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.”

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.

 

Green New Deal – an opportunity for the U.S. and for Labour

As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal  have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown green new deal tweetsby  “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic.  More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org.  in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee  (Dec. 10) .

Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the  Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs.  They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal .  Héctor Figueroa ,  President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .

The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3).  HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a  60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement  stated:  “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in  “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal”  from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”

The Select Committee is  not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill  . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .

B.C. Election 2017: focusing on energy and the environment amid all those scandals

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgThe sitting Liberal government of British Columbia, led by Premier Christy Clark, is facing an election on May 9, amid allegations of corruption  – most recently, in  “How Teck Resources benefits from being the largest BC Liberal donor”  from West Coast Environmental Law (April 6).  The Energy Mix reports  that  the Supreme Court of B.C. will begin a review of the government’s ties to Kinder Morgan,  the company behind the Trans Mountain pipeline, on May 3rd .  There are also wider, older  allegations of “cash for access” and donation scandals – for examples, see  the Dogwood Institute reports .

The election is full of contentious issues –  follow “ B.C. in the Balance”, a special series of election reports by The Tyee , or  DeSmog Canada ,  or the CBC Vancouver website for ongoing coverage.  Context is provided by a  CCPA-BC Policy Note (April 4), which summarizes the results of a recent survey of B.C. residents’ concerns: affordable housing and the cost of living (26%), the environment (24%), and  jobs and the economy (15%).

For a climate change-related viewpoint, West Coast Environmental Law has published a comparison of the climate change-related elements of the platforms of the three parties, and a scorecard .

The Liberal party platform, released on April 10, states: “ To keep B.C.’s economy strong and growing, today’s BC Liberals will get Site C built – employing thousands, and guaranteeing a 100-year supply of clean, affordable, reliable power. And the platform outlines key actions to strengthen forestry, secure new mining investments, and grow B.C.’s energy sector, including LNG.”    The Pembina Institute reaction speaks for most environmentalists in opposing the government’s continuing focus on LNG development:  “The platform released today continues … doubling down on an LNG industry that would be responsible for 20 million tonnes of B.C.’s carbon pollution in 2050. B.C.’s legislated 2050 target for carbon pollution is 13 million tonnes. Clearly, LNG is not a climate solution.”

Irene Lanzinger, President of the B.C. Federation of Labour  and member of Green Jobs BC  is critical of the Liberal record on green jobs, in  an April 13 article in The Tyee  , and points to the Green Jobs BC priorities for green job growth: clean energy, transit, building retrofits and forestry.

The Green Party platform   includes a statement on Building the New Economy,  and the platform on climate leadership . The Green Platform is most notable for its pledge to increase B.C.’s carbon tax by $10 per tonne per year, reaching $50 per tonne by 2021. (as recommended by the shelved 2016 Climate Leadership Plan ).  David Suzuki praises the Green platform but states:  “Missing from this announcement are details of a funding framework for public transit infrastructure investment and a firm commitment to expand the use of low-impact renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power to achieve the province’s energy needs.”  According to West Coast Environmental Law, neither the Green nor NDP platform makes any statement about fossil fuel subsidies.

The NDP platform is here , and was welcomed by the Pembina Institute on its release:      “We are pleased to see the commitment to implementing the recommendations of the premier’s Climate Leadership Team, which plot a course to significantly reduce B.C.’s carbon pollution — in particular, the pledge to adopt the proposed 2030 target and sector-by-sector targets for emissions.”