Critics call out Mulcair for comparing oilsands to N.S. tar ponds

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OTTAWA — NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is getting some political blowback for comparing Alberta’s oilsands to the Sydney tar ponds – the toxic waste site left behind by coke ovens at Cape Breton steel plants.

Mulcair uses the tar ponds as an example of what he predicts will happen if governments ignore his advice to price oilsands carbon emissions.

Geoff Regan, a Liberal MP from Nova Scotia, called out Mulcair on Friday.

"I think you’re talking apples and oranges," Regan said. "Mr. Mulcair has been irresponsible to create division among Canadians by attacking Alberta and trying to divide people in the rest of Canada and turn them against Alberta."

International Trade Minister Ed Fast seized on the comments Friday as a trade issue, saying "the NDP has attempted to undermine our efforts to provide new opportunities and new markets for Canadian businesses."

Nova Scotia PC Leader Jamie Baillie fears Mulcair’s rhetoric could mess with his province’s economic prospects. "We have an offshore oil and gas opportunity that we wish to develop and comments like Mr. Mulcair’s make it more difficult for Nova Scotia to develop its own resources in a responsible way and create jobs here," Baillie said.

Nova Scotia’s NDP Premier Darrell Dexter declined comment.

Meantime, Martyn Griggs, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says there is "no comparison" between the oilsands and the tar ponds.

He also notes that a lot of families from the Atlantic provinces depend on the oilsands.

"I’m sure they have some of the best fish-and-chip shops up in Fort McMurray because there are so many Atlantic Canadians up there," Griggs said Friday.

Still, NDP MP Nathan Cullen stands by his leader, saying he is worried about "the pace of development" in northern Alberta.

"This (federal) government has stripped away all the most basic environmental legislation and there is no ‘polluter pay’ principle in oilsands right now," Cullen said.

Griggs says there are provincial rules for resource development.

"You cannot even put a shovel into the ground now without a full reclamation plan that is approved by the government of Alberta," he said.

Mulcair heads into oilsands territory to speak at Saturday’s Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton.

– with files from Kris Sims