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Officials, former politicians pitch a path to net-zero with Alberta’s economy in mind

In the Alberta government’s latest fiscal update Tuesday, skyrocketing oil and gas prices led the way to a $3.9-billion surplus, a figure that will lead to much debate over what to do with such a large cash influx. 

Perhaps in an instance of good timing, media personalities, former politicians and industry officials gathered at Calgary’s BMO Centre that same day as part of Alberta Relaunch, billed as a conference focused on shaping Alberta’s economic future. Around 300 were in attendance.

Challenges and opportunity in the energy industry was one of the dominant topics at the one-day conference, and specifically when it came to decarbonization.

Lisa Raitt, a former Conservative cabinet minister who is now vice-chair of global investment banking at CIBC, said affordability remains the “Achilles heel” when it comes to decarbonization.

“There’s a lot of understanding of the ‘why’ we’re doing it — we’re sold on why we need to do net-zero, we’re sold on why we need to do decarbonization … but the question that remains is, how?” said Raitt, one of the keynote speakers.

“The how comes from industry, but the how also comes from politicians and from politics.”

Raitt said conservatives needed to stop fighting about carbon pricing, calling it a “shiny object” — comments that drew some applause in the room. She did, however, say she would be in favour of a pause on tax for fuel to help consumers.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt delivered a keynote address. She said carbon pricing is an important part of the market and pushed back about it being used as a ‘wedge issue’ in politics. (Joel Dryden/CBC)

In a separate keynote address, Lisa Baiton, who took over in April as president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said she hoped to “relaunch” the conversation around the oil and gas industry.

Baiton, who was previously a member of the global leadership team at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, took the helm at CAPP as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to ongoing debates around energy security.

“Our industry is transforming for a new era,” Baiton said as part of her first public remarks in the new role, adding the lobby group’s objective is to position Canada as a global provider of responsible power while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Lisa Baiton was named CEO and president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in April, taking over from Tim McMillan. Baiton delivered one of the keynote addresses on Tuesday. (Submitted by New West Public Affairs)

In an interview after her speech, Baiton said CAPP was focused on bringing forward ideas and solutions to today’s energy challenges.

“We’re going to do a better job of telling the story about all the really terrific innovation that’s happening in the sector that has already made demonstrable difference in the reduction of GHG emissions,” she said. 

A third keynote featured Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada, who said Alberta and Canada could be part of a solution to badly shaken global energy markets.

Carney also said the risk of a recession in the U.S. is high, but said Canada could potentially shield itself from its worst effects should that happen.

Concerns around issues related to the energy sector are top of mind for many Albertans. A new poll released Tuesday at Alberta Relaunch from Janet Brown Opinion Research indicated that 16 per cent of those surveyed thought such issues were among the most important facing the province today.

Issues related to the energy sector were outranked by those surveyed when it came to the economy (19 per cent), health care (25 per cent) and inflation (41 per cent).

“I wasn’t surprised to see that inflation came up  No. 1, but that trend has come on so fast in Alberta,” said Scott Crockatt, vice-president of the Business Council of Alberta, during a panel discussion on the survey results. “It’s a big concern for businesses as well.”

Ed Whittingham, former head of the Pembina Institute, hosted a panel on Tuesday along with Maria Hushovd of RBC Capital Markets, Kevin Krausert, CEO of Avatar Innovations Inc., Sarah Marshall with NOVA Chemicals and Mark Cameron of Pathways Alliance, a coalition of oilsands producers. The panel was held as a part of Alberta Relaunch, hosted by New West Public Affairs on Tuesday. (Submitted by New West Public Affairs)

Crockatt said he tells the same thing to his members and any political party chasing success: seek out what unites Albertans.

“We’d say a province of belonging, a place of opportunity, and a place of solutions — the kind of place that can solve the next challenge,” he said. “So I think the message for business leaders and political leaders is to say, whoever can align themselves with that future of the province is likely to be successful.”

The event was hosted by the Calgary-based public relations firm New West Public Affairs, run by Monte Solberg, a former Conservative cabinet member under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Other speakers included Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; and Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to Harper.

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