Tag Archives: Climate Change

Looking past pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement looks pretty good for BC

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made.” – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Alberta politicians, media and pundits are unsurprisingly focused on what the governing agreement between British Columbia New Democratic Party leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver will mean for the future of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The agreement would have the province’s three Green Party MLAs support the 41 NDP MLAs on confidence motions and money bills in the Legislative Assembly, allowing the NDP to form a minority government. Christy Clark‘s Liberals have 43 MLAs, one MLA short of a majority.

Aside from oil pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement commits to holding a referendum  on proportional representation in fall 2018 (though it is not clear what form of proportional representation will be proposed) and reforming BC’s wild-west election finance laws (banning corporate and union donations, placing limits on individual donations, and limiting party loans to banks and financial institutions).

The agreement also commits to appointing a commission to create a plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage, preserving public health care and education, and improving funding for public transit. While some of the points are intentionally vague, overall it reads like a fairly positive guide for the next BC government.

Andrew Weaver Green Party British Columbia

Andrew Weaver

But back to that pipeline from Alberta, the agreement states: “Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

The pipeline expansion has already been approved by the federal government, but faces opposition from the public and the courts in BC. In an article earlier this month, James Wilt outlined three ways the BC government could stop or slow down the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

Political opposition to the pipeline from an Green-supported NDP government in BC could create a lot of political trouble for Rachel Notley‘s NDP government in Alberta. There is no shortage of irony that the NDP-Green agreement could create a world of political problems for the most progressive and environmentally-friendly government Alberta has ever had.

Despite the Notley government’s Climate Leadership Plan, disagreement over oil pipelines has lead to a significant split between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts outside the province.

John Horgan BC NDP Leader Premier

John Horgan

Notley has been steadfast in her support for the pipeline, and as far as Alberta politicians go, she is probably in the best position to negotiate some sort of political compromise with a future Premier Horgan. The two politicians know each other and many NDP political staffers in Edmonton have deep connections to the BC NDP. Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips even worked in the BC NDP campaign war-room in 2013.

In many ways, it would be easier for the BC NDP, and probably the federal NDP, if Alberta was governed by climate change denying conservatives. At least then they would be able to oppose these oil pipelines without the kind of complications that having an NDP government in Alberta has caused for them.

It is not clear when, or if, Horgan and Weaver will be able to enact their agreement. Clark has said she will remain in office for the time-being, likely until her Liberal Party loses a confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly. When that takes place could determine the political future of the pipeline, and who will be representing BC when the Council of the Federation meets in Edmonton from  July 17 to 19, 2017.

Schweitzer is back, again, probably

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is not running in the PC leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who pulled the plug on his bid to leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party last September and backed Jason Kenney instead, has announced his plans to run for the currently non-existent United Conservative Party. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He served as Kenney’s scrutineer when the ballots were counted in the 2017 PC leadership race.

Schweitzer’s candidacy is entirely dependent on whether members of the Wildrose and PC parties vote to form a new party on July 22, which I expect will happen.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

Alberta’s carbon tax, lauded by economists and experts and derided by opposition conservatives, came into force on January 1, 2017.

From photo-ops at gas pumps to outright climate change denial, opposition to the carbon tax has been nothing short of hysterical over the past week.

Don MacIntyre MLA

Don MacIntyre

Don MacIntyre, Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, sidelined his party’s attack on the carbon tax as a ‘tax on everything’ when he dove into climate change denying rhetoric during a January 2, 2017 press conference at the Legislature. “The science isn’t settled,” MacIntyre is reported to have said, despite the existence of overwhelming scientific evidence claiming otherwise.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt marked New Year’s Eve by posting photos of himself filling up his truck and jerrycans to avoid any increase to gas prices caused by the carbon tax on January 1. It is estimated that he may have saved a few dollars, but in many locations across Alberta the price of gas actually dropped after the weekend (gas at the local station in my neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton is six cents cheaper per litre today than it was on Dec. 31).

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney probably levelled the silliest criticism of the carbon tax when he tweeted on January 4 a photo of Tesla charging station in Fort Macleod, which was empty. This was apparently meant to be an argument that the four day old carbon tax was a failure.

Despite claims by opposition Wildrose and PC politicians that they would repeal the tax if elected in 2019, a federal carbon tax dictated by Ottawa would likely be imposed in its absence.

But arguments in favour of the made-in-Alberta carbon tax have been, well, confusing and technical.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips’ statement that the province is “still standing” the day after the carbon tax was implemented was factually correct but probably not the statement most Albertans were waiting to hear. Phillips is one of the government’s smartest cabinet ministers, and has done a good job promoting the flagship Climate Leadership Plan, but the NDP have fallen short when it comes to easing Albertans worries about the cost of implementing the carbon tax during an economic downturn.

Economists like Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach have penned or compiled intelligent arguments defending the carbon tax. Even executives of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies have come out in support of the carbon tax. Many of those executives stood on stage with Phillips and Premier Rachel Notley, along with environmental leaders, when the climate change plan was released in November 2015.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heaped praise on Notley for Alberta’s climate change plan, which includes the carbon tax, as a key reason for the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement.

But as anyone involved in politics knows, emotion and anger can sometimes trump facts, science and research. The recent presidential election south of the border confirms this.

Advertisements recently released by the Ontario government are, in my opinion, a good example of an emotional argument in favour of a climate change plan.

One of the arguments that I continue to hear is that Alberta and Canada should not implement a carbon tax because Donald Trump does not support a carbon tax. Trump also tweeted that he believes climate change is a conspiracy created by the Chinese government, so I am not confident that he is someone we should be looking to for leadership on this issue.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Overall public opposition to the carbon tax might start to fade in the coming months as many Albertans begin receiving their rebate cheques – around sixty percent of Alberta households will get a rebate, with full rebates for single Albertans earning $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less – but the NDP government will need to work overtime to provide clear evidence of how the carbon tax will benefit Albertans.

Of the funds collected by the carbon tax, the government says $2.3 billion will go towards rebate programs, $3.4 billion will help businesses adjust to the carbon levy, $6.2 billion will go toward energy industry diversification and job creation, $3.4 billion for large scale renewable energy and technology, and $2.2 billion for green infrastructure. As well as $645 million will be directed towards the new provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta and $195 million to assist coal communities, which will be impacted by the phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The NDP also cut the small business tax from three percent to two percent, a change that came into effect as the carbon tax was implemented.

Taxes in Alberta remain low, some of the lowest in Canada. Investing in measures that could create a cleaner environment for the next generations is not a burden, it is a responsibility. The carbon tax is a sensible policy, but it could be an uphill battle to convince Albertans to embrace it.

Notley’s Climate Change plan earns Trudeau’s Pipeline approval

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today the fate of three pipelines that have dominated political debate in Alberta over the past six years. Yes to Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline. No to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Yes to the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline replacement. Plus, a ban of tanker traffic along British Columbia’s North Coast.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

Mr. Trudeau heaped praise on Premier Rachel Notley for Alberta’s flagship climate change policy, which includes a price on carbon, the elimination coal-fired power plants, a cap on carbon emissions, and significant investments in renewables, as a central reason for the pipeline approval.

Alberta’s Climate Plan is a vital contributor to our national strategy,” Mr. Trudeau said. “This would not be possible without the leadership of the Notley government,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau basically said everything but “Hey Alberta, Rachel Notley is the reason you got a pipeline.”

It has been a long, dark night for the people of Alberta… Today we are finally seeing some morning light,” Ms. Notley said in a statement released from Ottawa this afternoon. That morning light could help drive up the Alberta NDP’s support in the polls, which has dwindled over their first 18 months in office.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

The pipeline approval is a big political win for Ms. Notley’s government as it deals with an economic downturn caused by the low international price of oil. Her conservative critics have attacked her for not being a more vocal cheerleader for pipelines, but it appears a strategy of quiet climate change diplomacy with Ottawa may have been more effective.

It is odd that after years of hearing pro-pipeline rhetoric from Conservative political leaders about the need for more privately-owned and operated pipelines, it was an NDP Premier and a Liberal Prime Minister who secured their approval.

Interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose criticized the government for not approving Northern Gateway, saying it cost the creation of 4,000 jobs, and claimed that Mr. Trudeau does not have enough political capital to make the Trans-Mountain project a reality.

While the pipeline has been approved on paper, it has not been built yet. The Kinder Morgan website projected a September 2017 start of construction.

kinder-morgan-trans-mountain-pipeline-runSupport for pipelines is high in Alberta, but not so much in British Columbia, where there will be fierce opposition to Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion.

While visiting B.C. last September, I picked up a copy of Burnaby Now, a major newspaper in the City of Burnaby. Reported on the front page was a story about a charity-run style event against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. In the same newspaper, an editorial cartoon lambasted BC NDP leader John Horgan for his then-indecisive position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline (he is now against it).

As an Albertan, I was unaccustomed to seeing positive mainstream media coverage of a pipeline protest. Editorial views in Alberta’s mostly-Postmedia owned newspapers are typically boiled down to ‘NDP bad, pipelines good.’

But the view in Burnaby was different, literally.

Unlike Alberta, where oil and gas is a large employer and many large oil projects are hidden from public view in the far north, the Kinder Morgan pipeline staging area is clearly visible on the side of Burnaby Mountain near Simon Fraser University. It is a powerful symbol.

If you believe that carbon emissions are a key cause of climate change, it makes sense that you would oppose the expansion of a permanent piece of infrastructure to transport oil. But stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline will not stop the development of Canada’s oil industry. Oil will continue to be shipped by truck or by rail but the policies included in the Climate Leadership Plan may lead to reduced carbon emissions.

With a provincial election in BC scheduled for early next year, expect the pipeline debate to take a central role in the campaign.

But in the meantime, Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau can enjoy their political victory.

The symbolism of today’s announcement is great, because Mr. Trudeau’s father was the great antagonist to western Canadian interests, and because it affirms the national direction on carbon pricing in the climate change policy debate.

As a friend and frequent observer of Alberta politics pointed out today, this might be the most politically significant pro-western decision made by a non-conservative Prime Minister in modern Canadian history.


Trump advisor coming to Alberta

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway is headlining a fundraiser for the Alberta Prosperity Fund, a right-wing group backing Jason Kenney‘s hostile takeover of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party.

The same group hosted American anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist at a closed door reception in Calgary last November.

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

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).

Postmedia columnists and Fraser Institute team up to attack the Alberta’s climate change plan

The full court press against the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan continued today as Postmedia business columnists Gary Lamphier and Claudia Cattaneo dutifully and uncritically weighed in on the latest report from the right-wing Fraser Institute. The report claims the emissions cap included in Alberta government’s climate change plan will cost Canada’s oil sands industry $250 billion and is the latest in a concerted effort by conservative opponents of the NDP to undermine its flagship policy.

Gary Lamphier

Gary Lamphier

Both columnists unquestioningly quoted in length the dire warnings of the Fraser Institute report, with Ms. Cattaneo giving the closing word in her column to Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who surprised no one by describing the emissions cap as “damaging.” Focused on attacking the government’s policy, neither columnist bothered to provide any actual analysis of the report or delve into what a Wildrose government would do, if anything, to reduce carbon emissions.

Some Wildrose MLAs do not appear to believe the science of climate change, and reportedly neither does the person managing Jason Kenney‘s bid to merge the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. The old PC government acknowledged the existence of climate change but never actually bothered to take meaningful action.

Neither columnist bothered to mention that the oilsands emission cap enjoyed rare support from both energy industry and environmental leaders when Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips unveiled the government’s Climate Leadership Plan in November 2015.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta’s climate change plan in November 2015.

Offering their support for the Climate Leadership Plan at the November 2015 press conference were industry heavy hitters like Canadian Natural Resources Limited chair Murray Edwards, who said: “The framework announced will allow ongoing innovation and technology investment in the oil and natural gas sector. In this way, we will do our part to address climate change while protecting jobs and industry competitiveness in Alberta. (Ms. Catteneo actually interviewed Mr. Edwards a few days after this announcement)

And Brian Ferguson, President & Chief Executive Officer of Cenovus Energy, who said: “We fully support the Government’s new climate policy direction. It enables Alberta to be a leader, not only in climate policy, but also in technology, innovation, collaborative solutions and energy development.”

And Steve Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor, who said: “Today we reach a milestone in ensuring Alberta’s valuable resource is accompanied by leading carbon policy. It’s time that Alberta is seen as a climate, energy and innovation leader.”

And  Lorraine Mitchelmore, President and Country Chair of Shell Canada and EVP Heavy Oil for Shell, who said: “Today’s announcement sets Canadian oil on the path to becoming the most environmentally and economically competitive in the world.”

And finally, Tim McMillan, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who said: “…the province’s climate strategy may allow our sector to invest more aggressively in technologies to further reduce per barrel emissions in our sector and do our part to tackle climate change. That’s what the public expects, and that’s’ what we expect of ourselves.”

Not to mention praise the climate change plan has received from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and a little known political figure by the name of Barack Obama.

It is not to say that these energy executives will agree with every policy the Alberta government will implement over the next three years, but these two Postmedia business columnists owe it to their readers not to omit these important facts from their columns.


Note: The results of the Fraser Institute report are disputed by the Pembina Institute‘s Simon Dyer, who told the CBC that the report “is based on unreasonable production levels that don’t consider the world making progress on climate change.” University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach, who chaired the Climate Change Review Panel, told the CBC that “given what I can tell, the study does not assume any progress in oilsands emissions per barrel and no ability to reduce emissions other than shutting in production.”

Outrage over Oil Sands appointment is a Tzeporah in a teapot

What do you get when you put some of the Canadian Oil Sands fiercest critics in the same room with its most vocal supporters? The Alberta Government’s new 18-member Oil Sands Advisory Group.

Dave Collyer

Dave Collyer

The Alberta government announced the formation of the group yesterday along with its three co-chairs: Dave Collyer, the former president and CEO of the the oil industry’s top lobby group the Canadian Association of Petroleum ProducersTzeporah Berman, an environmental advocate and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, and Melody Lepine, a member and Director of Government and Industry relations with the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

The group of 18 includes representatives from municipal governments, First Nations, Metis communities, the energy industry, and environmental groups who will “advise government on the oil sands aspects of the Climate Leadership Plan and ensure that its initiatives are effective and widely supported.”

Steve Williams

Steve Williams

Almost immediately after the advisory group was announced, the Wildrose Party attacked Ms. Berman’s appointment, claiming she was a radical by citing her comments that the Oil Sands reminded her of “Mordor” from the fictional Lord of the Rings books. A vocal critic of the oil industry in the past, Ms. Berman posted a response on her Facebook page yesterday afternoon, saying she regretted the comments.

Ms. Berman wrote: “Though I have been a vocal critic of “business as usual” in the oil sands, I recognize that change doesn’t happen over night. It is a tremendous step forward that the Alberta government has decided to extend our earlier industry-environment work and enlist the help of more industry participants and the wisdom of non-Indigenous and Indigenous community leaders. I am committed to working in good faith with the rest of the advisory group to develop advice that ensures a strong economy and a leadership position for Alberta on environmental issues.”

Melody Lepine

Melody Lepine

She also provided a link to a video of her joint presentation with Suncor CEO Steve Williams at the recent Business and Climate Summit in London, UK, where they spoke articulately about the work being done in Alberta.

The NDP have put forward the most comprehensive plan to fight Climate Change that Alberta has ever seen, something that the Progressive Conservatives were unable to do in the final decade of their 44 years in government and the Wildrose Party has been unable to do in its four years as official opposition.

But with critics and climate change deniers ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, it is clear that the NDP government needs to do a better job clearly communicating why their much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan is important. Anticipating opposition criticisms and preparing to actively counter them is a critically important element for the success of the Climate Change plan.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

If you only listened to Alberta’s loudest and most-outraged conservative voices, from Brian Jean and George Clark to Jason Kenney and Ezra Levant, you would believe that Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government had launched a holy crusade to destroy Canada’s oil industry. This isn’t true, of course.

The irony of the criticism in response to Ms. Berman’s appointment is that, only a few years ago, opposition NDP MLAs would have roasted the old PC government for appointing a former CEO of CAPP to co-chair an advisory group like this one. In fact, they did.

In 2013, the NDP called on the PCs to reverse their appointment of Gerry Protti as the chair of Alberta’s energy regulator. Mr. Protti is the founding President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and at that time was a registered lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, an energy industry lobby group.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

The then-NDP opposition Environment critic Rachel Notley said in a press release that “the Redford government isn’t doing itself any favours with this embarrassing post—it unravels the entire yarn they’ve been trying to sell the world about their commitment to responsible resource development and environmental protection. If we continue to act like a banana republic, we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re treated like one by the international community.”

Three years later, the NDP has appointed a former CAPP President and CEO to co-chair a group that will advise the implementation of the government’s flagship Climate Change policy. Partnering Mr. Collyer, Ms. Berman and Ms. Lepine as co-chairs was a bold move that reinforces the government’s message that the NDP are able and willing to work with a broad group of Oil Sands stakeholders.

One of the most admirable strengths of Ms. Notley’s government has been its ability to build broad and pragmatic coalitions that include champions from outside of the NDP’s traditional sphere.

Unlike the previous government, the NDP has intentionally sought to bring together a group of people with diverse and differing political views and expertise to advise on the implementation of Alberta’s Climate Change plans. This was very evident when Ms. Notley released the government’s Climate Leadership Plan in December 2015 surrounded by energy and environmental leaders, when Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips tabled the Carbon Levy legislation in May 2016 and yesterday when this Oil Sands Advisory group was announced.

Here is list of the other members of the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group:

  • Veronica Bliska – Reeve of the Municipal District of Peace
  • Bill Clapperton is Vice President – Regulatory, Stakeholder and Environmental Affairs of Canadian Natural Resource Ltd
  • Anne Downey is Vice President of Operations for Statoil Canada and responsible for resource development and continuous operations for the Leismer Asset
  • Simon Dyer is Pembina Institute’s associate regional director for Alberta and former director of the Institute’s oilsands program.
  • Tim Gray is Executive Director of Environmental Defence.
  • Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom is Chief of the Woodland Cree First Nation, with a population of 1,300 people, 700 of whom live on the Reserve at Cadotte Lake.
  • Bill Loutitt is Vice President, Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935.  He is also President of Nistawoyou Friendship Centre and former President of Metis Nation of Alberta Region One
  • Karen Mahon is the Canadian Director of STAND (formerly ForestEthics Advocacy)
  • Jon Mitchell is Vice-President, Environment & Sustainability at Cenovus Energy
  • Alison Ronson is Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Northern Alberta Chapter
  • Kevin Scoble is the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
  • Christa Seaman is Emerging Regulatory Policy Issue Advisor at Shell Canada
  • Richard Sendall has been Senior Vice President of Strategy and Government Relations at MEG Energy Corporation
  • Arlene Strom is the Vice President Sustainability & Communications at Suncor Energy Inc.
  • Lloyd Visser is Vice President, Environment and Sustainable Development at ConocoPhillips Canada

What President Obama said about Canada, Alberta and Climate Change

During his address to the Canadian Parliament on June 29, 2016, United States President Barack Obama singled out Alberta as a leader in the fight against climate change. Here is the excerpt from his speech where he spoke about climate change:

There is one threat, however, that we cannot solve militarily, nor can we solve alone — and that is the threat of climate change.  Now, climate change is no longer an abstraction. It’s not an issue we can put off for the future.  It is happening now.  It is happening here, in our own countries.  The United States and Canada are both Arctic nations, and last year, when I became the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic, I could see the effects myself.  Glaciers — like Canada’s Athabasca Glacier — are melting at alarming rates.  Tundra is burning.  Permafrost is thawing.  This is not a conspiracy.  It’s happening.  Within a generation, Arctic sea ice may all but disappear in the summer. 

And so skeptics and cynics can insist on denying what’s right in front of our eyes.  But the Alaska Natives that I met, whose ancestral villages are sliding into the sea — they don’t have that luxury.  They know climate change is real.  They know it is not a hoax.  And from Bangladesh to the Pacific islands, rising seas are swallowing land and forcing people from their homes.  Around the world, stronger storms and more intense droughts will create humanitarian crises and risk more conflict. This is not just a moral issue, not just a economic issue, it is also an urgent matter of our national security.

And for too long, we’ve heard that confronting climate change means destroying our own economies.  But let me just say, carbon emissions in the United States are back to where they were two decades ago, even as we’ve grown our economy dramatically over the same period. Alberta, the oil country of Canada, is working hard to reduce emissions while still promoting growth.  

So if Canada can do it, and the United States can do it, the whole world can unleash economic growth and protect our planet.  We can do this.   We can do it.  We can do this.  We can help lead the world to meet this threat.

Already, together in Paris, we achieved the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.  Now let’s bring it into force this year.   With our agreement with Mexico that we announced today, let’s generate half the electricity on this continent from clean energy sources within a decade.  That’s achievable. Let’s partner in the Arctic to help give its people the opportunity they deserve, while conserving the only home they know.  And building on the idea that began in Montreal three decades ago, let’s finally phase down dangerous HFC greenhouse gases.  This is the only planet we’ve got.  And this may be the last shot we’ve got to save it.  And America and Canada are going to need to lead the way. We’re going to have to lead the way.   

Mr. Obama’s mention certainly qualifies as high praise for Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, as they spearhead Alberta’s ambitious Climate Leadership Plan. The President’s speech and its affirmation of the Alberta’s government’s climate change policies is likely the type of ‘social license‘ that Ms. Notley hopes will lead to more oil pipeline construction approvals in the future.

As an Albertan, it was difficult not to feel a sense of pride when the President of the United States singled out my home province. For years, Alberta was seen as a laggard on environmental issues, but our province appears to have turned a corner. This may have increased Alberta’s cache in Ottawa and some circles in the American Capitol but it is unclear what impact the Presidential praise will have on public opinion in Alberta. Despite the government’s leap forward, our opposition politicians are still questioning the existence of climate change and environmental issues are frequently framed by the mainstream media in the context of building new oil pipelines out of the province.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

A Timeline of Derek Fildebrandt’s bizarre “suspension” from Wildrose

The Wildrose Party was not one big happy family this week. Albertans might be confused about what exactly happened between Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Finance critic Derek Fildebrandt.

It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.

Brian Jean

Brian Jean

Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.

An outspoken critic and a fierce partisan, Mr. Fildebrandt has been a opponent of nearly everything the New Democratic Party government has proposed since it formed government in 2015. But the second highest profile MLA in the opposition benches has also attracted his share of controversy.

Here’s the timeline of what has become a fascinating internal struggle for power inside Alberta’s Wildrose Party:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was a guest at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Official Opposition Finance critic Mr. Fildebrandt attacked her record as premier as she sat in the Speaker’s Gallery. In reference to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall,  Mr. Fildebrandt shouted “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall at Premier Rachel Notley as she tried to answer a question during Question Period. Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Ms. Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper

Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”  Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.

Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne

Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ronda Klemmensen, President of Mr.Fildebrandt’s Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose constituency association spoke out against the suspension. Ms. Klemmensen was backed by the Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose constituency association and at least five other associations that wrote letters in support of Mr. Fildebrandt. Lakeland Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs posts a comment on Facebook in support of Mr. Fildebrandt.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calgary-Shepard Conservative MP Tom Kmeic tweeted his support for Mr. Fildebrandt.

CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.

Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.

The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.

Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley saidwith respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”

AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga suggested that Mr. Jean may have violated the Wildrose Party constitution by how Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

For Wildrose, “Mr. Wynne” Facebook comment was last straw for Derek Fildebrandt

A statement released late on Friday night announced that Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean had suspended Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition Caucus.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga wrote on Friday night:

A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”

Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized but the flippant Facebook comment about Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality too clearly crossed the line. Remember that it was only four short years ago that a statement claiming gays and lesbians would burn in a Lake of Fire cost the Wildrose a shot at forming government in Alberta. Since then the rural-based party has done its best to avoid discussing social issues that could hurt its public image.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.

Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.

The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his antics sometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.

As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.

Notley NDP make pigs fly again with support for Climate Leadership Plan

When the Alberta government released its Climate Leadership plan in November 2015, I said that Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips had made pigs fly by uniting a coalition of industry leaders and environmental leaders in our province.

Defying expectations, or making pigs fly, might be a strength of Ms. Phillips. Today she brought together another impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders to support Bill 20: The Climate Leadership Implementation Act (see list below).

Bill 20 would legislate Alberta’s carbon levy and carbon levy rebate, ensure revenue from the carbon levy is invested in addressing climate change, and establish Energy Efficiency Alberta. As economist and Climate Change Panel chairman Andrew Leach pointed out on Twitter today, carbon pricing has wide support from economists from N. Gregory Mankiw to Paul Krugman.

Since the Climate Leadership Plan was released last year, we have seen groups like Norquest College and non-profits like Iron & Earth step up to help with the transition to renewable energy.

After years of inaction by the old Progressive Conservative government, it is refreshing to have a government that believes in climate change and has actually presented a policy to address it.

The Alberta NDP’s climate change plan defies supporters of the much-maligned LEAP Manifesto, which was spearheaded by more radical elements of the federal NDP at that party’s recent convention in Edmonton. By defying the LEAPers, Ms. Phillips and Ms. Notley are demonstrating a clear difference between an NDP government that takes action and an NDP opposition that just talks big.

Bill 20 will spark some interesting debate on the floor of the Alberta Legislature.

Ms. Notley has fended off the radical environmentalists in her party and presented a sensible policy and bill. How will the opposition respond?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark responded with a list of questions that I expect he will ask Ms. Phillips during debate.

Wildrose Party finance critic Derek Fildebrandt fell into predictable Canadian Taxpayer Federation hysteria, describing the carbon levy as “an assault on taxpayers and families.”

Wildrose MLAs will likely focus their energy attacking the carbon levy and calling for more oil pipelines, but will the official opposition defy the radical climate change deniers in their own ranks and present a policy alternative to the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan? Will Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party join the debate with a policy alternative beyond ‘we will repeal whatever the NDP does on climate change‘?

The NDP have told their radicals to take a hike. Can the Wildrose do the same?


List of supporters of Bill 20: The Climate Leadership Implementation Act

•Karen Sorensen, Mayor, Town of Banff

•John Borrowman, Mayor, Town of Canmore

•Don Iveson, Mayor, City of Edmonton

•Jesse Row, Executive Director, Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance

•Mark Ramsankar, President, Alberta Teachers’ Association

•Scott Thon, President and CEO, AltaLink

•Peter Tertzakian, Chief Energy Economist & Managing Director, ARC Financial Corporation

•Grant Arnold, President and CEO, BluEarth Renewables

•Joe Vipond, Physician, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

•Robert Hornung, President, Canadian Wind Energy Association

•Michael McSweeney, President and CEO, Cement Association of Canada

•Brian Ferguson, President and CEO, Cenovus

•Kathy Bardswick, President and CEO, The Co-Operators

•Ross Hornby, Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, GE Canada

•Cory Basil, Vice-President of Development, EDF EN Canada Inc.

•Kevin Lecht, Business Manager, The International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers local 110 (Alberta)

•Robert Walker Vice-President, ESG Services & Ethical Funds, NEI Investments

•Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute

•Rob Harlan, Executive Director, Solar Energy Society of Alberta

•Sean Collins, Co-Founder, Student Energy

•Steve Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Suncor

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

Pigs fly as oil industry and environmental groups endorse NDP’s ambitious Made-in-Alberta Climate Change Plan

Pigs continued to fly in Alberta politics today as energy industry leaders and environmental groups joined Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips at a press conference to release Alberta’s much anticipated plan to take action against Climate Change. The Alberta government received the final report from the independent panel led by University of Alberta economics professor Andrew Leach and announced its plans to phase out coal burning electricity plants, phase in a price on carbon, introduce a limit on overall emissions from the oil sands and introduce an energy efficiency strategy.

Ms. Notley will now take the report and the made-in-Alberta plan to address climate change to a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers tomorrow and to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris next week.

Here is what energy industry executives, environmental leaders and opposition politicians had to say about today’s climate change announcement:

Responding to climate change is about doing what’s right for future generations of Albertans – protecting our jobs, health and the environment. It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology. Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world’s biggest problems, and doing our part.” – Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta (full release)

I thank the panel members and the many Albertans, including Indigenous people, industry, environmental groups, municipalities and other partners and stakeholders for their contribution. This is the right plan for our province, and now is the right time to implement it.” – Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks (full release)

The announcement is a significant step forward for Alberta. We appreciate the strong leadership demonstrated by Premier Notley and her government. The framework announced will allow ongoing innovation and technology investment in the oil and natural gas sector. In this way, we will do our part to address climate change while protecting jobs and industry competitiveness in Alberta.” – Murray Edwards, Chair, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (full release)

Today we are making history, with Alberta taking its rightful place as a leader on the world stage. Premier Notley promised Albertans leadership on the issue of climate change and she and her government have delivered. This is the right thing to do for both for our environment and our economy. The world needs more of this kind of leadership from major energy producing jurisdictions if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.” – Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute (full release)

We fully support the Government’s new climate policy direction. It enables Alberta to be a leader, not only in climate policy, but also in technology, innovation, collaborative solutions and energy development. I believe it will lead to Albertans and Canadians receiving full value for their oil and natural gas resources, while addressing climate change.” – Brian Ferguson, President & Chief Executive Officer of Cenovus Energy (full release)

After a string of pipeline victories and over a decade of campaigning on at least three different continents, the Alberta government has finally put a limit to the tarsands. Today they announced they will cap its expansion and limit the tarsands monster to 100 megatonnes a year.” – Mike Hudema, Greenpeace (full release)

This new carbon tax will make almost every single Alberta family poorer, while accelerated plans to shut down coal plants will lead to higher power prices and further jobs losses. Wildrose will be looking at every detail of this plan closely, and we will speak out against policies that hurt Albertans and the economy.” – Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose Party (full release)

Canadians have high expectations of themselves when it comes to protecting the environment and managing economic growth, and the world expects much of Canada. Alberta’s new climate change policy sends a clear message that Alberta intends to live up to those expectations. Today’s announcement sets Canadian oil on the path to becoming the most environmentally and economically competitive in the world.” – Lorraine Mitchelmore, President and Country Chair Shell Canada and EVP Heavy Oil for Shell (full release)

Now it’s time for the government to unapologetically promote Alberta’s emissions reduction successes to date and clearly articulate support for the long-term growth of Alberta’s energy industry, including the oil sands, conventional production, natural gas power, cogeneration and renewable energy.” – Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party (full release)

Today we reach a milestone in ensuring Alberta’s valuable resource is accompanied by leading carbon policy. It’s time that Alberta is seen as a climate, energy and innovation leader. This plan will make one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate change challenge.” – Steve Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer, Suncor (full release)

“On a public policy Richter scale, Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan is an 11. It is enormously positive and forward-looking and will yield measurable benefits for the health and quality of life of Albertans. Significantly, the new plan is supported by oil industry leaders, environmental organizations and other important stakeholders.” – Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute

Alberta’s decision to move away from coal-fired electricity generation and dramatically increase its use of renewable energy reflects a trend happening in countries all over the world. More renewable energy in Alberta will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean the air, and produce significant new investment and jobs – particularly in rural areas of the province.” – Robert Hornung, President of CanWEA (full release)

As Premier Notley said today, we expect today’s announcement to further enhance the reputation of our sector and improve our province’s environmental credibility as we seek to expand market access nationally and internationally. As well, the province’s climate strategy may allow our sector to invest more aggressively in technologies to further reduce per barrel emissions in our sector and do our part to tackle climate change. That’s what the public expects, and that’s’ what we expect of ourselves.” – said Tim McMillan, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (full release)

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote

Prentice to honour 2016 fixed election date, plans tough climate change targets

In a surprising reversal, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice announced that the next provincial election will be held in spring 2016, not in 2015 as many Albertans expected.

“Three years ago, Progressive Conservative MLAs passed Alberta’s fixed election date law,” said Prentice. “I intend to honour the spirit of this law by holding the next election in 2016.”

The Election Amendment Act, 2011 created a fixed, three-month period in which provincial elections are held every four years.

“Establishing the fixed election period has benefits for all Albertans,” said Jonathan Denis, Minister of Justice and Attorney General. “Albertans are better able to plan to participate or involve themselves in the election process – as voters, as candidates, and as volunteers.”

Some critics believe the delay is a result of a recent poll showing a negative public reaction to the provincial budget and an NDP surge to above 40 per cent support in Edmonton.

Prentice also announced tough new climate change targets that will reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions by 50 per cent before the 2016 election is called.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation and we will not fail in defeating it,” Prentice said. “That is why I am appointing Danielle Smith to lead this initiative as the first Chief Executive Officer of the new Alberta Global Warming Institute.”

“Albertans have put their trust in us and going forward, we will demonstrate beyond a doubt that our government will be the change that Albertans are looking for,” Prentice said.

[Happy April Fools Day!]

The least interesting part of Legislative Session: The Throne Speech

Alberta's Legislature

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Every year, political watchers gather at the Alberta Legislature for the pomp and circumstance of the Speech from the Throne, hoping to get a glimpse of a political agenda. And every year they are sorely disappointed at the Throne Speech’s lack of detail.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Yesterday’s Throne Speech, delivered by elderly Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, was unremarkable, but it was never meant to be more than predictable motherhood and apple pie.

On a year to year basis, it is actually difficult to identify much difference in Throne Speeches. It is perhaps more interesting to identify the promises made that never became reality, like the PC Government’s much talked about but never implemented plan to reduce carbon emissions.

A quick read of the text of this year’s speech will reveal that it was little more than a lengthened version of talking points that we have heard from Premier Jim Prentice since he launched his campaign to become Progressive Conservative Party leader last summer.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta

Danielle Smith

The real political agenda was revealed after the Lieutenant Governor left the Assembly chambers. Mr. Prentice revealed his first piece of legislation as Premier will remove another bill passed by PC MLAs in 2009. Bill 1, the Respecting Property Rights Act, is a one-page  bill that rescinds the unpopular Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was passed in 2009 and amended in 2011, but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

In 2011, then-Infrastructure Minister Jeff Johnson praised amendments to the original law, saying it would “give more power to landowners.” Yet the law remained unproclaimed.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA

Jeff Johnson

Stemming from widespread opposition to the construction of electrical transmission lines, property rights became a volatile issue that cost the PCs support in rural central and southern Alberta over the past five years. The lack of understanding shown by rural PC MLAs on this issue was mind-boggling. It provided a clear demonstration that the PCs had forgotten how to speak to their loyal base of rural voters. And it cost them in the last election.

The Wildrose Party, with the help of rural rabble-rousers Keith Wilson and Joe Anglin, were able to take advantage of this disenchantment and translate it into electoral wins in long-time Tory strongholds. With his bill, Mr. Prentice hopes to remove the lightening rod that cost his party its rural strongholds.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The Tories are giddy with the decision by Wildrose Party activists to defeat a definitive statement supporting equality at their recent annual meeting in Red Deer. Despite attempts at rebranding as a softer ‘Mildrose’ party, leader Danielle Smith scrambled to explain her party’s position after the vote was held.

But the PC Party’s giddiness may be short-lived. Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is reviving the debate around Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools. A similar motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr to create more safe and welcoming environments for all students in schools was soundly defeated earlier this year by a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs, including then-Education Minister Mr. Johnson.

While some PC MLAs may cringe at the idea of schools that embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth, Mr. Prentice now has an opportunity to show that his party is clearly different that the Wildrosers. By supporting Ms. Blakeman’s motion, the Premier can send a message to progressive-minded urban voters that the PCs have fully embraced 21st century social values.

If Mr. Prentice’s first few months as Premier have demonstrated anything, it is that he and his staff are skilled at controlling and shaping political narratives. I have little doubt that he will skillfully navigate these and other hot button issues that come his way. The new Premier’s big challenge will be to demonstrate that the PC Government under his leadership is more than just talking points in a Throne Speech.


Federal Tories win in Tory stronghold…
To no one’s surprise, the Conservative candidate coasted to victory in the by-election held in the federal riding of Yellowhead yesterday. Tory Jim Eglinski, a retired RCMP officer and former B.C. mayor, won with 62% of the vote. His main opponent, Liberal Ryan Maguhn, improved party’s standing by earning 20%, up from 2% in 2011. New Democrat Eric Rosendahl placed third with 9%. Unofficial results show that voter turnout was a measly 16%.

 

False Passengers and Fake Promises: Could the PC Party be choosing the next opposition leader?

Alison Redford Jim Prentice Thomas Lukaszuk Ric McIver Alberta Premier PC Leadership Race

Alison Redford, Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice

Here’s a question that isn’t often asked in Alberta: Which of the three Progressive Conservative leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

An insane trail of scandal continues to leak out of the 43-year-long governing PC Party as it lurches towards a leadership vote on September 6.

A CBC exclusive story alleged today that Auditor General has uncovered “false passengers” were booked to ensure that Premier Alison Redford and her political staff would be the only passengers on government planes during certain flights.

The leak was a draft copy of a report Auditor General Merwan Saher is expected to release in August 2014 and will also include a review of the former premier’s flights to South Africa and Palm Springs.

Along with Ms. Redford’s secret plans for a private penthouse residence, this week’s secret cancellation of a three-year pay-freeze for senior government executives (which was only implemented 17 months ago), and the Auditor General’s discovery last month that the province has failed implement its much vaunted Climate Change plan, the PC government does not look like the well-polished machine it once was.

Two years ago, PC candidates led by Ms. Redford promised a new era of open and transparent government. It appears that the fake passengers were not the only fabrication.

Is it possible that the three men vying to lead the PC Party did not know about the false flyers?

Both insiders, Thomas Lukaszuk served as Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and Ric McIver was Transportation Minister from May 2012 to December 2013. While they have denied knowledge of the flights, it is strange that at the very least these two senior cabinet minister had not even heard rumours about the Premier’s alleged fictional bookings and questionable travel habits.

And Jim Prentice? He is not an MLA and was busy working for a big Bay Street bank during Ms. Redford’s reign.

But what of Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose department is responsible for the Alberta government’s fleet of airplanes? Surely someone within the Finance Department would have been aware of these alleged ghost travellers? Mr. Horner, along with 50 other PC MLAs and nearly every PC Party insider, is supporting Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC Party leadership.

Mr. Prentice, who appears to only speak in generalizations and avoids details in all his public announcements, issued a statement on his Facebook Page in response to the allegations. “Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made,” Mr. Prentice’s Facebook statement said.

Nearly everyone who would have been sitting around the cabinet table when these phantom flyers were on the books are now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

His opponent, Mr. Lukaszuk, was much more harsh on Ms. Redford, who remains the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow. The former Deputy Premier said he would have his former boss thrown out of the PC Caucus and would ask a retired judge to investigate the allegations (Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, also supporting Mr. Prentice, today asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to decide whether there should be an investigation).

This leads me back to my initial question: Which of the three leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

For the past four decades, this would have been a nonsensical question. But in 2014, the Tories face a relentlessly aggressive Wildrose opposition flush with cash and preparing for an election. There is an increasingly real possibility that the PC Party could be in opposition after the next election.

Mr. Prentice served in the Conservative Official Opposition benches in Ottawa for two years during the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a time which may oddly familiar similar to the current politics in Alberta. An ambitious politician, Mr. Prentice does not strike me as someone who would be interested in remaining in the opposition benches if the PC Party were to lose the next election.

Mr. Lukaszuk is well-known for his partisan attack dog-style in Question Period, and might thrive in the opposition benches. Mr. McIver served as the unofficial opposition to Mayor Dave Bronconnier on Calgary City Council, but, like Mr. Lukaszuk, he has no support from his PC MLA colleagues.

In light of recent revelations, perhaps some time spent in the opposition benches could inject a much needed dose of humility into Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, who have become very comfortable with the trappings of political power. Despite coming within a hair of losing the last election, the Tories act as if they are an invincible force. This recent string of scandals may help prove that the PCs are not invincible.

A Liberal win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca would send shockwaves to Ottawa

Kyle Harrietha Justin Trudeau Fort McMurray Athabasca Liberal

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha with Justin Trudeau.

On Monday, June 30, voters in four federal ridings across Canada, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod, have an opportunity to choose their next Member of Parliament. Paying close attention to a by-election campaign may not be the most thrilling activity to occupy your time during the summer months, but it is an important one.

Voters in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding are expected to march into the ballot box and elect Conservative John Barlow as their next MP, but the race in the vast northern riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca could produce much more interesting results after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

While the opposition parties have written off the area in the past, it is hard to make that argument in 2014. Kyle Harrietha has run the strongest Liberal campaign the riding has seen in a generation, and has been boosted by leader Justin Trudeau, who has visited the riding three times since Conservative MP Brian Jean resigned in January 2014.

Lori McDaniel Linda Duncan NDP Fort McMurray Athabasca

NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair had been scheduled to visit the riding and campaign alongside Lori McDaniel during the by-election but cancelled his planned trip to attend the funeral of the three murdered R.C.M.P. officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was nowhere to be seen during this by-election.

While national issues like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the ongoing environmental debates about climate change and the impact of Oil Sands development, are sure the play a role in how voters decide to cast their ballots, Tip O’Neill‘s well-known saying “all politics is local” will certainly be a factor in this by-election.

Fort McMurray is a booming community where there are serious concerns about the lagging pace of infrastructure investment from the provincial and federal governments. The pace of economic growth sparked a huge influx of diverse migrants from across Canada and the globe.

While the region is an economic engine for the country, residents I have spoken with feel their community has been forgotten, or just plain ignored, by the higher levels of government.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray in May 2014.

Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has played a peekaboo campaign, skipping all-candidates debates and not engaging with voters on social media (he has been accused of “blocking” local voters who have criticized him on Twitter). He hails from the voter-rich southern reaches of the riding in Athabasca County, which faces some similar and many different issues than the industrial oil capital to the north.

In the south, Mr. Yurdiga has received the endorsements of Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and embattled provincial Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

As Canadians have witnessed many times in the past, by-elections pose a risk to incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a strong message of approval or disapproval to Ottawa without changing who is in power.

Former Conservative MP Mr. Jean was re-elected in 2011 with a 17,935 vote margin of victory over his closest challenger. If Mr. Yurdiga is elected with even a significantly smaller margin, voters will send a message that will quickly be forgotten in Ottawa. If voters in this riding elect Mr. Harrietha tomorrow, they will send shockwaves through the comfortable Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.