CALGARY - The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour is defending Tom Mulcair in advance of the federal NDP leader's tour of the oilsands.
Mulcair has angered western premiers and the federal government for suggesting Canada's resource sector has caused an inflated dollar and cost thousands of manufacturing jobs in Central Canada.
"Instead of vilifying Thomas Mulcair, I think Albertans should be thanking him for igniting a long overdue debate about the pace of development in the oilsands and its downside both for Albertans and Canadians more broadly speaking," Gil McGowan said Wednesday after a speech to the Canadian Industrial Relations Association.
"It shouldn't be heresy for people to ask questions about whether or not the oilsands are being developed in an appropriate way," he added.
"It shouldn't be heresy to say instead of shipping raw bitumen down the pipeline we should be keeping it here and creating jobs in refining and upgrading."
McGowan said he's angry because for years anyone who has tried to raise legitimate concerns about oilsands development has been "shouted down."
"Every time anyone, whether it's here in Alberta or across the country, raises questions about the approach the Alberta government and oil companies are taking in developing the oilsands, they're shouted down. They're demonized. They're dismissed," McGowan said.
"We've had the ghost of the national energy program thrown in our face."
Mulcair believes booming energy exports, particularly from the oilsands, have created an artificially high dollar that has, in turn, hollowed out Canada's manufacturing sector — an economic phenomenon dubbed the "Dutch disease.''
He has insisted that statistics on manufacturing job losses are "irrefutable'' and that "everyone'' agrees more than half of those losses are the direct result of the artificially high Canadian dollar created by booming energy exports, particularly from Alberta's oilsands.
Mulcair is to tour the oilsands near Fort McMurray on Thursday morning. He is then to meet with the mayor of the municipality before he returns to Edmonton for a news conference.