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Social Licence Can’t Be Bought

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Colin Craig

Since coming to office, Premier Notley has expressed the idea that if she imposed just enough new regulatory barriers and costs on Albertans she could gain so-called “social licence” for energy projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“We’re not going to get the social licence we need to get pipelines built unless we take action on responsible climate change,” explained Premier Notley back in November 2015.

Yet here we are more than two years later and the protestors at the Burnaby Trans Mountain pipeline site couldn’t seem to care less about Premier Notley’s new carbon tax or other new regulatory decisions.

Hopefully it’s now clear to the premier – you can’t buy social licence if it’s not for sale.

Even if the premier sat down with the protestors and properly briefed them on all her policy changes, it’s difficult to imagine them packing up their tents, bowing courteously and then fading off into the night to resume discussing Karl Marx’s work in underground cafés.

But Premier Notley has not just struck out with protestors, she has also failed to gain social licence from her NDP colleagues at the federal level and in other provinces.

For example, her federal NDP cousins are still very much a collection of anti-oil obstructionists. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has indicated he’s 100 per cent opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline project while B.C. NDP MP Nathan Cullen seemed to tweet with glee about a miniscule spill by the Trans Mountain pipeline of about 100 litres (a bit more than what a Ford F150’s gas tank holds).

Premier Notley’s provincial NDP cousins in B.C. are obviously opposed to the project, but so is the Alberta government’s hand-picked radical environmentalist she appointed to Alberta’s Oil Sands Advisory Group – Tzeporah Berman. After hearing about Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to nationalize the pipeline, Berman joyfully predicted, “All hell is about to break loose in British Columbia.”

So what should happen going forward? Here are two thoughts.

First, if the government hasn’t realized it yet, it needs to abandon the idea of obtaining so-called social licence. By design, it’s an abstract concept that can’t be achieved. Radical activists leverage the idea to get incremental concessions without agreeing to support approved projects.

Second, the government should scrap its carbon tax. Alberta taxpayers have now paid well over $1 billion in carbon taxes and yet it hasn’t bought us anything. If social licence can’t be bought for a billion dollars, it can’t be bought for any price.

Instead of making Albertans poorer, the government should pursue policies that help our economy while reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time.

For example, if Canada could develop its natural gas resources even further, and increase exports to China, China could use the gas to replace its coal-powered electricity. This move would help create jobs and opportunities in Canada while helping China reduce its smog problem and CO2 emissions at the same time.

One thing should be clear: the premier needs to stop vying for social licence and focus more on taxpayer-friendly policies.

Colin Craig is the Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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