Canada opposition leader heads West amid oil scrap

Wed May 30, 2012 4:37pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's federal opposition party leader, who has criticized the oil sands boom as harmful to the country's manufacturing sector, prepared on Wednesday to make his first visit to the massive resource development in Alberta, where his comments have sparked anger.

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, slated to tour Suncor Energy Inc's oil sands operation on Thursday, has said the manufacturing sector is being hollowed out by a Canadian dollar that has surged due to the boom in oil exports.

Quebec-based Mulcair's comments, which characterized the situation as "Dutch disease," angered Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who said they threaten to deepen East-West divisions. She will not meet with the leader of the left-wing party, having already committed to an economic forum in the United States.

Mulcair's tar sands tour is seen in Alberta as an important introduction to an industry that has eschewed the left-leaning NDP with its history of support from organized labor. Nationally, recent opinion polls have shown Mulcair and his party approaching and even surpassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, major supporters of the oil-industry.

"Our simple message is simply that we want to work for sustainable development in all regions of Canada," Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa. "There's nothing specific to the West in our message ... we're going to say that we want legislation enforced and legislation that is there to protect human health and ecosystems."

Joe Oliver, the federal natural resources minister, said the opposition leader's trip to the heart of oil country does nothing to change an anti-industry stance. The NDP has also been highly critical of the environmental impact of development.

"The NDP is trying to dress up an anti-resource agenda in sheep's clothing. It is clear that they want to shut down an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Canadians and provides billions in revenues to governments across Canada to pay for social programs such as education and health care," Oliver said.

'OIL SANDS FEVER'   Continued...

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie