POLITICS

Oilsands 'impressive' but has challenges, Mulcair says after tour

05/31/2012 04:13 EDT | Updated 07/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's position on the Alberta oilsands appeared to remain largely unchanged after his one-day tour of the region on Thursday, but his remarks were more moderate in tone.

Mulcair was making his first visit to the oilsands, just a few weeks after he criticized the industry for artificially inflating the Canadian dollar and hurting the manufacturing sector in Eastern Canada.

Speaking at a news conference at the provincial legislature, Mulcair said that the oilsands should be developed but on a sustainable basis and that the high dollar is hurting all Canadian exports, not just those from the manufacturing sector.

He continued to blame the federal Conservatives for what he views as their reluctance to enforce environmental laws in the oilsands and make polluters pay.

"I wanted to make that a very clear point — we're talking about what the federal government is failing to do right now," he said.

Mulcair started his day early by taking a helicopter tour of the oilsands and visiting the Suncor site.

"We were able, during the helicopter part, to really take in a vast vista of what was being accomplished and it's extraordinarily impressive, but it also brings with it real challenges and real challenges that if we don't assume in this generation, we're going to bear in future generations," he said.

Mulcair held his news conference shortly after meeting in with Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who was taking the place of Premier Alison Redford. Redford is in Virginia attending the Bilderberg conference.

Lukaszuk said he told Mulcair that Alberta does what it can to extract natural resources in an environmentally responsible manner, and that pitting one region of the country against another and pointing fingers at Alberta will not be tolerated.

"I have provided him with expectations of the premier, frankly, of Albertans, not to be used in any political games, and I believe that he has heard that well," Lukaszuk said.

What did Mulcair say in response?

"He listened and he took it under advisement," Lukaszuk replied.

Mulcair said the meeting was "cordial" and called Lukaszuk a "gentleman."

Fort McMurray mayor disagrees with 'Dutch disease' theory

Earlier in the day, the mayor of Fort McMurray, Alta., gave Mulcair credit for touring the oilsands and meeting with local representatives Thursday morning.

"His passion is deep for the advances he's trying to make in terms of environmental legislation," said Melissa Blake. "He's got some valid points. He's got some that I disagree with."

Blake said she emphasized she disagrees with how big a role the oilsands play in so-called "Dutch disease."

Before Mulcair departed for Edmonton, Blake gave him a loot bag that included:

- A municipal development plan.

- Reusable shopping bags (plastic bags are banned in the municipality).

- A water bottle.

- A pen and pencil set (Blake told Mulcair to work on policies in pencil as they may need to be erased and sign things in pen).

- A sponge buffalo (she told Mulcair to squeeze it when he's stressed about climate change, but to remember real buffaloes live on land reclaimed from oilsands mines).

Some Fort McMurray residents said they wished that Mulcair had visited the region first before weighing in on the effects of the oilsands.

"If you're going to make a statement about a certain portion of the economy, or certain portion of the country, you should have some first-hand experience about it," said Kent Pickett.