By Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Gary Mar wants to use the momentum from his first place finish in the first round of balloting to secure his place as Alberta’s next premier.
“This is a horse race, and I’m running hard to secure votes,” Mar told reporters on a teleconference call last week.
There have been protests in Ottawa over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which would send raw bitumen from Alberta to the United States; some are opposed on environmental grounds, others because jobs would be created in the U.S. not in Alberta. Alberta Federation of Labour leader Gil McGowan wants Canada to develop the bitumen rather than send it south.
Mar said the Keystone extension would increase production revenue from the oil sands. Alberta is producing approximately two million barrels per day but with some equipment upgrades in the oil sands there is the potential to produce three to five million barrels per day.
If he becomes premier on Oct. 1, Mar said he will go to the United States on Oct. 7 to the National Interest Determination hearing that will decide if the Keystone XL is beneficial to the American people. According to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, revenue for the next 25 years from Albertan oil sands is expected to bring in $2.1 trillion to the Canadian economy, approximately $84 billion per year.
“Making sure that market access is maintained in the U.S. is important for Alberta because 90 per cent of our exports go to one jurisdiction — the United States — and if we don’t hold together strong as a province we will not be as effective in making sure our market access is improved in the U.S.”
Mar is satisfied with the current oil royalty structure.
“When royalty rates fluctuate it is a bad thing when it comes to investments and if someone makes a billion-dollar bet on oil sands they need some certainty with royalty rates, otherwise it creates uncertainty in the marketplace,” he explained.
Mar also is also interested in working with the federal government to open up markets in India and China.
The question of mental health care was raised and he said there are two things that will drive health care costs up in the next 20 years — diabetes and mental health. He explained how treatment at an early stage would be the difference.
“We need to increase our commitment to primary health care to include mental health, and I would suggest, the treatment of diabetes,” Mar said. His strategy is to give Albertans better access in the community for mental health, otherwise it is a “revolving door” where a patient with a disability is released from a hospital and then re-admitted when they need more help.