As I noted in reviewing the first debate, Peter Julian's choice to brand himself largely through his opposition to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines figured to turn what could otherwise have been a broadly acceptable campaign into a highly polarizing one. And a combination of nonsensical reactions to Julian's message and a lack of pushback on his part has taken the division to extremes which look highly dangerous for the NDP as a whole.
At the outset, here's Julian's position on pipelines in the context of resource development generally (emphasis added):
Mr. Julian said it is “very clear” to him that the NDP must oppose pipelines and work towards transitioning to clean energy.The same article notes that both Guy Caron and Niki Ashton are also opposed to Kinder Morgan and Energy East, and that the comparatively pro-pipeline position among the current candidates is found in Charlie Angus' slightly different emphasis as to the balance between the interests of pipeline operators and the people whose territory they use.
Mr. Julian says the government should refine and upgrade raw bitumen from the oilsands in Canada, instead of exporting it. The risk of spilling the diluted bitumen the pipelines carry was not worth the reward, he said.
Mr. Julian said building refineries and using the resulting product in Canada would create more jobs than pipeline construction ever would, and it would decrease Canada’s dependency on oil imports. It would also eliminate the need for pipelines, he said.
Somehow, that modest different in positions - coupled with Julian's emphasis on pipelines as an issue - has led to outbursts from NDP supporters which would fit far more comfortably within a Wildrose Party policy debate.
In one case, that's consisted of the classic capital-friendly position that any questioning of a business' wishes is predominantly an attack on the labour share of the resulting economic activity.
On that front, pipelines offer less wage bang for the buck of profit stashed away than nearly any other type of development Canada could pursue. And Noah Evanchuk's form of the theory is also false in attributing a hatred of refineries to Julian when he's the one candidate actually proposing to encourage more of them.
Even worse, the latest criticism of Julian from Doug O'Halloran has sunk to the level of echoing Ezra Levant's tired theme that some fabricated difference between "our oil" and "their oil" trumps the problems with locking ourselves into a future of burning carbon generally.
Unfortunately, Julian himself doesn't seem to have done much to set the record straight. And that might make sense for his campaign: to the extent he's trying to paint himself as the top choice for environmental voters (defined by opposition to pipelines), he may well have more to gain than to lose by allowing those attacks to stand unchallenged.
But from the standpoint of talking responsibly about resource management, it could be disastrous for the NDP if its leadership debate serves to legitimize exactly the messages the party is trying to fight in the wider political scene. And hopefully the candidates who are trying to downplay the pipeline question will make that fact clear - and push both Julian and his critics toward the right balance.