Alberta updates: Budget targets public sector, sets stage for new regime for oil and gas industry

With the federal election over, the provincial government in Alberta released two important new policies:  the Budget statement on October 26 , and the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) regulation, a system for  output-based carbon pricing for industrial GHG emissions.

Alberta Budget – a recipe for a “Kenny Recession”?:

A government press release   announced the budget on October 26, with Highlights provided at a  Budget webpage here . The government states that social service programs: “will be redesigned methodically and responsibly to address economic, social and fiscal challenges, while continuing to support the most vulnerable. Countering that statement is “Alberta wants to cut public service wages. It will hit everyone from teachers to hospital support staff” in the National Observer (Oct. 30) , as well as reaction from the unions, including the Health Sciences Association of Alberta  (HSAA)  , which calls the Budget “incredibly dishonest” and details the cuts which form “the groundwork to justify a transfer of vital public services to the private sector”.  The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) campaign against the Budget flies under the flag of “The Kenney Recession” , with arguments built on a report prepared for the AFL by  economist Hugh Mackenzie:  The Kenney Recession: Proposed UCP cuts would hurt economy worse than oil price crash .  The report considers four different scenarios and states “ “The loss of 50,000 jobs during the oil price crash from 2014 to 2017 will pale in comparison to the estimated 113,500 jobs that would be lost in Alberta if the Kenney government goes ahead with cuts of the magnitude being considered.”   In an earlier press release, AFL President Gil McGowan disputes the  findings of a government-commissioned report by Janice MacKinnon, saying “her report is filled with distortions and outright lies about public services, public-sector spending and public-sector wages.”

As for the Budget’s impact on the energy sector, the government’s Highlights state an allocation of $601 million, yet do not directly mention the Coal Workforce Transition Program or Fund,  initiated by the previous NDP government  and flagged for concern in an October 15 article in The Energy Mix .

The Government’s Budget Highlights for  the Energy industry are:

increase focus on natural gas and pipelines by implementing a strategic plan to help reinvigorate the industry and stand up for Alberta’s economic interests

work with industry to help streamline project approvals, improve pipeline access and facilitate the construction of infrastructure to get our natural gas to international markets

review the Alberta Energy Regulator to identify changes and enhancements to its mandate, governance and operations so Alberta remains a predictable place to invest and a world leader in responsible resource development

extend the royalty credit model under the Petrochemicals Diversification Program to incent future projects and cancel the Partial Upgrading Program and Petrochemicals Feedstock Program to reduce the financial risk to Albertans

cancel the transition to a capacity market and end the rate cap program – saving Albertans about $270 million

cancel the crude-by-rail program, saving Albertans at least $300 million

establish the Canadian Energy Centre corporation to implement the “Fight Back Strategy” to proactively defend our critical energy industry and the people who work in it

TIER – the proposed new Emissions Reduction Regulation for industrial emitters: 

On October 29, the government announced the introduction of Bill 19, the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Implementation Act (TIER)  , characterized in the press release  as ” the centrepiece of government’s upcoming climate strategy, .. an improved system to help energy-intensive facilities find innovative ways to reduce emissions and invest in clean technology to stay competitive and save money. TIER is a unique solution that allows the province to reduce emissions without interference from Ottawa.”

Reaction comes in  “Alberta bets the house on technology to help province slash carbon pollution” in the National Observer , and in a lengthly  Opinion piece by Andrew Leach, “Alberta’s TIER regulations good on electricity, not so good on oilsands” at the CBC. Leach  characterizes the TIER policy as “a serious greenhouse gas policy in Alberta” but states that it is “backwards”:  “TIER makes emissions-reducing innovation less advantageous than it would be under CCIR [the existing system], since the better performing your new facility is, the lower your emissions credits will be every year for as long as the policy remains in place. “

The Smart Prosperity Institute  provides an explanation of the complexities of the proposed system, which if passed, would take effect in January 2020:  “TIER in a nutshell – The Alberta Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction regulation” (Oct. 30) . More briefly, CBC published  “How Alberta will keep its $30-per-tonne carbon tax but make it easier for some big emitters to avoid paying” .

Deep decarbonization is possible: Suzuki Foundation presents a litmus test for climate change policies in Canada’s 2019 election

Suzuki zeroing-in-on-emissions-canadas-clean-power-pathways-reviewIf, as a new article in The Conversation argues, “To really engage people, the media should talk about solutions”  (May 30) , then the report published by the David Suzuki Foundation on May 29 is right on target.  Zeroing in on Emissions: Charting Canada’s Clean Power Pathways  argues: “Responding to the urgency of climate change can feel overwhelming, but our research confirms we have the solutions and strategies needed to drive national actions and innovations to meet our climate commitments.”  It is important to note that the commitment under consideration is reduction of  greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent or more by 2050, and the study focuses only on energy policy, not all sectors of the economy.

The report examines academic, government and business models and studies related to  deep decarbonization for Canada, with special reference to the Deep Decarbonization
Pathways Project , the Trottier Energy Futures Project  and the
Perspectives Énergétiques Canadiennes . The full list of referenced publications takes up 15 pages of the report.  Based on this review of expert research, recommendations are presented, in ten essential policy priorities: 1.  Accelerate clean power  2. Do more with less energy  3. Electrify just about everything  4. Free industry from emissions 5. Switch to renewable fuels  6. Mobilize money  7. Level the playing field  8. Reimagine our communities  9. Focus on what really matters and # 10. Bring everyone along, which  opens with a quote from Canada’s 2018  Task Force on Just Transition Report. The section states: “If well-managed, the clean-energy transition can be a strong driver of job creation, job upgrading, good jobs and reducing inequality. Conversely, a poorly managed transition risks causing unnecessary economic hardship and undermining public support for needed emission-reduction policies. Transition should be seen as part of a broader green economic development strategy that supports community economic development and diversification.” The discussion includes the issues of justice and equality, and Indigenous rights.

According to the press release, this report is meant to influence the discourse in the upcoming election: “These 10 strategies are a litmus test that all climate plans during the 2019 federal election should be held accountable to…. “Actions such as pricing and limiting carbon pollution, prioritizing electrification with clean energy sources and accelerating industry investment in zero carbon solutions must be part of any credible climate plan in 2019.” In addition, it lays the foundation for a three-year project called Clean Power Pathways, “to transition Canada’s energy system at a scope, scale and speed in line with the scientific consensus to avoid climate breakdown.”  The report has grown out of collaborative research sponsored by the Trottier Family Foundation, which remains involved in the upcoming Clean Power Pathways research.

Zeroing in on Emissions: Charting Canada’s Clean Power Pathways is accompanied by a 4-page Executive Summary  and was also summarized by The Energy Mix here  (June 2).

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.

Ontario Environmental Commissioner report falls on deaf ears as Ford government slashes energy efficiency programs,attacks carbon pricing (again)

ECO 2019 health happy prosperous Ontario coverA Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  is the final report of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, released on March 27. The report documents the province’s energy use, argues for the value of energy conservation, and makes recommendations:  for improving utility conservation programs and energy efficiency programs for homeowners, and for urban planning policies to promote greater population density in “compact, complete communities” with jobs, transit and housing. The official summary of the report is here  ; a summary  was published by The National Observer on March 27.

This is the final report of the Environmental Commissioner because the ECO Office  has fallen to the pro-business agenda of the Doug Ford government: after April 1, it no  longer acts as an independent agency reporting directly to the Legislature, but will be merged into the Office of the Auditor General. The Commissioner has been critical of government policies – for example,  in the  annual Greenhouse Gas Reduction Progress Report for 2018, Climate Action in Ontario: What’s next? (September 2018).  With the 2019 Energy Conservation Progress report,  The Happy Health report , she states that current government policies encourage the use of fossil fuels in the province and will result in higher energy costs for consumers, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and increased air pollution, with associated adverse health impacts.

The “Government of the People” slashes energy efficiency, promotes P3’s: Despite the blunt criticism and recommendations of the Environment Commissioner (and many others), the Ford government continues to implement its “pro-business” agenda.  It is planning cancellations to consumer energy efficiency programs, as reported by  The  National Observer on March 20, “Exclusive: Doug Ford’s government slashing programs designed to save energy in buildings”  (March 20) and in “Ontario Slashes Energy Efficiency Programs, Delays Promise to Cut Hydro Rates”  in the Energy Mix  (March 25), which summarizes the Globe and Mail article, “Ontario Pulls the plug on energy conservation programs”  (subscription required).  A day later, the Globe and Mail said the cutbacks will include “subsidies for modern lighting, such as LED bulbs, more efficient air conditioners and furnaces, and upgrades to commercial refrigeration equipment. The government will also centralize the delivery of eight programs aimed at businesses, low-income seniors, and First Nations communities…”

On March 19, the government posted “Ontario Moving to Increase Innovation and Competition in Infrastructure Market” (March 19) , stating that it is  “ working for the people to make the province a leading destination for investment and job creation by increasing innovation and competition in its public-private partnership (P3) market.” This will include action to “Open P3 projects to greater innovation by making output specifications less prescriptive and rebalancing the Infrastructure Ontario bid evaluation criteria to better reward design innovation.”  Incidentally, the Ontario’s government is also willing to take credit for  federal infrastructure programs: as described in the March 12 press release, Ontario Launches $30 Billion Infrastructure Funding Program . In fact, the $30 billion refers to combined federal, provincial, and local funding  over the next 10 years through the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. The provincial share is a maximum of 33% .

And finally, the Ford government continues its attacks on carbon pricing:  A March 25 press release, “Ontario closes the book on cap and trade carbon tax era”  announces that “the  total compensation amount is $5,090,000 for a total of 27 participants” as a result of the the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018 (Oct. 2018) .  The press release continues: “But in one week, the federal government will impose a brand-new job-killing carbon tax, punishing the hardworking people of Ontario… Our government remains part of a growing coalition of provinces across Canada that oppose this cash-grab, which raises the cost of essentials like home heating and gasoline.”   The reality is that as of April 1st, the federal carbon pricing backstop will take effect in Ontario and the three other provinces that failed to design their own carbon pricing system under the Pan-Canadian Framework  — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Ecofiscal-Commission-10-Myths-about-Carbon-Pricing-Infographic-vertical-1.jpgThe EcoFiscal Commission is the latest to defend carbon pricing, with 10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada – saying “Myths and misleading statements, however, continue to damage the debate over carbon pricing. A debate based on poor information does a disservice to Canadians….this new report will improve the quality of the debate by drawing on the best available evidence to debunk ten common myths. The report aims to serve as a resource for Canadians who want to learn what the evidence says about carbon pricing and its impacts on emissions, the economy, affordability, and jobs.”

The constitutional challenge to the carbon backstop is awaiting the court’s decision in Saskatchewan, and in Ontario, the court case will begin in late April. All related court documents are here .  Also in April,  the Ontario government releases its budget on the 11th.

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.