During the NDP’s brief sojourn as government of Alberta, it pursued a policy oft-referred to as “social license.” The idea was that if the province was to get investment in tar sands and pipelines, it would have to show sound environmental stewardship. This was undoubtedly part of the reason for its progressive “Climate Leadership Plan,” which included a cap on tar sands emissions, phasing out of coal power, methane reduction targets and a carbon tax.

Jason Kenney and his UCP, and a host of oil industry boosters, mocked social license. Kenney referred to it as a “a miserable failure for Albertans” and called for a new strategy. He promised to assume an “assertive posture.”

How time changes minds. Kenney has assumed his assertive posture and found it to be what he termed social license was—a miserable failure.

As one bank, or investment firm, or even oil company, after another has announced it is departing oil, Kenney has chastised the offending parties for abandoning “ethical oil” and railed about the “misinformed campaign from European financial institutions.” He has gamely visited foreign capitals attempting to drum up funds but with little luck. 

He finally seems to be getting the picture. He has now admitted that access to capital for projects in the oil and gas industry requires action on environmental issues. He told his party at their recent AGM that the oil industry is telling him that it is getting harder to access funding for projects without demonstrating a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Commenting on why he supported Erin O’Toole for the federal leadership, Kenney declared, “I don’t think Erin is wrong to say that we have to find a way forward for our industry where we don’t stick our head in the ground and pretend that the aspirations behind the Paris thing are not hugely influential in how capital is allocated and how market access decisions are made.” 

Despite the “aspirations” and the “Paris thing” it sounds a lot like—heaven forbid—he’s been converted to social license. And if he has to deal with a Joe Biden administration, he will have to do social license like a true believer. Even then it may be too little too late.

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