Coal transition funds announced for Alberta and Saskatchewan communities

On June 28, the federal government announced funding of $4,489,100 through the Canada Coal Transition Initiative.  Details of the funded projects – four in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan –  are listed in the Backgrounder . The Saskatchewan projects include establishing a solar installation training program in Estevan; development of business retention and expansion plans for Weyburn, Estevan, Moose Jaw and Coronach; and an economic and employment impact analysis with a regional strategic economic mitigation plan to support the Coronach & Region Coal Transition Initiatives. The Canada Coal Transition Initiative is a $35 million, five-year strategic fund to support skills development and economic diversification activities for workers and communities impacted by the government’s February 2018 decision to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

Since the June 28 announcements, brief reactions  have appeared: “Federal government gives $1.2M to Sask. groups to phase out coal” at CBC Saskatchewan; “Feds announce funding for coal energy transition in Saskatchewan, Alberta”which quotes a United Mineworkers spokesperson and the official province of Saskatchewan response;  “Leduc, Parkland counties among recipients of federal coal transition handout” in the Edmonton Journal, and  “Edmonton-area counties get help from Ottawa for coal transition” at CBC Edmonton.

The June 28 funding press release also  states:

In response to the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, the Government of Canada intends to:

Create worker transition centres (funded through Budget 2018);

Explore new ways to protect wages and pensions; and

Create a $150 million infrastructure fund, beginning 2020-21, for impacted communities, administered by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Boundary Dam facility estevan

Boundary Dam facility in Estevan -photo by Don Healy / Regina Leader-Post) 

How the coal transition is impacting the communities across Canada is evident from the What we heard from Canadian coal power workers and communities report which accompanied the release of the Final Report of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities in January 2019.  Climate Justice Saskatoon has also published the results of its interviews with people in Estevan and Coronach in its Bridging the Gap project.   Articles have also appeared: “Estevan, Sask. preparing for coal phase-out putting hundreds of jobs at risk”  at Global News (May 2019)  is a profile of the community;  “Saskatchewan reaches agreement with Ottawa to cut power-generation emissions”(January 2019) outlines the agreement reached between the federal and provincial government, allowing  Boundary Dam Three near Estevan to continue beyond 2030, thanks to its nearly $1.5 billion Carbon Capture and Storage  retrofit.

New Alberta government all-in for oil and gas, beginning with repeal of carbon tax

Jason-Kenney Open for businessThe new UCP government of Alberta, led by Premier Jason Kenney,  kicked off  its legislative session agenda on May 22  with a Throne Speech  promising to “show the world that Alberta is open for business by restoring investor confidence and re-establishing the province as a job-creating investment magnet.” That “open for business” approach, applied to the oil and gas sector, includes some ominous statements : …”Protect and maximize the value of Alberta’s resources – including using, as necessary, the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act” (Rachel Notley’s law which gives Alberta the right to restrict oil and gas exports to British Columbia)…. “Challenge those who misrepresent our industry and launch a public inquiry into campaigns to landlock Alberta’s energy”…and “Make life more affordable for Albertans by repealing the carbon tax and focusing climate change action on large emitters.”  More positively, “Be transparent and honest about how Alberta produces energy to the highest environmental, labour and human rights standards on earth” ….”Take action on climate change by introducing the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Fund through regulation targeting large emitters.”  Columnist Chris Varcoe provides one Alberta viewpoint  in “Throne speech ‘roadmap’ to revive oilpatch hinges on pipelines” in the Edmonton Journal (May 23) .

The first legislation to be introduced, on May 22, was Bill 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax . The government press release claims that “Scrapping the carbon tax will free up nearly $1.4 billion of tax burden, create 6,000 jobs, save the average small business $4,500 annually and save Alberta families up to $1,150 a year.”  Even before the Bill was passed in the legislature, the Kenney government ended collection of the tax, on May 30.  In a press release titled “Albertans lose more than they gain with carbon tax repeal”, the Pembina Institute disagrees: “With the tabling of Bill 1 to repeal the Climate Leadership Act, the Alberta government is cutting existing jobs, stunting innovation, removing financial benefits for small- and medium-size businesses, families and communities, and is allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue to increase. The government has yet to produce a plan that will make up for these losses and build on previous progress.” The National Observer summary is here  . And of course, there is also the issue that, by repealing Alberta’s own carbon tax, the government has made the province subject to the federal backstop carbon levy.

Without the revenue stream of the carbon tax, energy efficiency programs initiated by the NDP government are in jeopardy. On May 24, the Calgary Herald reported  “UCP steps back from scrapping NDP’s Energy Efficiency Alberta; will look at programs ‘with an open mind’” .  Although Jason Kenney derides the Energy Efficiency Alberta programs  as “subsidizing showerheads and lightbulbs”, in fact, the agency supports major economic programs, including those encouraging  the growth of Alberta’s solar industry.  Efficiency Canada documents the benefits for Alberta and points out that Alberta would be the only jurisdiction in North America not to have an energy efficiency program if it is scrapped .

On May 23, the Alberta legislature gave unanimous approval of a motion condemning federal bills C-69 , An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act,  and C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act . The Alberta government  claims that the legislation “poses a very real threat to hundreds of thousands of jobs in Alberta and across Canada, and the $16 trillion in economic potential within Alberta’s oilsands that could be lost if they proceed.”  After the Senate Committee tabled its controversial amendments to C-69, the Alberta party leaders sent a joint letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on May 28, stating: “While we remain concerned about the overall spirit of Bill C-69, we believe that with the inclusion of all these amendments, that the bill would be acceptable to the interests of Albertans” . The letter is summarized by Energy Mix in “Alberta Party Leaders Unanimously Back C-69 Amendments from Unelected Senate Committee”.  The marked-up version of Bill-69 with the Senate Committee amendments is dismaying to environmentalists;  a 2018  analysis of the original Bill-69 by Environmental Defence is here .  (The complicated issue of the unelected Senate’s hearings and recommendations regarding Bill C-69 will be the subject of a future WCR report.)

Other  new Alberta legislation in the ”Open for Business” agenda: On May 27,  Bill 2, the Open for Business Act,  promises to “reduce unfair burdens on businesses and give workers more rights in unionized workplaces. Recent changes to employment rules, such as requiring employers to provide holiday pay even if they are not open that day, created an unfair cost burden on job creators.”  The Alberta Federation of Labour reacted,  as did The Parkland Institute in a blog: “Bill 2 grinds wages, complicates payroll, and impedes union drives” .  On May 28, Bill 3: the Job Creation Tax Cut (Alberta Corporate Tax Amendment) Act  was introduced, promising to  lower the corporate tax rate from 12% to 8% over the next 4 years. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees calls the tax cuts “corporate welfare” in Bill 3 Is UCP’s Second Gift In As Many Days To Wealthy Corporations.  And on May 29, Bill 4, The Red Tape Reduction Act was introduced.

None of these Bills have been passed or enacted as of May 30, although Premier Kenney announced that Albertans were “liberated” from the carbon tax as of May 30,  according to a CBC report , and retailers were forbidden from collecting it.

Alberta elects United Conservative Party, promising a new climate policy, and to fight for the oil and gas industry

jason kenneyCitizens of the province of Alberta woke up to a new government on April 17th, with the election of the United Conservative Party (UCP), led by Jason Kenney.  After what Macleans magazine called  The most visceral Alberta election campaign in memory and CBC called “toxic” and “divisive” , the UCP election platform , Alberta Strong and Free  will begin to unfold, based on the promise to “ fight without relent to build pipelines. We will stand up for Alberta and demand a fair deal in Canada. We will fight back against the foreign funded special interests who are trying to landlock our energy.”  Ontarians will recognize much of the same rhetoric as that of  the Doug Ford Conservative government, including  cancellation of the “job-killing carbon tax”;  an “open for business” approach  to “cut red tape”, including worker protection; and creating jobs – in Alberta’s case, oil and gas jobs.

The CBC analysis of the election outlines further implications for the rest of Canada in  ” Jason Kenney won big — and the Ottawa-Alberta relationship is about to get unruly” , which highlights Kenney’s  combative style, his antipathy to the current Liberal government of Justin Trudeau,  and his close connections with the federal Conservative party (having served in Stephen Harper’s government).  The National Observer, on the morning after, sums up what to expect: “Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives issue warning to Suzuki Foundation after winning Alberta majority” , which also touches on what progressives can expect:  ”… the premier-designate delivered a warning to environmentalists, accusing them of being funded by foreign interests who are trying to shut down the Alberta oil and gas industry. He pledged to launch a public inquiry into their activities, singling out several charitable organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation  and the Tides Foundation …”

From Alberta: Calgary Herald election coverage  is triumphant, including Columnist Chris Varcoe with “Expectations are high as Kenney gives voice to Alberta’s angst“; Lucia Corbella with  “Kenney the Ironman performs miracle on the Prairies”In“Jason Kenney’s united right wins big, dashing NDP dreams of a Rachel Notley repeat“, David Staples from the Edmonton Journal acknowledges that growing the oil industry  is “a difficult, complex, multi-dimensional battle” but  “when it comes to oil and gas policy Alberta hasn’t been this united in a generation.”  The majority of his Opinion piece discusses “the malignant force that helped to divide us, the “Tar Sands campaign” which saw tens of millions in funding coming from U.S. foundations dedicated to demonizing the oilsands and landlocking Alberta oil.” He calls on the NDP to support the UCP plan for a public inquiry into “foreign interference” and  states that the NDP, the federal Liberals, and groups such as the Pembina Institute and Greenpeace are tarnished by association with that “Tar Sands Campaign”.

Union voices were strong in the Alberta Election:  The  Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) was extremely active in support of the NDP, with a “Next Alberta” campaign built around the AFL  12 Point Plan.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the Plan makes no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards. ..Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.”  The AFL also commissioned a report by Hugh Mackenzie: The Employment Impact of Election Promises: Analysis of budgetary scenarios of UCP and NDP platforms , which concluded:  “Under the Notley budget plan, 5500 jobs would be lost. Under the Kenny budget plan between 58,000-85,000 jobs would be lost – more than were lost in the recession of 2015-16.” President of the AFL, Gil McGowan, discussed the report in an Opinion Piece,  “How NOT to fix Alberta’s hurting jobs economy in The Tyee.

Unifor, the union which represents thousands of workers at oil producers Suncor, Imperial, Husky and Shell, also mounted  an active Unifor Votes campaign which acknowledges that “in oil and gas, our biggest customer has become our biggest competitor”.  Unifor calls for policies for  “Next Generation Energy Jobs” to invest in new pipeline infrastructure ;  diversify and upgrade in the oil and gas sector and ” Use our resource wealth as a springboard to the future.”

Stepping back, here are some of the  articles which appeared during the election campaign, and which summarize the environmental and economic issues:  “Eleven Ignored Issues that Albertans Should Think about Before They Vote” (April 12), by  Andrew Nikoforuk, outlining :  the risks of global oil price volatility; the need for economic diversification; the growing fiscal pressure on oil-producing states; the cost of climate change; the need to promote a leaner and more local economy as opposed to the boom-and-bust one; Alberta’s failure to collect its fair share of profits from bitumen production; and, hanging over them all, the risk of economic collapse.”  In  “Analysis: Alberta Misses Out On Grown-Up Conversation About Fossil Transition” ,  Mitchell Beer of The Energy Mix compiles the statements from Nikoforuk, as well as economists Mark Jaccard, Vaclav Smil,  and columnist Gary Mason, concluding with: “ Smart, resourceful, and tech-enabled a place as it is, “too many in Alberta want to believe that a new pipeline will fix all that ails the province,” Mason writes . “That’s a fantasy, one that even the political leaders running to govern the province understand (but won’t admit publicly).” And several blogs from the Parkland Institute examine the implications for workers, including “UCP Platform will drive down wages”  .

Alberta election on April 16: economy and the environment face a better future with an NDP win

The Alberta provincial election takes place on April 16  – in an atmosphere of economic anxiety, as summarized by “Albertans prepare to elect a government in a climate of deep anxiety” and “No pedal to floor: Experts say no government can bring back Alberta bitumen boom” .   And Macleans sums up election coverage in “The most visceral Alberta election campaign in memory” .

AFL-Final-logoGiven the radically different policies and futures at stake, the Alberta Federation of Labour has been active in this election campaign, with a “Next Alberta” campaign and an information rich website.   Most recently, the AFL commissioned and released a report by Hugh Mackenzie: The Employment Impact of Election Promises: Analysis of budgetary scenarios of UCP and NDP platforms . The report compares the economic and employment impacts over the next four years of the fiscal scenarios implied by the strategy of the Rachel Notley NDP government, as set out in its 2018 Budget, and the election platform  of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP), Getting Alberta Back to Work .  Mackenzie’s conclusion:  “Under the Notley budget plan, 5500 jobs would be lost. Under the Kenny budget plan between 58,000-85,000 jobs would be lost – more than were lost in the recession of 2015-16.”

President of the AFL, Gil McGowan, discusses the report in an Opinion Piece,  “How NOT to fix Alberta’s hurting jobs economy”  in The Tyee.   He states: “The UCP plan, which hollows out government revenue with a large corporate tax cut, requires more than $7 billion in annual program spending to be cut by the fourth year of the UCP’s plan, in order to meet their goal of eliminating the deficit by 2023. The fiscal strategy proposed by Jason Kenney would cut employment in Alberta by nearly 60,000 over a four-year period, with 27,700 job losses in the public sector and 30,600 job losses in the private sector.

The UCP’s stated longer-term objective of reducing Alberta’s per capita public services investment to the level in B.C. would push job losses even higher, to a total of nearly 85,000.

Looking at the likely bottom-line impacts, it is clear that the point of the UCP’s fiscal strategy is not to address the deficit or debt, since the UCP’s stated debt load after four years of $86 billion is not far off from the NDP projection of $95 billion. The big difference between the NDP and the UCP is that the NDP will spend on people, while the UCP will spend on tax breaks for corporations.”

From an  environmental perspective, The Narwhal has published thoughtful discussions of the issues at stake in the Alberta election: “Notley vs. Kenney on how to deal with Alberta’s 167,000 inactive and abandoned oil and gas wells”  (April 3) and “Eight environmental issues at stake in the Alberta election (that are not pipelines)”   (April 11) – including reclamation and oil and gas liabilities, carbon taxes, methane regulation, energy efficiency, and the oilsands emissions cap.

Another substantial discussion  comes from the Pembina Institute blog, Climate policy is economic policy: party platforms must address climate action ,which  states, “Both parties need to commit to more to protect the current and future interests of Albertans, and prepare the province for a 21st-century economy. ”  The Pembina outlined its preferred vision in March,   Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta.

 

Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.