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.

 

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.

B.C. Budget delivers $902 million to fund Clean B.C. initiatives

BC government news open micThe government of British Columbia tabled its Budget on February 19- officially detailed in  Making Life Better- A Plan for B.C. 2019/20 — 2021/22 .  As summarized by the National Observer article, “B.C. provincial budget funds nearly $1 billion for climate action” , it included $902 million  over the next three years to support the 2018 Clean B.C. Plan . Here are some of the big-ticket items:  $107 million for transportation initiatives – mostly providing incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases (up to $6000 per vehicle) and funding for new charging stations;  $58 million for making homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient – as a result, homeowners can get up to $14,000 for energy efficiency improvements such as  switching to high-efficiency heating systems or upgrading their doors or  windows. $168 million is dedicated to funding  an incentive program to encourage large industrial polluters to reduce their emissions; $15 million is dedicated to help remote communities transition to clean energy solutions, and  $299 million is unallocated as yet. In addition to the Clean B.C. funds, the budget includes $111 million over three years to fight and prevent wildfires, another $13 million for forest restoration, and $3 million for the BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, to help First Nations communities build clean energy projects.

Reaction has generally been positive – for example, from Clean Energy Canada . The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office, in “Nine things to know about the B.C. Budget” commends the  $223 million which is  budgeted to increase the climate action tax credit for low- and middle-income earners, but says, “action needs to be ramped up further—and fast”.  CCPA’s  Special  Pre-budget Feature  included an essay by Marc Lee “Expand climate initiatives to reflect the urgency of the crisis”  (Feb. 1). Lee had called for the  reinstatement of  annual increases to the carbon tax, beginning in 2019 with an increase of $10 per tonne – but no such policy was announced. (Lee had also called for more realistic budget allocations for wildfire response, which was addressed).

Finally, the Pembina Institute response is generally positive, though it calls for an independent panel to publicly monitor accountability and report on progress annually, echoing the Op-Ed “wish list” it had released before the budget was handed down.  . That had  stated: “B.C.’s Climate Change Accountability Act needs more teeth. What’s required is a transparent process whereby the government forecasts carbon pollution (including reduction goals for each sector), tracks and publicly reports on our progress, submits this data for independent verification, and adjusts policies as necessary.”   Other key items which Pembina had called for include  stronger regulations than those announced in January to limit methane pollution, and a strategy to use clean electricity to power the controversial LNG production which threatens to make the province’s GHG emissions targets unreachable.

Electric vehicle policy in Canada stalled by provincial opposition – 2018 market share at 2.2% of vehicle sales

electric carArticle updated on February 12:

Just as the cost of solar energy has steadily declined, so too has the total cost of ownership of electric vehicles, according to new research from Deloitte  consultancy in the U.K. .  Deloitte’s forecast is that total cost of ownership of electric vehicles will match that of  internal combustion cars  as early as 2021 in the U.K., and by 2022 globally.   By 2030, Deloitte’s also forecasts global EV adoption will rise from two million units in 2018, to four million in 2020, to 21 million in 2030, driven by consumer demand and government incentives.

In Canada:  Electric Mobility Canada, a non-profit advocacy network, released 2018  statistics for sales of electric and hybrid vehicles on February 8.  Their report shows that ev sales amounted to 2.2% of all new car sales in 2018 – disappointing, but a 125% increase over sales in 2017.  There are now approximately 93,000 ev’s in Canada, with almost all concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.

A federal Strategy for Zero Emissions Vehicles, promised for 2018,  was expected to be announced on January 21 at the meeting of the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety.  The extent of a policy announcement was a quote which appeared in the Toronto Star article: “ Ottawa wants to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles sold in Canada to 10 per cent of new cars sold in 2025, 30 per cent in 2030 and 100 per cent in 2040.”  Frustrated by the lack of progress, the David Suzuki Foundation  is  hosting  a petition titled “Has Canada stalled on electric vehicles?” calling for mandatory targets for electric vehicle sales, ramping up to 30 per cent by 2030 and a temporary purchase incentive program.

Both Ontario and Saskatchewan opposed a national plan at the January Ministers’ meeting, as reported in the Toronto Star in “Ottawa Queens Park spar over federal plan for more zero emission vehicles”  (Jan. 22). The National Observer examines their opposition in “Electric vehicle strategy sputters as provinces battle it out on green policies” (Jan. 18).  The Ford government in Ontario cancelled the EV purchase incentive program in June 2018, and more recently, EV charging stations at the commuter parking lots of the GO regional transit have been removed.

BC ev charging stationsMeanwhile, on February 11, the federal government announced a $1.15-million investment to build 23 electric vehicle fast chargers across British Columbia , in partnership with funding from the provincial government.  The funding comes from the federal  Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Initiative (EVAFIDI), which has budgeted  $182.5-million for fast-charging and natural gas stations across the country.  That program has recently been criticized in a National Observer article, “Close to half of Canadian program touted for electric cars is funding natural gas stations”(Jan. 25) .

Relevant international research:  An October 2018 Briefing paper from the International Council on Clean Transportation: Electric vehicle capitals: Accelerating the global transition to electric drive–  which identifies the 25 cities worldwide with the highest electric vehicle uptake through 2017, and discusses the policies, actions, and infrastructure that have enabled their success. And in December 2018, the ICCT also published  Using vehicle taxation policy to lower transport emissions: An overview for passenger cars in Europe, which highlights the need for taxation incentives at the point of purchase and for gas/electricity consumption, as well as the importance of company fleets “as they make up the highest proportion of new-car registrations in markets such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.”