05/30/2012 08:30 EDT | Updated 07/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Mulcair, Oliver spar over NDP leader's Alberta trip

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says oilsands tailing ponds are being cleaned up to the point "you'll be able to drink from them" and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's only interest is in seeing the oilsands shut down.

Oliver made the comments as Mulcair prepared to tour Alberta's oilsands and meet with the region's political leaders.

Mulcair, who has criticized the government's handling of the oilsands' impact on the economy, said he wants to create a discussion about sustainable development with his trip to Alberta.

"We're hoping to be able to continue working on issues of sustainable development. We have a view that the way [Canada is] doing things right now doesn't internalize the cost — we're not applying the basic rule of polluter pay," Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday.

"C-38 [the omnibus budget bill] is another part of this discussion, because up until now, whenever a company's environmental practices didn't correspond to legislation, you changed the practices; now, [the government] is changing the legislation."

Mulcair said his goal was a discussion about "breaking the boom and bust cycle" and promoting sustainable development.

But Oliver responded that Mulcair's goal is simply to shut down the oilsands.

And later, on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, Oliver said tailings ponds created through oilsands development are being cleaned up.

"The fact is the tailings ponds are being cleaned up and you'll be able to drink from them, you'll be able to fish from them," Oliver said. "The land will be brought back to its original state."

Mulcair will take a helicopter tour and visit a Suncor project early Thursday and will meet separately with Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk later in the day.

Debate over 'Dutch Disease'

Mulcair has been critical of the federal government's environmental regulation of the industry and has claimed exports from resources such as the oilsands have created an artificially high dollar that is hurting Canadian manufacturing.

He says the effect has been similar to the so-called "Dutch disease" that harmed the Netherlands economy decades ago following the discovery of natural gas, and has argued that making resource industries pay the full cost of development, including environmental impacts such as pollution, would even the playing field for other industries.

Oliver and other federal ministers and Western Canada politicians have responded with harsh criticism, saying Mulcair is trying to drive a wedge between the West and Eastern Canada.

But Mulcair said Wednesday his comments were not directed at a specific region, calling allegations he was against the West a "straw man."

Oliver spoke to reporters moments after Mulcair, saying the NDP leader doesn't support the oilsands and wants them shut down at the cost of "hundreds of thousands of jobs."

He dismissed Mulcair's more measured tone in recent days as "action by stealth," alleging Mulcair's true agenda is to impose a "crushing new carbon tax."