As such, remarks she made this week concerning the United Nations climate-change summit in Copenhagen caught many people’s attention.

In an address to the Canadian Club of Calgary, Ms. Smith urged Ottawa not to sign on to any accord in Copenhagen. Instead, she said, Canada and the provinces should find their own homegrown measures to slay the problem of rising greenhouse-gas emissions.

That is, if there’s a problem at all.

Ms. Smith, it appears, is not entirely convinced. And that will make the many climate skeptics in her province – and across the country, for that matter – deliriously happy. “The science isn’t settled,” Ms. Smith told her Canadian Club audience. “If we’re going to embark on this path, we’ve got to be darn sure that the science makes sense.” She quoted from Lawrence Soloman’s book The Deniers , which details studies that contradict the science supporting claims of man-made global warming.

The crowd lapped it up.

But Ms. Smith wasn’t done.

In an opinion piece that appeared in the Calgary Herald this week, Ms. Smith questioned spending billions of dollars on carbon-capture technology that “won’t yield results for decades,” denounced cap-and-trade schemes and carbon taxes and pretty much gave the thumbs down to UN plans to send billions to help developing countries cope with the impact of climate change.

As top-to-bottom denunciations of climate-change strategies go, it was quite impressive.

Not even Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner denies the existence of global warming. Or that the art of extracting oil from Alberta’s oil sands contributes to it. And he’d like to do something about it, honestly. As long as it doesn’t hurt the economy. Not the most progressive outlook on climate change, admittedly. Yet, it seems almost Suzukian compared with the view taken by Ms. Smith.

For someone emerging as a major player on the Canadian political scene to come out and effectively question the existence of global warming, well, that takes more than a little chutzpah.

Or maybe just naiveté, of which I think Ms. Smith can certainly be accused.

Whether or not she accepts it, the world is moving on climate change. Achieving consensus will be difficult, but even reluctant joiners such as China and India now understand that the world’s economy will be powered, in part, by the changeover from fossil-based fuels to clean technologies.

They accept, too, that their countries are contributing to a carbon dioxide problem and that they’re going to need to address it sooner than later or risk facing the wrath of a world with which it hopes to trade.

If nothing else, U.S. President Barack Obama is driving a green agenda and is going to force trading partners such as Canada – and provinces such as Alberta – to play the game according to new, environmentally friendly American rules or risk losing billions in investment opportunities. Polluters need not apply.

So Ms. Smith can score easy points with like-minded and self-interested supporters if she wishes, getting rousing ovations with each skeptical utterance she makes. That’s fine, if not a little transparent. But, ultimately, it will be a position that hurts her province far more than it helps it.

To be fair, Ms. Smith isn’t saying there isn’t something Alberta could be doing to becoming greener – in the event this whole global warming thing turns out to be real. There are practical ways Albertans can reduce energy use and improve energy efficiency, she said this week. Tax incentives could be used to help individuals and businesses improve energy efficiency in their homes.

An idea, perhaps, borrowed from one of the many governments around the world that have been giving green tax breaks for years.

But most of these same governments recognize that sealing windows and doors isn’t going to get it done when it comes to reversing the impact of rising greenhouse gases. Then again, if you’re not sure there’s a problem to begin with, what’s the big deal?

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