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.

 

With an election coming, updates on Alberta energy policy

pembina energy alberta 2019With a provincial election looming large in Alberta, the Pembina Institute released a new publication, Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta, on March 8,  with  this introduction: “Like most Albertans, we want to see the responsible development of oil and natural gas. The province’s policy and regulatory environment must ensure that our resources are produced in a manner that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. … Alberta’s future as an energy provider is directly linked to an ability to demonstrate a demand for its products in a decarbonizing world. With the right policies, Alberta can be competitive, attract investment, spur innovation and remain a supplier of choice in the global energy market.”  The 17-page document, intended to reach across political partisan thinking, continues by outlining 23 policy recommendations “to unleash innovative technologies, deploy renewables, promote energy efficiency, continue greening our fossil fuel industries, and reduce climate pollution.”

The Alberta government itself is active in getting out its story about its energy policies.  Most recently, the Alberta Climate Leadership Progress Report  was released in March 2019, documenting the fiscal year of April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 –  the first year Alberta collected a carbon levy.  The report states that a total of $1.19 billion of carbon revenue was invested back into the economy that year, and a press release of March 7  catalogues the impacts, including:

  • Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) investments have supported more than 5,000 jobs in 2017-18. CLP commitments, such as the Green Line in Calgary, will support a further 20,000 jobs in the coming years.
  • Combining 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years, a total of $978 million in rebates has made life better and more affordable for lower- and middle-income Albertans.
  • The solar industry in Alberta has grown by more than 800 per cent…. About 3,100 solar installations have been completed across the province.
  • Alberta is forecast to cut emissions by more than 50 megatonnes in 2030.

Further press releases from the government :

“Alberta solar on the rise“: (Feb. 15) announced a new contract for  solar electricity with Canadian Solar,  to run from 2021 to 2041,  at an average price of 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, sufficient  to supply approximately 55 per cent of the government’s annual electricity needs while creating jobs in Southern Alberta.

Premier’s plan unlocks $2-billion energy investment” (Feb. 20) announced that the province will provide up to $80 million in royalty credits, funded through the Petrochemicals Diversification Program , to support phase one of the a Methanol production project by Nauticol Energy  . Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020, with a commercial operational date set for 2022; the government states that the project will create “as many as 15,500 construction jobs and an additional 1,000 permanent jobs.”

The Alberta Community Transit Fund announced a program which will provides $215 million over 4 years .  The press release lists 33  municipal projects awarded funding  on March 7, 2019.

NEB rules that Trans Mountain pipeline is in public interest, despite marine dangers and ignoring climate impacts

NEB reconsideration reportIn headline news on February 22,  Canada’s National Energy Board released the Report of its Reconsideration process (here in French), and for the second time, approved construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  The NEB states: “…Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale. The NEB also found that greenhouse gas emissions from Project-related marine vessels would likely be significant. While a credible worst-case spill from the Project or a Project-related marine vessel is not likely, if it were to occur the environmental effects would be significant. While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of Project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the Government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the Project and measures to minimize the effects.”

The decision was expected, and reaction was immediate:  From The Energy MixNEB Sidesteps ‘Significant’ Impacts, Recommends Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval”  , which summarizes reaction;  from the National Observer in  “For a second time, NEB recommends approval of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” (Feb. 22)  and  “NEB ruling sparks new vows to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline”.  An Opinion piece by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee  is titled, “NEB ‘Reconsideration Report’ a New Low for Failing Agency” and from the Council of Canadians, “The fight to #StopTMX Continues as feds approve their own pipeline” .  From British Columbia, where the government has appeared as an intervenor against the pipeline , the Sierra Club reaction is here ; the Dogwood Institute pledged opposition (including a rally against the decision in Vancouver)  and pledged to  make the Trans Mountain project a major part of the federal election scheduled for Fall 2019;  and West Coast Environmental Law press release   also pledged continued opposition.  Albertans see it differently, with Premier Rachel Notley releasing a statement which sees the decision as progress, but not enough to be a victory, and states: “We believe these recommendations and conditions are sound, achievable, and will improve marine safety for all shipping, not just for the one additional tanker a day that results from Trans-Mountain.” It is important to note that not all Albertans are pro-pipeline: Climate Justice Edmonton is protesting with a  “People on the Path” installation along the route, and Extinction Rebellion Edmonton  actively protests fossil fuel development.

Meaningful Indigenous consultation still needed :  The NEB Reconsideration process was triggered by an August 2018 decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, which ordered the NEB to re-examine especially the potential impacts of marine shipping on marine life, and the potential damages of an oil spill. The Reconsideration report has resulted in 16 new recommendations on those issues, along with the existing 156 conditions.   Although the final decision on the project rests with Cabinet, the issue of meaningful Indigenous consultation is still outstanding from the order of the Court of Appeal.  According to the CBC, “Ottawa has met already with three-quarters of Indigenous communities during Trans Mountain consultation reboot” as of Feb. 20, but also according to the CBC, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says “We still say no to the project. tiny house warriorsEven if one nation, one community says no, that project is not happening”  . And the Tiny House Warriors  continue to occupy buildings along the pipeline path, to assert their authority over the land.

Canada ignores GHG impacts while Australia rules against a coal mine on GHG grounds….  A motion was brought by the environmental group Stand.earth, demanding that the NEB reconsideration of Trans Mountain include consideration of its upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions, as had been done in the Energy East consultation. Stand.earth stated: “The board cannot possibly fulfill its mandate of determining whether the project is in the public interest without considering whether the project is reconcilable with Canada’s international obligations to substantially reduce GHG emissions.” An article in the National Observer,   “IPCC authors urge NEB to consider climate impacts of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion” summarizes the situation and quotes Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth, as well as Marc Jaccard and Kirsten Zickfeld, two professors from Simon Fraser University.  On February 19, the National Energy Board ruled on the Stand.earth motion, refusing to expand the scope of their reconsideration. Council of Canadians reacted with  “NEB climate denial another Trudeau broken promise”  .

It is doubly disappointing that Canada’s National Energy Board declined to include climate change impacts in its assessment, in the same month that the Land & Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia upheld the government’s previous denial of a permit for an open cut coal mine.   According to a report in The Guardian,     the decision explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time.… Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.”  The decision was also covered in: “Court rules out Hunter Valley coal mine on climate change grounds” (Feb. 8) in the Sydney Morning Herald, and from the  Law Blog of Columbia University: “Big Climate Win Down Under: Australian Court Blocks Coal Mine Citing Negative Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”.