May 25th, 2024

Candidate believes NDP can save oil and gas industry

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on April 25, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Candidate Gil McGowan will be part of the Alberta NDP's first leadership debate set for this evening at the Yates Memorial Centre.


Gil McGowan believes the Alberta NDP is the party that can save the oil and gas industry.

The candidate for the party leadership, which is holding its first debate at the Yates tonight starting at 7 p.m., also believes the party needs the support of working class voters if it hopes to beat the UCP in 2027 and beyond.

McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, was in Lethbridge Wednesday for an AFL town hall at the Galt Museum that was scheduled before he announced his bid for the NDP’s top job in Alberta.

He spoke at the Galt about the AFL’s Diversify Alberta campaign, elements of which McGowan is employing in his candidacy.

McGowan, who has led the AFL for 19 years, believes the oil and gas industry needs to go in a different direction – from producing fuels to producing materials.

Alberta is an oil and gas jurisdiction and along with the rest of the world it’s part of a reality of an unfolding energy transition and McGowan feels the party has to talk about the future of those resources and how Alberta can retain its prosperity in a world moving away from both as fuels.

Because the Alberta labour movement hasn’t heard a compelling energy plan from provincial or federal leaders, two years ago it created the industrial policy coalition – which McGowan chairs – and created a blueprint for the provincial economy called “Skate to Where the Puck is Going,” a phrase made famous by Wayne Gretzky.

The name was chosen, he said in an interview Wednesday morning at The Herald, is because most Albertans know the puck is going to a lower carbon future and to maintain prosperity in a changing world, that fact has to be accepted and prepared for.

“That doesn’t mean abandoning oil and gas but it does mean pivoting the sector to new opportunities.”

The AFL report shows how government led industrial policy should be used to pivot oil and gas from fuels to materials such as petrochemicals, carbon fibre and other advanced material.

“The conversation on the unfolding global energy transition and the future of oil and gas in Alberta has become very polarized. On one side, you have people saying ‘shut it all down’ and on the other side you have people saying ‘drill, baby, drill,’ and we in the Alberta labour movement don’t think that’s a particularly productive approach. So we’re trying in our small way to encourage a more pragmatic and productive conversation,” McGowan said.

“And we’ve done that by putting a blueprint on the table which we think will allow us to reduce our emissions while maintaining our oil and gas industry and all that economic activity and jobs it creates.”

The candidate grew up on his family’s farm north of Edmonton and is a former journalist for The Canadian Press, Edmonton Journal and CTV.

In his role as head of the AFL, McGowan leads an organization with more than 170,000 unionized workers.

And he said that AFL surveys show the NDP, the supposed ‘workers party,’ actually doesn’t have the support of Alberta workers.

Instead its support, says McGowan citing AFL surveys, is based among university-educated people who describe themselves as middle class living in the province’s two largest cities – Calgary and Edmonton.

In the 2023 election, those voters supported the NDP which lost among Albertans with high school, college and trades education who describe themselves as working class – 35 per cent of the population,” said McGowan.

Before joining the race, McGowan said he wanted to see if any candidate had a solution for the problems he saw in the province.

What they all have in common is they want to defeat the UCP in 2027 and agree that the only way to achieve that is “to get more people inside the NDP tent.

“But before we do that, we have to understand who’s outside the tent. And I’m not convinced any of the other leadership contenders have clearly identified who’s outside and how to bring them in,” said McGowan.

And he sees working people as those on the outside looking in.

“The polling tells an important story, one that we as New Democrats can’t afford to ignore and what it’s telling us is that working people have been lured over to the UCP,” he said.

“The party was created by a historic partnership between the old CCF, primarily representing farmers and the Canadian Labour Congress, representing workers but what the polling and my experience in this province tell me is that we’re losing both groups.

“And this is a double gut punch for me because I’m a farm kid who became a worker advocate and union leader,” said McGowan.

“It’s not enough to say we need to grow the tent, we need to understand who’s outside the tent and right now who’s outside the tent are working class Albertans and especially those outside of the two big cities.

So what works with the people who are already inside the tent won’t necessarily work with those outside, he said.

What’s stopping those groups supporting the NDP are economic issues, he said. People told necessarily trust the UCP but will support them because of the economy, he believes. People feel the NDP can’t be trusted with oil and gas, he said.

Alberta has the “dubious distinction” of highest rate of inflation among Canadian provinces but also the slowest rate of wage growth since the UCP came to power in 2019, he added.

He believes the lack of wage growth is due to a wage suppression strategy by the UCP.

McGowan has made the subject of energy transition central to his campaign. His whole point of the campaign is the NDP is losing among working Albertans and can’t hope to lead the province again until they win them back.

These are the missing pieces in a winning coalition for 2027, he says.

And talking about the economy is key to getting support back.

“We have to present a more credible and compelling story on the economy if we hope to win working people back to the NDP coalition.

“And that includes having a competent and compelling narrative on oil gas,” said McGowan, whose union represents many workers in oil and gas and related construction.

Tonight’s debate runs from 7-9 p.m. All five candidates will be participating. They include Kathleen Ganley, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Sarah Hoffman and Naheed Nenshi.

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