| CALGARY, Alberta, April 24
CALGARY, Alberta, April 24 Alberta remains a
strong supporter of its oil industry after a provincial election
that left the Progressive Conservatives in power to focus on new
markets for Canadian crude and to try to persuade Washington to
let the Keystone XL Pipeline go ahead.
The Conservatives, led by Alison Redford, won 61 of 87 seats
in the provincial legislature in Monday's election, capturing
44 percent of the popular vote despite lagging in opinion polls
throughout the campaign.
The victory came despite lingering resentment in the
powerful oil industry over an attempt four years ago by
Redford's predecessor as premier, Ed Stelmach, to raise
royalties on oil and gas production.
That pushed many angry oil and gas producers into the arms
of the new Wildrose Party, where they offered enough support to
turn a right-wing splinter group into the Conservatives' main
challenger in the hard-fought election.
It's a lesson the Conservatives are unlikely to forget as
they seek to boost oil and gas output and find new markets for
rising output from the province's oil sands.
"You don't take on big oil. The Conservatives have learned
that," said Peter McCormick, a political science professor at
the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta. "So (Redford)
won't. The royalty issue is dead."
The Conservatives, however, actually increased their share
of the vote in Calgary, where most of Alberta's energy industry
is based, winning 20 of the city's 24 seats in the legislature.
"We expect the focus of the government will be on
maintaining a stable, healthy economy, one that continues to
attract investment to our province, provides good jobs and
improves Alberta's overall quality of life," the Canadian
Association of Petroleum Producers said in a statement.
"Alberta has the opportunity to 'set the tone' and
demonstrate leadership for policy and regulation that enables
responsible oil and gas development."
Indeed, Redford used her first news conference after her
victory to re-affirm her support for the industry.
She said she'll keep pushing the U.S. Obama Administration
approve TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline to move
crude from the oil sands to the Gulf Coast.
"We'll continue doing the work that we've done with the
proponents of the project, with the Canadian ambassador in
Washington, with our own representatives in Washington and
Chicago to make sure we're advancing Alberta's position with
respect to the pipeline," Redford told reporters.
"That is critical to what we do as we move forward because
that is how we'll succeed in continuing to open up our markets."
Redford, who took over as premier in October following
Stelmach's departure, campaigned on promises to increase
Alberta's role within Canada and to boost support for increased
oil sands production through a national energy strategy. That
strategy would both push oil sands crude into Eastern Canadian
markets now served by foreign oil and see new pipelines built to
the Pacific to serve Asian markets.
"Now she'll have to put some meat on the bones of the
national energy strategy that she campaigned on," said Andrew
Leach, a business professor at the University of Alberta.
"She campaigned on the premise that you could get the other
Canadian provinces and more of the Canadian people on side with
oil sands development as a national priority. That's probably at
job one, and job two is doing the same thing in the U.S."
Alberta, Canada's richest province, derives about a third of
its revenue from its vast reserves of oil and gas. Its oil sands
are the world's third-largest crude storehouse, and it is the
single biggest supplier of energy to the United States.
Redford's support for a greater role for Alberta within
Canada was in contrast to the policies of the Wildrose Party,
led by Danielle Smith, a 41-year-old former journalist.
Like the Conservatives, Wildrose backed increased oil and
gas production and promised to trim regulations on the industry.
But it also wanted Alberta to limit its participation in federal
programs such as the Canadian Pension Plan and to replace the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a provincial force.
Observers say Smith's refusal to censure two candidates who
made racially charged and anti-homosexual statements damaged the
party, as did her statements that man-made global warming had
yet to be proven.
"The people in Calgary and Edmonton who know how important
the oil sands are to us ... were shaking their heads and
thinking 'We cannot have a woman who denies climate change
representing us in Ottawa, New York and Washington'," said Bruce
Cameron, president of polling firm Return on Insight.
"So that the extremism that was tolerated by Danielle Smith
became something that was economically scary."
Smith's party ended up with 17 seats and 34 percent of the
vote as many voters who backed the moderate Liberal Party and
the left-wing New Democrats voted Conservative to block a