Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (left) heads to a meeting with deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta on Friday, May 31, 2012. Mulcair, along with members of his party, returned from a two-day tour of oil sands facilities in the Fort McMurray area.
Credits: IAN KUCERAK/QMI AGENCY
EDMONTON -- Two Thomases lived up to their names Thursday.
Mutual doubt reigned as national NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair met with deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk following Mulcair's whirlwind tour of the oilsands.
Catching himself on "T" for "tarsands," Mulcair went out of his way to tone down his inflammatory language, describing his experience in Fort McMurray, Alta., in near-religious terms, with references to the biblical Doubting Thomas and speaking of the oilsands development with awe -- but some Albertan leaders doubted genuine conversion.
"I really wear my first name of Thomas well. I love to touch things myself, I love to go and see them and be able to get a firsthand understanding of them," Mulcair said.
Of a 1.5-hour helicopter flight that only touched on the northern half of the massive deposit, Mulcair called it a "vast vista."
"These are extraordinary undertakings on a human scale, they're massive ... what was being accomplished ... was extraordinarily impressive," he said, hastening to add that the oilsands bring challenges important to this and ensuing generations of Albertans.
"Coming out of this trip I'd have to say that I agree with Premier Redford's recent comment that we need a national conversation about how we develop our country's natural resources," he said, diplomatically hailing western provincial efforts to take environmental issues and current regulation enforcement seriously.
"Sadly (that's) not the case with the government of Stephen Harper," Mulcair said.
How different was his language?
On the terms tarsands versus oilsands:
"If removing that linguistic impediment can make such a conversation easier, I'm not going to keep it in place intentionally but unfortunately, a linguistic cleanup doesn't at the same time change anything we're saying about the ecosystems being affected."
On Dutch Disease:
"Right now, Canada is suffering some of the predictable
effects where we have an afflux of currency from other countries, particularly U.S. dollars." This, Mulcair said, is because of the free ride American investment is getting from lax environmental regulation, which keeps the costs of the oilsands products artificially low.
By Lukaszuk's description of his brief private 15-minute meet with Mulcair on Thursday, he gave the national firebrand a lukewarm shoulder at best.
Have Mulcair's harsh previous comments been disingenuous?
"Let me give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is a seasoned politician. I don't fully accept the fact he doesn't understand how important Alberta's economy is to the rest of Canada," Lukaszuk said.
Fingerpointing, he said, will not be accepted. Debate, he said, is best when it's well-informed and not accusatory.
"We are not interested in political gamesmanship of pitting one part of the country against another part of the country simply for political expediency and hopefully gaining some votes in one part of the country or another," Lukaszuk said.
Alberta's official Opposition leader, Danielle Smith, said although she was pleased to hear Mulcair call the oilsands "the bitumen sands," she had hoped for an apology for his comparing Alberta's oilsands development model to that of Nigeria.
"I think that his agenda and his strategy is very dangerous for Alberta," she said, adding that Mulcair's not at all fuzzy on his Canadian energy strategy.
"What he is saying is we need to take steps to reduce the amount of investment coming into this province. I think that those elements are very, very dangerous.
"Until Ms. Redford starts putting some meat on the bones of her Canadian Energy Strategy, she is going to allow people like Mr. Mulcair to define the strategy for us, and that strategy is going to be detrimental to Alberta's interests."