Tag Archives: Alberta Dirty Coal

Climate change lawsuits could be the new reality and Alberta better get used to it

Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton announced his plans to bring forward a motion to the council of Canada’s largest city this week asking for a report on the long term cost implications of climate change on the City of Toronto’s infrastructure and programs and any legal avenues to pursue compensation for those costs from major greenhouse gas emitters.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

On the campaign trail in Alberta, NDP leader Rachel Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney delivered sharp responses in defence of Alberta’s oil industry. Both leaders are trying to position themselves as the biggest defenders of the oil industry in an election where the economy and oil pipelines are top of mind for many Albertans.

Notley has spent the past four years positioning herself as the country’s biggest advocate in favour of oil pipelines and Kenney recently announced plans to create a government-funded PR war room to fight foreign criticism of behalf of the oil industry (I suspect Toronto now falls in the “foreign” category).

Layton’s motion has not even been debated yet and has been sent to committee, but it is part of a growing trend of North American municipal governments trying to hold large oil and gas companies to account for their role in global climate change.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2018 that his City had filed a lawsuit against five of the world’s largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell – for the billions of dollars the City will spend to protect the city and its residents from the impact of climate change.

Similar lawsuits have been launched by other American municipal governments, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

For municipal governments suing oil and gas companies, the fight is over who is responsible for covering the cost of damages resulting from rising average temperatures – a particularly sensitive issue for Canadian cities located near large bodies of water like Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto. 

I am not a lawyer, so I cannot say for sure whether the same legal avenues are available to Canadian municipalities, it is clear that attitudes towards fossil fuels are changing in city halls across the country in respect to climate change. With an increasing number of provincial governments reneging on previous climate change initiatives, it is also becoming clearer that municipal councils cannot wait for provincial legislatures to find solutions.

Victoria City Council passed a resolution in January 2019 to support filing a class-action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies to recover costs arising from climate change.” Burnaby’s new Mayor Mike Hurley has asked the BC government to create legislation to allow municipal governments to launch and join class-action lawsuits against fossil fuel companies for climate-related harms.

The BC cities of Vancouver and Richmond have recently declared “climate emergencies.”

But in Alberta, with pipelines and Gay-Straight Alliances making headlines, climate change is a sleeper issue in the ongoing election campaign even as the World Meteorological Organization is reporting that extreme weather last year impacted 62 million people worldwide and forced 2 million people to relocate.

The Notley government implemented a much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan after it was elected into office in 2015, which included an ambitious plan to shut down Alberta’s dirty coal-fired power plants. But three years later, the most talked about element of Alberta’s climate change plan is the much-demonized carbon tax.

Kenney says a UCP government would repeal the carbon tax and dissolve Energy Efficiency Alberta, the government agency responsibly for renewable energy projects and energy efficiency programs, but he has not released any details about if he would take any meaningful action to combat climate change.

I expect that most or all of the Climate Leadership Plan would be scrapped under Kenney’s leadership, opening the province to more “foreign” criticism and making its large oil and gas industry into a more convincing target for political and legal challenges.

I already mentioned that attitudes towards oil and gas are changing, but so will demand for our oil, eventually. The challenge for future Alberta governments is how to meaningfully deal with climate change while recognizing that the goose that laid the golden egg could one day soon be barren. Alberta’s default has been to pray that the international price of oil will bounce back someday soon, creating plenty of jobs and replenishing government coffers.

Layton’s proposal, like similar actions pursued by the American cities, is to treat fossil fuel companies like tobacco companies who knew their products caused cancer but hid that information from the public. Like the tobacco companies, major oil companies have known for decades that they have been contributing to climate change and have been accused of spending $1 billion undermining climate change efforts.

Layton’s motion may just be a little bump on Alberta’s campaign trail, but it could be a sample of a much larger climate change fight coming in the years ahead.

Rachel Notley might not receive the same warm welcome that awaited Communist leader Tim Buck when he visited the coal town of Nordegg, Alberta in April 1935, but that shouldn't stop her from visiting the communities impacted by the government's coal phase-out plans.

Notley owes Alberta’s Coal Communities an in-person visit

Photo: Rachel Notley might not receive the same warm welcome that awaited Communist leader Tim Buck when he visited the coal town of Nordegg, Alberta in April 1935, but that shouldn’t stop her from visiting the communities impacted by the government’s coal phase-out plans.

Mr. Jean: Thank you. The NDP has found time to fly to Paris, to Morocco, but they haven’t found time to visit communities like Hanna and Parkland county. They haven’t taken the time to look in the faces of the people who are now losing hope because this government does not have their backs. I can understand the Premier’s hesitation given that whenever the NDP stands in front of rural communities they get booed, but will the Premier commit to personally attending public meetings in towns like Hanna, Grande Cache, and Forestburg to see the damage her policies are having on people’s lives? Yes or no?

The Speaker: The hon. Premier.

Ms Notley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. As the member opposite knows, our government has appointed a panel to look into the matter of how we can orchestrate a just transition, a fair transition as the province moves off coal at an accelerated level beginning in 2030. That panel has been established. It has begun its work, and it will be travelling to all those communities very early in the new year.

Mr. Jean: That must be a no, Mr. Speaker.

The above is an exchange between Official Opposition leader Brian Jean and Premier Rachel Notley that took place during Question Period in the Alberta Legislative Assembly on the afternoon of November 22, 2016.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The flagship of the NDP government’s policy agenda is its Climate Leadership Plan, a broad plan announced in November 2015 to address climate change in our province. A key element of the Climate Leadership Plan is the phasing-out of Alberta’s coal-fired electricity generation plants by 2030. The coal-fired plants are a significant source of carbon emissions and air pollution in our province.

Addressing climate change needs to be a priority and I am proud that the Alberta government has finally taken action on this file after a decade of foot-dragging by previous Conservative governments. But as it moves forward, the government also bears a responsibility to help communities like Hanna, Forestburg and Parkland County, where residents will be directly impacted by the closing of the coal plants.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A government-appointed advisory panel has been tasked with studying and consulting with the impacted communities. While I have no reason to believe the panelists will do anything but their best, Albertans in those communities deserve more direct attention from the government.

After the uproar over Bill 6, the farm safety legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly in December 2015, I would have thought that NDP cabinet ministers would be more sensitive to the impact of their policies on working Albertans, who also happen to be rural Albertans. It is surprising to me that Ms. Notley has not made a point of making very public visits to these communities to meet with the Albertans who will be directly impacted by the coal phase-out.

They may have been spooked by the backlash to Bill 6 but that should have been a lesson to reach out to rural Alberta, rather than stay away. The NDP might not like what they hear from residents in those communities, but part of leading a government is meeting with people who disagree with you.

Phasing out dirty coal and transitioning to renewable energy represents a huge transformational change in how our province generates electricity, and Alberta should be on the cutting edge of this change.

As technology evolves and the government moves forward with its Climate Leadership Plan, the NDP has a responsibility to make sure no Albertans are left behind. Whether it requires retraining or new education, the government should make the residents of these communities feel like they are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The list of coal fired power plants and mines in Alberta.

The list of coal fired power plants and mines in Alberta and their phase-out dates (from the Government of Alberta website).

Who wants to be leader of the Alberta NDP?

NDP-Edmonton-Folk-Fest-Ad

The Alberta NDP will hold a leadership vote in October 2014. Photo from the NDP ad in the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival program.

While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.

Brian Mason

Brian Mason

At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.

No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.

While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.

Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.

David Eggen

David Eggen

While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.

Deron Bilous
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.

David Eggen
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP

Deron Bilous

Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.

A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.

Rachel Notley
First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.

She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.


Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award

Congratulations to my blogger-in-arms David Climenhaga who walked away with the Best in Political and Current Affairs award at last night’s Yeggies gala in Edmonton. Mr. Climenhaga faced a handful of worthy contenders, including the Edmonton Journal‘s entire political reporting team.