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.

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rules for federal carbon tax program

With implications across the country, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal handed down a 3-2 decision  on May 3, ruling that the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) falls within federal government’s “National Concern” constitutional power. The Saskatchewan Association for Environmental Law has compiled all the legal submission documents here ; the EcoFiscal Commission provides a summary of the 155-page Decision here  .

Local coverage and reaction appeared in the Regina Leader Post (May 3) in “Court of Appeal: Saskatchewan government loses carbon tax challenge , and the Premier of Saskatchewan immediately declared that the province will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which it must do within 30 days.  As the Globe and Mail points out,  “Saskatchewan court rules federal carbon tax constitutional in first of several legal challenges” .  According to a CBC report, the Premier of New Brunswick  is still considering his options, but newly-elected Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta will join the Saskatchewan Supreme Court action. The Premier of Manitoba announced that his government will not abandon its own court challenge, which it launched on April 3. In Ontario, the Ford government is aggressively promoting its own battle over the carbon tax: four days of hearings ended on April 18th, and the Ontario Court of Appeal is expected to render its own decision on the constitutionality of the carbon tax in several months – possibly not until after the federal election in October 2019.

The political significance of the Saskatchewan decision:  Aaron Wherry at CBC  summarizes the general situation in  “The carbon tax survived Saskatchewan. That was the easy part”  (May 4).  The Globe and Mail states what is a widely accepted opinion in its editorial,  “Why conservatives secretly love the carbon tax”: “Round One goes to Ottawa. But the courtroom war against the federal carbon tax continues – waged by a fraternity of conservative provincial governments with more of an eye on immediate political returns than ultimate legal outcomes.”

Update:  Three law professors- Jason MacLean (University of Saskatchewan), Nathalie Chalifour ( University of Ottawa) and Sharon Mascher (University of Calgary)  published a reaction to the Saskatchewan Court’s decision on May 7 in The Conversation“Work on Climate not weaponizing the constitution”   takes issue with some of the finer legal points of the decision, but welcomes the Court’s recognition of the urgency and scale  of the climate emergency, and concludes: “We have to stop weaponizing the Constitution and start working together, across party lines at all levels of government, on urgent and ambitious climate action.”

Job shifting effects of carbon pricing policy, with a focus on the Canadian construction industry

Construction and Carbon: The Impact of Climate Policy on Building in Canada in 2025  is a report released on May 1 by the Smart Prosperity Institute, with a title that doesn’t reflect the full range of the study.  The report actually models the effect of carbon pricing on GDP and employment in six sectors, although construction is the focal point since the research was financed by the Canadian Building Trades Unions.  Author Mike Moffatt uses the general equilibrium model gTech  to project two scenarios for the medium term (2025) :  a “business as usual” case (which assumes federal and provincial carbon policies as they existed in 2018) and an “aggressive” case, which assumes carbon prices increasing over time so that Canada would achieve its  Paris Agreement commitment to reduce  greenhouse gas emissions  by 30% by 2030.

Smart Prosperity emphasizes that “the construction sector is one of the ‘winners’ of carbon pricing, as escalating carbon prices unleash a wave of business and household investment.”  Specifically, raising the stringency of carbon prices (the aggressive scenario) shows that the total number of jobs in Canada would  increase by an 39,500 – 19,000 of which would be in construction, and 55,000 of which would be in services. These gains are offset by job losses in the other sectors: utilities, resources, manufacturing, and transportation. smart prosperity map re construction reportProjections are broken down by province: showing that for construction jobs, Saskatchewan would see the greatest growth, followed by Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta, and British Columbia.

The report also provides forecasts for: Investment by sector; Impact of Higher Carbon Policies on Business Investment by Type (e.g. renewable energy, CCS, public transit); and  Impact of Higher Carbon Policies on Household Investment by Type (building efficiency, low-carbon vehicles).

The differentiated effect of carbon taxes by sector is a theme explored in an earlier Smart Prosperity working paper  Do Carbon Taxes Kill Jobs? Firm-Level Evidence from British Columbia , released in March 2019 as part of the Clean Economy Working Paper series.  The Smart Prosperity Institute is based at  the University of Ottawa.

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”  .

Generational justice and climate change: we can all strike for our future

The constitutional challenge by the government of  Saskatchewan to the Canadian government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  is underway – hearings were held in February and a decision is pending, with a similar challenge by Ontario to be heard in April. The main purpose of the court challenges is to nullify the federal government’s national carbon tax program , the signature issue of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  But the case has also given youth activists an opportunity to address the intergenerational justice of Canada’s climate change policies, as described in “Canada obliged to protect future generations from climate change, test case on carbon tax hears”   (Feb. 20)  in The Narwhal.

The preamble of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  states: “…Parliament recognizes it is the responsibility of the present generation to minimize impacts of climate change on future generations.”   This gave the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by  Generation Squeeze ,  a platform, as recognized intervenors, to argue that: “Failure to price pollution discriminates against younger Canadians, because it puts in jeopardy our reasonable aspiration to thrive in 2030 and beyond” and “the health threats to children and future generations are vastly disproportionate to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions”. A press release in December 2018 describes the coalition and summarizes their arguments – mostly based on health consequences of climate change.

This issue of intergenerational  justice was also addressed by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood in “The all too ugly truth: Climate change is generational genocide” , published  in Behind the Numbers in February.  Echoing the strong and direct tone we have come to expect from Greta Thunberg,  Mertins-Kirkwood states: “For the generations poised to inherit our warming world, the complacency and greed of their predecessors is no longer being tolerated. From Autumn Peltier’s presentation to the United Nations to the climate strikes organized by school children across Europe to the Quebec youth suing the government for failing to protect the environment, young people are refusing to sit by while this existential crisis deepens.”  He continues: “The perpetrators of the climate change genocide include the fossil fuel industry and climate-denying politicians, of course, but also the silent majority of fossil fuel consumers who actively ignore the mounting scientific evidence or otherwise take no responsibility for the path we are on. It is this generation’s campaign of destruction that is being inflicted upon all other and future generations.”

Youth are asking for help:  The main point of Mertins-Kirkwood’s article is to urge us all to act:  First, by recognizing and acknowledging how we have contributed to the problem; Second, by making climate change “a central concern for everyone in your life” ; and third, by supporting  those fighting for a better future, through donations, but also by amplifying youth voices “online and beyond”.  Greta Thunberg has also stated:  “If you think that we should be in school instead, then we suggest that you take our place in the streets, striking from your work. Or, better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process.”

How to respond? “Intergenerational” organizations exist to support the actions of youth activists:  for example, in Canada, Canadian Parents for Climate Action, and  For our Grandchildren Canada ; in Australia, Australian Parents for Climate Action and  1 Million Women .   Fridays for Future Canada   is coordinating the school strikes, but there are many more  youth-led activist groups, many of whom are asking for support and donations.   Some Canadian examples:  Canadian Youth Climate Coalition ; ENvironment JEUnesse  (Quebec group for under-35’s suing the government) ; PowerShift Young and Rising  ; Youth Climate Lab ; The 3% Project .

Youth in at least 22 communities in Canada are participating in the Global Fridays for the Future climate Strike on March 15.  As George Monbiot wrote in Resilience,  “Young climate strikes can win their fight. We must all help”.

fridays for future strikes

An excellent example:  At their most recent climate strike, elementary school students in Sudbury were presented with a letter  of support from the faculty members of Laurentian University.