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NDP in Alberta and Saskatchewan join forces to push back on federal private member's bill targeting oil ads

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons in a file photo from Feb. 5. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons in a file photo from Feb. 5. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Energy critics within the NDP's provincial affiliates in Alberta and Saskatchewan are pushing back against MP Charlie Angus's private member's bill targeting fossil fuel advertising.

The dispute between provincial and federal New Democrats comes days after two candidates to lead the Alberta NDP expressed openness to loosening the formal ties that bind the party branches.

However, federal party leader Jagmeet Singh said while there may be disagreements on some particular matters, "we're a large party and that's a normal thing that happens."

On Monday, MLAs Nagwan Al-Guneid of Alberta and Aleana Young of Saskatchewan released a joint statement stating their disapproval with Angus's bill.

"It is not helpful to pick fights that just polarize people and get in the way of the real solutions we need," the Opposition energy critics stated.

"Energy companies are important job creators in Alberta and Saskatchewan and shouldn't be singled out by advertising restrictions.

We already have legislation around false advertising, and we are more interested in advancing ideas that can actually help people."

WATCH | Last week, NDP MP Charlie Angus compared big oil to big tobacco:

Angus's bill, tabled last week in the House of Commons, seeks to crack down on fossil-fuel advertising, much like cigarette ads were restricted in the 1990s. In a statement provided to CBC News on Monday, Angus said the legislation was focused on corporate accountability.

"I have always worked well with our provincial cousins. As New Democrats, we are always debating about how to make life better for Canadians," Angus wrote.

"I have spent much of the last number of years fighting for a fair deal for energy workers and ensuring that tradespeople are able to make the full benefit of the immense global energy transition that is underway. Our team knows that sustainability and good jobs go hand in hand."

Last week, the office of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told CBC News the federal government welcomed the NDP's bill to the House but didn't go so far as to endorse it.

Private member's bills face significant challenges prior to being adopted. In recent days, conservative parties pushed Alberta NDP leadership candidates to stake out positions on the matter.

The constitution of Alberta's NDP stipulates that anyone who buys a membership for the provincial party automatically becomes a member of the federal NDP. That's unique to the NDP, whereas the Liberals and Conservative parties are not legally connected provincially and federally.

It doesn't mean that the provincial party must adopt the policies of the federal NDP, and the Alberta branch has been moved on several occasions to state displeasure with various efforts at the federal level.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley has been often asked whether her dissatisfaction with certain policies would lead to her severing ties with the federal party. She's repeatedly dismissed the idea.

"There are many features to our social lives and social networks that we have in this province and in this country that can be traced back directly to the long-standing advocacy of the NDP," Notley told the CBC's Janet French last December.

Notley announced in January she would step down as leader as soon as members choose her replacement. The leadership election is set for June 22.

Two candidates for Notley's job have had to walk the tightrope between provincial and federal policy when it comes to the Angus bill. Kathleen Ganley was critical of the bill, while Rakhi Pancholi characterized it in a statement to CBC News as a fight that further polarizes the conversation around climate action. CBC News has reached out to the campaign for Sarah Hoffman for comment.

Pancholi and Ganley have both said they're open to debate about disaffiliation with the federal NDP, but neither has linked that position to their disagreement with the Angus bill.

Asked about frayed relations between the two branches, the federal leader stressed their bonds.

"We share far more in common and we constantly fight for people and the betterment of people and that's what brings us together and keeps us united," Singh said.

Hoffman, who publicly launched her Alberta NDP leadership campaign on the weekend, said she wasn't in favour of severing ties with the federal party.

Scott Dippel/CBC
Scott Dippel/CBC

This debate around NDP disaffiliation will hinge on who wins the leadership, said political analyst Lori Williams of Mount Royal University.

In many instances throughout Canadian history, provincial parties often were distinct from their federal counterparts, such as how the Liberal Party of British Columbia essentially functioned as a "small-c conservative party" compared to the more progressive federal Liberals, Williams said.

But disagreements between the federal and provincial NDP are different given their connection through membership.

"A decision or policy taken by a federal party can have positive or negative implications for the provincial party, and vice versa," she said.