Topp to unveil major Alberta backers

OTTAWA — New Democratic Party leadership candidate Brian Topp, who has accused perceived front-runner Thomas Mulcair of having a plan to make the federal government "addicted" to oil and gas revenues, will officially unveil his major Alberta backers Monday.

Topp will announce the endorsements of Edmonton Strathcona NDP member of legislature Rachel Notley, Edmonton Public School Board trustee Sarah Hoffman, Lethbridge West provincial candidate Shannon Phillips, and Melanee Thomas, 2004 and 2006 NDP candidate for MP for Lethbridge.

"While Brian clearly has the ability to speak persuasively to voters in his home province of Quebec, I'm impressed with his grasp of Prairie political sensibilities," Notley is to say in a statement prepared for Monday's announcement.

Topp has sharpened his attack on rivals, and especially Mulcair, in advance of next month's leadership vote to replace Jack Layton.

Both Topp and Mulcair propose a so-called "cap-and-trade" systems that, by putting a price on carbon, is intended to work as an incentive to get companies in carbon-intensive sectors such as energy to come up with ways to lower emissions.

And while both men originally said revenues from that system would be funnelled into renewable energy projects in the region where the money is collected, Topp accused Mulcair Friday of shifting gears.

Topp pointed to Mulcair's comments at last month's debate in Halifax, when the Quebec MP was asked about Topp's plan to raise taxes to fight the deficit and fund NDP social programs.

"The cap-and-trade system that I propose . . . will produce billions of dollars of revenue," Mulcair responded.

"That's the modern way of doing it."

Topp, in an interview Friday, said Mulcair is suggesting that cap-and-trade money should go into general government revenues.

"In my view revenues inside our cap-and-trade plan need to stay in the plan" to fund green energy options in areas like solar, thermal and wind power, he said.

"And secondly I don't think we want governments to become carbon addicts. We don't want to restructure public finance so that the government is dependent on revenues raised from carbon production, which is something we wish to significantly reduce."

Topp also said Friday that of the revenues collected in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, where Canada's oil and gas industry is based, "all or substantially all" of this money collected should stay in those provinces.

Mulcair said essentially the same thing in December when he unveiled his environmental policies.

His policy document promised that a Mulcair government's cap-and-trade system would generate "billions" of dollars that would be used to "invest in green renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure and energy saving technologies."

In an interview in December Mulcair was asked if his plan might be viewed in the West as a replay of the hated 1980 National Energy Program that used the tax system to redistribute the West's oil and gas wealth.

"No, anything but, because don't forget that the money from this system would be used first and foremost in the areas where it would be collected," Mulcair replied.

A spokeswoman for the Mulcair campaign rejected Saturday that assertion that the candidate has shifted position.

"Investments funded by these revenues would, for obvious reasons, be concentrated in the regions where those revenues are produced," Chantale Turgeon said in an email.

"We would, for example, be displacing coal in areas such as Alberta and Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia and, of course, Mr. Mulcair's long-espoused vision of a pan-Canadian green renewable energy network would be concentrated in the regions where the greatest effort had been made to reduce emissions."

But she said that priority "does not preclude the option of using additional revenues generated by a more comprehensive cap-and-trade system to fund other priorities in addition to green initiatives, nor does it change our commitment to ensure that such investments are concentrated in the same region where those revenues were generated."

Just over 10,000 of the 128,351 NDP members are in Alberta, making it a second-tier province in the hunt for votes among the seven candidates.

B.C., with 38,735, and Ontario, with 36,760, are by far the party's hotbeds. Quebec is a distant third at 12,266.

The NDP has been accused by the Tories throughout the campaign of supporting a "radical" environmental agenda that is hostile to the energy sector and especially the oilsands industry.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar has waged an aggressive campaign to pick up Alberta supporters, visiting the province five times and planning to return two more times before the March vote, according to spokesman Joe Cressy.

Among his supporters is Alberta's lone NDP MP, Linda Duncan, as well as one of the party's most high-profile 2011 candidates, Lewis Cardinal.

Peggy Nash has visited Alberta once and is endorsed by Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Gordon Laxer, a professor at the University of Alberta.

B.C. MP Nathan Cullen has the backing of a nominated candidate in this spring's provincial campaign, Deron Bilous of Edmonton.

Mulcair, Niki Ashton and Martin Singh didn't respond to requests for their top Alberta endorsements.

The Windsor Star, Sun Feb 26 2012

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