The mayors of Spruce Grove and Leduc, Alta., brought a breath of fresh air to Prince George on Thursday, by clearing away much of the overheated rhetoric surrounding the Northern Gateway Pipeline and trying to find common ground between Alberta and B.C.
Stuart Houston, the mayor of Spruce Grove (he should prepare for people asking him if he's Gordon Campbell during his time touring the region over the next few days - the resemblance, right down to the glasses, is startling), and Greg Krischke, the mayor of Leduc, are not just some good ole boys from the centre of Alberta's oil patch (oil was first discovered in Alberta in Leduc in 1947), wondering what's the problem with us granola-crunching tree huggers in B.C. and why aren't we welcoming Enbridge's money like manna from heaven.
They are smart, articulate representatives of the Capital Region Board, comprised of the 24 municipalities that make up the Greater Edmonton region.
Their message is simple: forget about what's in it for B.C. and what's in it for Alberta if the Northern Gateway Pipeline goes ahead, linking the oilsands in Northern Alberta to Kitimat via a twin pipeline to ship crude oil to Asian markets.
Instead, they suggest, think of the national benefits of the pipeline and think about how those nasty Americans are undervaluing our oil and exploiting us for our natural resources.
Stressing the national benefits of the proposed pipeline is not new, of course, but it is an angle of discussion that has been drowned out by the arguments about environmental risk and the bantering between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford about money and benefits.
Houston and Krischke came armed with facts.
To keep its provincial oil sector running smoothly, Alberta will need to go beyond its borders for equipment, services and manpower. The estimated benefit to B.C. over the next 25 years is $28 billion. For every job created in Alberta, another indirect job will be created elsewhere in Canada, with B.C. getting 25 per cent of those jobs.
By shipping Alberta's oil through pipelines to Canada's only real customer, the United States, the Americans play hardball by paying $27 less per barrel for Canadian crude than the benchmark West Texas crude. With 2.45 million barrels of oil heading south from Alberta every day, that's a $66 million daily loss to oil producers that Canadian governments can't access in royalties.
A pipeline to the West Coast allows Canada to access Asian customers and lets Canada choose who to sell its oil to, based on who's willing to pay the most for it.
The two mayors would like to see a pipeline to Eastern Canada, too, to take advantage of the refinery capacity there and to allow the Maritimes to buy Canadian, not Saudi, oil.
They love the idea of more and bigger refineries, so that the value-added jobs stay in Canada, rather than going to the United States or China.
They respect how aboriginal land claims have not been settled in B.C. to the extent they have in Alberta. They respect our love for our environment because they both spend their annual vacations in B.C.
They rightly point out that natural gas and softwood lumber from B.C. run through Alberta on their way to other markets without Alberta taxing it, so why should the B.C. government threaten an environmental levy on the Northern Gateway Pipeline?
What the two mayors want is for B.C. residents to ask a different question. Rather than asking "what's in it for B.C.?" or "why should B.C. take so much risk?", they'd like to see the question be "how can we do this in a way that manages the risk and benefits B.C.?"
Both mayors are rational and reasonable men with thought-provoking suggestions and we need more of that on both sides of this debate that will shape not just this region's future but also the entire country's.
But when we speak of our country, there is an emotional component that can't be monetized. Both of them will be visiting Terrace and Kitimat for the first time before returning to Central Alberta, so they will see for themselves some of this region's most beautiful and sensitive landscapes. And hopefully they'll better understand why economic development in this part of the world is so often about more than just jobs and money.