Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?
Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.
Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.
As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
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‘Alberta doesn’t matter’ is a comment I have heard frequently during this federal election campaign. Alberta does matter in this election, but not for all the most obvious reasons.
With the Conservative Party in a position to once again sweep Alberta, it is no surprise that the party leaders and parties are not spending much time or resources in the country’s fourth largest province.
This lack of electoral competitiveness, partly a result of Albertans’ historical choice to vote loyally for the Conservative Party and partly a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system, means that there is little incentive for the other parties to direct many resources or attention our way during federal elections.
As a politically astute friend of mine pointed out, by time she leaves Edmonton after tomorrow’s climate strike at the Legislature, 16-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg will have spent more time in Alberta during this election than any of the federal party leaders.
But while the vast majority of ridings in this province will likely elect Conservative candidates on October 21, it is a stretch to say Alberta doesn’t matter. On a national level, Alberta politicians could play a big part in whichever party forms government.
Kenney, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, will play prominent political roles as key supporters of Scheer in the national Conservative movement. The mood among United Conservative Party MLAs would likely be incredibly jubilant for the remainder of this fall session of the Alberta Legislature.
Efforts will also be made to remove the national carbon tax and climate change initiatives but opposition from Quebec Premier François Legault would likely stall any plans to create a National Energy Corridor for future pipeline projects.
Scenario B: Liberals form government
If the Liberals form government, then any Liberal MPs elected from Alberta would almost certainly be appointed to cabinet. If the Liberals form government without any MPs from Alberta, which was the case from 1972 to 1977 and 1979 to 1984, there would need to be some serious creative thinking about how our province could be best represented in the federal government.
Kenney would likely continue his national campaign against Trudeau and could be widely touted as a potential successor to Scheer, which could kickoff a Conservative leadership race before a future federal election and a UCP leadership race in Alberta.
The UCP government would continue to oppose the federal carbon tax and climate change programs implemented by the federal Liberals. Kenney has also pledged to hold a province-wide referendum on reopening negotiations for the national equalization formula if the Liberals form government, a vote that would be held on the same day as the 2021 municipal elections.
Operating as a provincial-wing of the Conservative Party of Canada, the UCP would likely continue to scramble its MLAs and cabinet ministers across the province and country campaigning with Conservative candidates in vote-rich areas in Ontario and Quebec. The UCP would likely print another round of anti-Trudeau bumper stickers for its supporters to slap on the back of their trucks or cars.
It would be very difficult to imagine Alberta’s UCP government having a productive working relationship with a re-elected Liberal government in Ottawa.
Scenario C: The NDP form government
Maybe one of the more unlikely scenarios in this election, but if Singh leads the NDP to win this election, or if the NDP holds the balance of power in a minority parliament, then every MP, including one from Alberta, could play a big role in the next parliament.
It is difficult to explain the level of political insanity an NDP government in Ottawa would cause in the halls of the Alberta Legislature – in both the UCP and Alberta NDP caucuses.
The Pipeline and Climate Change
No look at Canadian politics in 2019 is complete without mentioning the pipeline. Almost every realistic scenario in this federal election has the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project being constructed, as it is supported by both the Liberals and Conservatives.
The Trudeau government spent a significant amount of political and real financial capital when it purchased the pipeline project before Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was about to shut it down, but there is no sign of any electoral payoff because of it for the Liberals in Alberta.
The lack of electoral payoff for such a significant investment does not provide much political incentive for future federal governments to make large investments in Alberta’s fossil fuel infrastructure.
The oil pipeline has become a symbol of political frustration in Alberta. Western alienation is a permanent feature of Alberta politics and it tends to ebb and flow depending on which party has formed government in Ottawa. Frustration caused by the decline of the international price of oil in 2014 is real, emotionally driven, and increasingly drawn along partisan lines.
There is a distinct feeling of a lack of urgency about dealing with climate change in Alberta that sets us apart from much of the rest of Canada. Not only do we risk becoming increasingly isolated on the national and international stage, but if our own provincial leaders continue to demonstrate they do not take climate change seriously we risk having solutions imposed on us.
In a House of Commons dominated by Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc Quebecois MPs who were elected on platforms that prominently featured climate change policies, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will not matter.
Alberta matters a lot in this election, and we are probably going to matter a lot more after the October 21 election, whether we like it or not.
The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.
After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).
In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”
It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.
Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.
Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.
In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation.
Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.
As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.
Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.
While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.
Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.
Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).
Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.
Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.
A short history of Alberta government advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):
2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.
2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.
2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.
2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.
2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.
2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.
2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.
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Two surveys released over the summer suggest there could be a deep divide between Albertans and most of the rest of Canada on the urgency of climate change crisis.
According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data in July 2019, only 27 per cent of Albertan surveyed believed that climate change is now an emergency, compared to 59 per cent in Quebec, 42 per cent in British Columbia, 39 per cent in Atlantic Canada, and 38 per cent in Ontario.
When asked about the threat of climate change, only 32 per cent of Albertans surveyed by Angus-Reid in August 2019 said that it is a very serious threat and 24 per cent said it is not really a threat at all. This is big difference from the 49 per cent in British Columbia and Quebec and 50 per cent in Ontario who told Angus-Reid that climate change is a very serious threat.
The overwhelming presence and influence that oil and gas companies hold over political discourse and media coverage in Alberta, especially over issues like oil pipelines and climate change, is not a surprise.
When asked in the Angus-Reid survey what they believe should be the bigger priority overall for Canada for the next five to ten years, 60 per cent of Albertans said the oil and gas sector, and 31 per cent said climate change. Nationally, 52 per cent chose climate change and 34 per cent chose the oil and gas sector.
Seth Klein, who commissioned the Abacus poll, wrote on rabble.ca that “we see the highest level of support for bold action is in Quebec, while the lowest levels of support are in Alberta. Most of the country falls somewhere in between the two provinces.“
Depending on the results of the October 21 federal election, just how out of step Albertans attitudes are about climate change may become an increasing focal point of provincial and federal politics. And as along as the oil sands remain the fastest growing source of carbon emissions in Canada, national attitudes toward climate change will have an increasing impact on our province.
Public School Board grants academic amnesty to Climate Strikers
Students from the Edmonton Public School Board are being granted academic amnesty if they have parental consent to attend the student-led global climate strikes on Friday, September 27, 2019. The strikes have been held over the past week in protest of climate change and the lack of action being taken against it by institutions and governments.
The motion to support the strike was tabled by trustee Michael Janz, who said in a statement that “Public education is the cornerstone of our democratic system and exists to create an engaged and educated electorate. Now, in the midst of a federal election, our young people are trying to urge us into action on a life-or-death issue deciding our future. As adults, we need to make sure that we get out of the way, and not get in the way of their engagement in real-life education.”
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, a former Catholic School Trustee from Red Deer, took issue with the motion and denounced Janz as an “activist school board trustee.”
Students and supporters will march from MacEwan University, the University of Alberta, and Churchill Square to the main rally outside Alberta’s Legislature Building, which is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. on September 27.
Edmonton City Council declared a climate emergency
A majority of City Councillors endorsed a motion introduced by Councillor Aaron Paquette. Paquette’s motion called for the City of Edmonton declare a climate emergency and for the City administration to “provide quarterly memorandums to Council and the public, beginning in 2020, on the City of Edmonton’s climate action progress and future actions directed by Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy.”
Declaring a climate emergency is a political statement that serves a few purposes:
1. These motions add to the growing list of governments and organizations building a critical mass in support of taking action against climate change by making bold statements. Hundreds of municipalities and big cities, including Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax and London (and soon, Toronto), have declared a climate emergency. Some city councils have taken further steps to investigate the potential for lawsuits against large fossil fuel corporations in response to climate change.
2.These motions act as a public declaration that cities can hold themselves accountable. The quarterly reports on the City’s climate action progress will be an important reminder of this commitment. It will be up to Councillors to ensure that the required action is being taken and that this is not simply incrementalism or bureaucratic lip-service to a critical challenge.
Note about the surveys referenced in this post:
The Abacus survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from July 16 to 19, 2019. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.1%, 19 times out of 20.
The Angus Reid survey was conducted online from August 21 – 26 among a representative randomized sample of 1,534 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Eleven days have passed since Alberta’s provincial election in which Albertans voted in droves and gave our province its first ever one-term government. That alone provides a lot of reflect on, but there is so much more.
Having taken a much-needed vacation after the election (I was on an early flight out of the country on the morning following election night), I now have some thoughts on the results and what they could mean for Alberta and the political parties.
First, the voter turnout was high. The official results of the election were released this week, showing that 64 per cent of eligible voters in Alberta participated in the election. This is down from the previous voter turnout numbers released by Elections Alberta before the count was official that showed a 71 per cent turnout. While the numbers are not as fantastic as 71 per cent, this election marks the highest turnout since the 1982 election, which was 66 per cent.
The high turnout in advance voting, in particular the “vote anywhere” ballots that allowed Albertans to vote at any advance polling station in the province, was remarkable. More than 700,000 votes were cast at the advance polls, with more than 260,000 of them being “vote anywhere” advance ballots. This was the first time this option was allowed in an Alberta election, and it appears that many Albertans liked the option of voting anywhere during the 5-days of advance voting.
The United Conservative Party elected 63 MLAs and earned a remarkable 1,040,004 votes, the highest of any political party in Alberta’s history. That party’s 54.9 per cent is the highest earned by a political party since the Progressive Conservatives in the 2001 election. It appears as though much of the UCP’s popular vote was boosted by significant landslide victories in rural districts across the province, making rural MLAs a powerful force in the UCP caucus.
While the internal politics of this relatively new party are still evolving, incoming-premier Jason Kenney has a strong mandate to implement his incoming government’s agenda. Kenney has said he will appoint a cabinet by the end of April and hold a session of the Legislative Assembly in May, kicking off what he previously described as a “Summer of Repeal.” Kenney has pledged to dismantle many of the NDP’s flagship programs, including the Climate Leadership Plan and Energy Efficiency Alberta.
The large UCP caucus only includes one MLA with previous provincial cabinet experience, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, so the learning curve will be steep for those appointed by Kenney next week. But like the NDP when it formed government in 2015, the UCP in 2019 will be bolstered by legions of career political staffers migrating to Alberta over the next few months.
Kenney is expected to continue to focus on his three key talking points from the election campaign – jobs, economy and pipelines – which is also expected to include a heavy does of political rhetoric aimed at Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, and anyone from outside Alberta who dares criticize the oil and gas sector (which will certainly keep Kenney busy).
The social conservative issues that dogged Kenney and many now elected UCP MLAs will not be his focus, but the social conservative groups who make up critical elements of his electoral coalition will expect to be rewarded for their loyalty. This could potentially create a difficult balancing act over the next four years.
The New Democratic Party was unable to get re-elected into government, but earned 619,147 votes, the party’s highest ever vote total. The larger voter turnout and consolidation of conservative votes around UCP candidates meant the NDP only earned 32.7 per cent of the vote and elected 24 MLAs, which is still one of the largest elected opposition caucuses in Alberta’s history. The NDP vote was heavily concentrated within Edmonton city limits, delivering the party all but one of the capital city’s electoral districts.
Outgoing-Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to stay on as party leader, which is a positive outcome for the NDP after its election defeat. Notley is the party’s strongest asset and is probably key to why the party formed government in 2015 and was not decimated in this election.
While the NDP sometimes tends to act like it is more inclined for life on the opposition benches, the new official opposition caucus will only have 3 MLAs who previously served in opposition (Notley, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous). This is the first time the NDP will form official opposition since its previous tenure in the role from 1982 to 1993.
A struggle for the new NDP caucus and for the NDP internally will be to decide whether it wants to remain the centre-leftish liberal-like party it was in government or whether it should return to something closer to its social democratic roots.
While I have a hard time expecting the NDP’s advocacy for oil pipelines to waver, the party has the opportunity to present a strong alternative to the UCP on issues ranging from climate change to support for strong public services like health care and education. Support for pipelines might be the biggest challenge the NDP will have to reconcile with if it wants to be seen as a serious advocate for action against climate change.
The Alberta Party lost all 3 of its seats in the Assembly despite having high-profile former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel at its helm. The Alberta Party increased its popular vote to 9.1 per cent but none of its candidates came close to being elected. Even in Calgary-Elbow, popular opposition MLA and former party leader Greg Clark fell more than 3,000 votes short of being re-elected.
This result should prompt some serious internal discussions about what role the moderate conservative party plays in Alberta politics, especially as it now has no presence in the Assembly.
For the first time in 33 years the Liberal Party has no presence in the Assembly. Leader David Khan performed well in the televised leaders’ debate and was expected to have a shot at being elected in Calgary-Mountain View, the seat being vacated by retiring four-term Liberal MLA David Swann. But when the votes were counted Khan finished in fourth place with 5.6 per cent. The party only fielded 51 candidates and earned 18,546 votes, which translated into 1 per cent of the vote.
The Liberals will continue to exist on paper but for all intents and purposes the party that formed the official opposition from 1993 to 2012 has ceased to exist as a political force in Alberta.
Disgruntled former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party barely registered on the electoral radar. Running candidates only 24 districts, the populist-UCP spinoff finished with 9,945 votes province-wide. Fildebrandt finished a distant third in Chestermere-Strathmore, 61 per cent behind UCP MLA Leela Aheer.
Despite the crushing loss, Fildebrandt carries no shortage of political ambition. My bet is that he will show on a ballot as a People’s Party of Canada candidate in the October 2019 federal election.
I am planning on taking a closer look at the district and regional level results over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more analysis and commentary about the results of Alberta’s election.
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.
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 Blasioannounced 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.
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.
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.
If the Alberta government could tax all the hot air at today’s anti-carbon tax rally in Calgary the deficit could be paid off.
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford will hold a joint “Scrap the Carbon Tax” rally in downtown Calgary this evening on the second leg of the Central Canadian Premier’s anti-carbon tax tour of Western Canada.
Kenney hopes to turn Alberta’s 2019 provincial election into a referendum on the NDP government’s carbon tax. And federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer hopes to turn next October’s expected federal election into a referendum on Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.
Even if you are a progressive, it is worth listening to Manning on this issue because he does make some good points. Here are Manning’s five pieces of advice from 2014 and my impressions on how the NDP and opposition conservatives have reacted:
1. Avoid using the word “tax” in conjunction with pricing pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.
The NDP government launched the program as a Carbon Levy, but it did not take long for conservative voices in the opposition and opinion pages of the province’s Postmedia-owned newspapers to rebrand it as a carbon tax. Alberta governments in the past have tried to brand new taxes with different names, such as the Health Care Premium introduced by Ralph Klein and the Health Care Levy proposed by Jim Prentice before the 2015 election.
2. Ask, “Out of whose mouth will our message be most credible?”
Manning raised the point that politicians, political staff and lobbyists typical rank at the very bottom of the public trust scale, so the government will need to find different voices to promote the program. The NDP did very well at the launch of the Climate Leadership Plan, uniting environmental and industry leaders in a way that no Alberta government has done before.
The NDP government earned a lot of praise for their Climate Leadership Plan from economists, environmental and industry leaders, and even a mention from former United States President Barack Obama in his speech to the Canadian House of Commons in 2016. But they did not necessarily do an effective job selling the program, especially the carbon levy, to Albertans.
As Graham Thomson explained in his new gig as a political columnist for CBC, the carbon tax is “the kind of thing opposition politicians can demonize in 10 seconds while the government needs five minutes worth of graphs and charts to explain.”
You can find lost of Albertans who are supportive of the carbon tax but will admit to being a little confused about how it actually works.
3. In selling an unfamiliar concept or policy solution, start where the public’s head is, not where yours is.
“In broaching climate change with the public, don’t start by making scientific declarations to people who rarely read or think about science,” Manning wrote in 2014. “Far better to start with the climate change effects our audience is already aware of, particularly in resource-producing areas, and then present the science to help explain. For example, start with British Columbia loggers’ awareness that winters are no longer cold enough to kill the pine beetle, or Alberta drill crews’ awareness that it’s taking longer for muskeg to freeze and allow drilling each fall.”
I believe there is broad recognition in Alberta that climate change needs to be addressed but the sharp downturn in the price of oil and the continued political wrangling over the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline have distracted the public’s attention on energy and environmental issues. The opposition was successful in branding the carbon tax as damaging to the economy at a time when many Albertans had lost or were on the verge of losing their jobs, especially in Calgary and some rural areas.
The NDP government also may have made a strategic error by arguing the Climate Leadership Plan would create the social license needed to convince British Columbians that a pipeline expansion is needed also knee-capped the carbon tax when the project stalled. Tying the carbon tax to the pipeline was a gamble, and it, so far, does not appear to have paid off.
We are also in the era of Donald Trump and conservative politicians across Canada have interpreted his success south of the 49th parallel as a license to engage in a similar angry populist tone. Conservative strategists in Alberta seem to believe that Ford’s victory in Ontario is the key to success and plan to embrace a similar campaign here in Alberta. Whether the abandonment of moderate conservatism in favour of populist rhetoric and climate change denial will lead to success in the long-term is yet to be seen.
4. Be honest about the ultimate costs to consumers.
Manning argued that “it’s possible to make environmental levies “revenue neutral” by reducing income taxes” and the initial argument from the NDP government that the cost of the carbon levy would be “revenue neutral” was confusing, unconvincing and quickly debunked.
A carbon tax does not need to be revenue neutral and the NDP bought into a naturally conservative idea by arguing so from the beginning. The NDP should have been up front about the cost while also reminding Albertans that we already pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and our government is desperate for additional revenue to fund our public services.
After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.
5. Be balanced – Canadians love balance.
It may have been poorly communicated but I believe the Climate Leadership Plan is actually a fairly balanced and largely conservative initiative. By their very nature, carbon pricing is a free market idea and it was embraced by Conservative partisans until their opponents implemented these policies.
Despite being demonized as a leftist ideological wealth redistribution program, the plan listened to industry leaders in allowing for significant growth in the oil sands while providing incentives to decrease carbon footprint and increase energy efficiency.
Manning wrote in 2010 that “[t]here is no inherent reason why conservatives should be ambivalent on the environment, since conservation and conservatism come from the same root, since living within our means ecologically is a logical extension of living within our means fiscally, and since markets (in which conservatives strongly believe) can be effectively harnessed to environmental conservation.”
But today’s Conservatives not only have abandoned their support for carbon pricing and have used some of Manning’s advice as a manual to attack government action on climate change. Conservatives are united against the carbon tax, but remain silent on how or if they even have any ideas to address climate change.
We know that today’s Conservatives oppose the carbon tax, and many of them outright deny the existence of climate change. It is yet to be seen whether they will propose an alternative to the carbon tax that is more than angry politicians and hot air.
In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.
This series of events is the latest twist in the push to expand the 65-year old pipeline that carried oil from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia.
The points included in the court ruling are quite reasonable. The court ruled that the National Energy Board report on which the cabinet based its approval “unjustifiably defined the scope of the project under review not to include project-related tanker traffic” and that the federal government “fell well short of the minimum requirements” to consult with Indigenous communities in the third and phase of the pipeline consultation process.
Due diligence is important and the court provided the federal government with a clear path to resolving these issues. Politics aside, all Canadians should expect that their federal government will not cut any corners when approving larger industrial infrastructure projects such as major oil pipelines.
Now to the politics.
This court decision was not a result of any actions taken by the Alberta government, but it could be a severe setback to Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government. This summer the NDP cabinet held an outdoor press conference where ministers and NDP MLAs were seen celebrating the start of the project with cheers and high-fives. All that was missing was a flight-suit and a giant ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner.
The Alberta NDP have tied the success of this pipeline expansion to justifying the introduction of a carbon tax, their much-praised Climate Leadership Plan, and promised future balanced budgets. Notley has donned the metaphorical Captain Alberta uniform and has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipeline expansion, which would be a popular position if she is able to deliver the construction of an actual pipeline.
“We built a pipeline!” was going to be a central plank of the NDP’s re-election campaign.
The NDP’s path to re-election in 2019 was always going to be narrow and steep, but the latest twist in the Trans Mountain Pipeline saga should convince Notley to aim some significant political pressure on Ottawa to resolve this problem ASAP.
The delay also puts already uncertain Liberal Party fortunes in Alberta at risk. Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Mill Woods, is now responsible for the construction of a pipeline that the cannot be built until the issues identified by the court are resolved. Sohi and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be held accountable to their commitment to build a new relationship with Canada’s First Nations communities.
The court ruling stated that the issues related to consultation with Indigenous communities are “specific and focussed” and could result in “a short delay,” which is positive for the future of the now Government of Canada-owned project, but not politically expedient. The next federal election is scheduled to take place in October 2019.
UPDATE: Notley announced in her address that the Alberta government will withdraw from Ottawa’s climate change plant. Notley is also calling on the federal government to challenge the Federal Court of Appeal ruling at the Supreme Court, call an emergency session of Parliament to fix the National Energy Board, improve consultation and accommodation relating to Indigenous peoples in the way they deserve, and…get construction re-started.
Photo: Environmentalist, scientist, author, and broadcaster David Suzuki (credit: David Climenhaga)
The decision by the University of Alberta‘s volunteer Senate to present an honorary degree to high profile environmentalist, scientist, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient Dr. David Suzuki has aroused much outrage from conservative partisans, Postmedia columnists, donors and U of A staff. It even earned an embarassingly entitled response from the Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes, who said he was “deeply sorry” and “ashamed” of the decision.
Whether or not you agree or disagree with Suzuki’s political positions (most notably his controversial comments about Canada’s oil sands) or have had poor personal experiences with him (which many people seem to have had), it is impossible to deny the huge contributions he has made to the popularization of sciences in Canadian culture.
Albertans outraged about Suzuki’s honorary degree might be surprised to discover that a U of A honorary degree was given to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1968. The U of A also bestowed an honorary degree to Maurice Strong in 1973, three years before Trudeau appointed him as head of Petro-Canada, the now privatized crown-corporation decried by Conservatives of the day. Unthinkable!
Only five short years after he was in charge of enforcing the much-derided National Energy Program as federal minister of energy, Jean Chretien was given a U of A honourary degree in Spring 1987. Blasphemy!
And Mel Hurtig, who later became the country’s loudest crusader against free trade with the United States in the early 1990s, was given an honorary degree in Fall 1986. Unbelievable!
As a U of A alumnus and former member of the U of A Senate, Suzuki’s honourary degree does not particularly bother me more than some previous choices.
Back in 2012, I was not pleased to learn that the U of A Senate had granted an honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestlé, the largest multinational food and water corporation in the world.
As Scott Harris wrote in back in 2012, Nestle had been the “target of international boycotts stretching back decades for its marketing of breast milk substitutes … in violation of international standards, widespread labour violations and links to slave labour in its chocolate production, and its environmental impact and strong-arm tactics with communities opposed to Nestlé’s exploitation of groundwater for its bottled water division.”
That is offensive.
At least the U of A administration cannot be accused of not being consistent in their defence of the Senate’s choices for honorary degree recipients.
It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Suzuki’s opinions will generate from the audience of U of A Science graduates and their families. Will he insult them by criticizing the oil and gas industry and calling to stop climate change? Will he call for an end to or insult our oil pipelines? Should the U of A give a platform to someone who will likely voice opinions that those sitting in the Jubilee Auditorium might find offensive?
It would not be the first time.
I am told that some parents of graduates refused to applaud former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis when he delivered a call to action against climate change as he accepted his U of A honourary degree a few years ago.
Albertans are free to criticize the U of A Senate’s choices of honourary degree recipients, and we should probably even criticize the sometimes silly exercise of granting honorary degrees.
But the U of A should not shy away from controversial choices.
The University should resist pressure from external donors and internal voices like Forbes to withdraw Suzuki’s honorary degree. As my colleague David Climenhaga writes, doing so would “be a black mark on the intellectual reputation of the U of A, a great university, and it will be a great victory for those who would, “without fairness or justification,” turn all Albertans into climate-change pariahs.”
Luckily for U of A grads in 2018, along with Suzuki the honourary degree recipients speaking at their convocation ceremonies will include farmers’ union activist Nettie Wiebe, CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada Louise Bradley, historian, playwright and composer France Levasseur-Ouimet, particle physicist Brian Cox, human rights scholar David Matas, former Alberta MLA Raj Pannu, former premier of the North West Territories Stephen Kakfwi, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, and respected foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed.
Suzuki will receive an honourary doctor of science degree from the university on June 7 at 10 a.m.
The current debate around the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline centres around political posturing, provincial jurisdiction, investment priorities, climate change, coastal protection and consent by First Nations communities, but when the pipeline was originally being built in 1952, civil defence and the threat of war with the Soviet Union was a going concern.
According to reports by the Edmonton Journal and Canadian Press, Liberal Party leader Harper Prowse stood in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on March 27, 1952 to question whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline terminus east of Edmonton could represent a concentrated target for Soviet bombers in the event of a war.
Prowse questioned the wisdom locating the eastern terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline near three refineries, a new chemical plant and two other pipeline terminals, the area many Albertans now know as ‘Refinery Row.’
The minister in charge of civil defence, Clarence Gerhart, was reported to have said that “every consideration” had been given to the situation and that asking companies to relocate their operations elsewhere would be an insult and lead the companies to invest in other provinces.
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald was reported to have declared “this business of companies being ‘touchy’ about going somewhere else can be over-emphasized. Too many companies come into the province thinking they know everything and telling local authorities what they can do and what they can not do. We shouldn’t be too much impressed by their threats.”
While the debate began on the topic of strategic location in the event of World War Three, the debate shifted as MLAs began debating whether the United Nations as a bulwark against communist world domination or part of a conspiracy to form a world government.
Social Credit MLA for Leduc, Ronald Ansley, a frequent critic of the UN, argued that a third world war would results in “world dictatorship” by either Communism or the UN. Prowse responded to Ansley’s remarks by arguing that the UN represented an attempt to bring to the nations of the world a chance to bring about the rule of law instead of the rule of force.
“Nothing would make the communist world happier than if the Western nations should adopt the idea there is something sinister about the United Nations and that the free countries should go their way alone,” said Prowse, who was first elected in the 1944 Army, Navy and Air Force election.
“Even in peace-time we in Canada are losing some of our national sovereignty through the United Nations. Those who want world dictatorship have two arms working for them,” Ansley is reported to have replied. “Communism on the one hand and the United Nations on the other.”
“Not only our democracy but the whole of Christendom is at stake,” Ansley said.
CCF MLA Aylmer Liesemer argued that the UN was not infallible, “but to me it is the best hope of mankind to voice the horrible holocaust that would result from another war.”
“Alberta is prepared to do whatever it takes to get this pipeline built” – Rachel Notley
It was a busy Sunday afternoon in Alberta politics.
We appear to have reached another stage in what feels like a never-ending political dispute over the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. Late on Sunday afternoon, Kinder Morgan released a statement declaring that it was “suspending all non-essential activities and related spending on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”
The company plans to “consult with various stakeholders in an effort to reach agreements” by May 31, 2018.
It feels like a big win for British Columbia Premier John Horgan and opponents of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. But this announcement by Kinder Morgan could also be part of a strategy to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to convince Horgan to back down from his opposition to the pipeline.
Kinder Morgan Inc. is the key player in this dispute but has remained largely silent in the public debate. But when the Texas-based company finally spoke this afternoon, all the political players jumped to attention.
Notley responded to Kinder Morgan’s announcement with a message that is pitch perfect for Alberta-ears. Notley called on Trudeau to stand up for Alberta’s interests as he has for economic interests in Ontario and Quebec. And in a move that will remind Albertans of Peter Lougheed, Notley went as far to say that “Alberta is prepared to be an investor in the pipeline” if opposition to the pipeline caused private investors to flee.
Trudeau responded very clearly with a tweet declaring that “The Trans Mountain expansion will be built.” And federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr reinforced support for the pipeline in a written statement.
All that said, it remains unclear what the federal government will do to stop what is mostly verbal threats by the BC government to stop the pipeline.
In a statement released today, Horgan stated that “the federal process failed to consider B.C.’s interests and the risk to our province” – a sentiment that most Albertans might agree with on many other issues. But with the BC NDP government now trying to jump-start the west coast liquid natural gas industry, it seems clear that neither climate change or the transportation of natural resources are the actual reasons for opposing this pipeline.
The Notley government is expected to introduce legislation giving the government the authority to limit oil and gas shipments to BC, a move that could have serious political and economic repercussions for Alberta, BC and Canada. I would imagine this drastic move by the Alberta government would provide some incentive for Trudeau to figure out how he might provide an opportunity for Horgan to gracefully save face on this issue.
I expect this might not be the last time this never-ending political dispute makes big news on a Sunday afternoon.
As Kinder Morgan and its supporters in government in Edmonton and Ottawa are racking up the legal and regulatory wins in this pipeline dispute, losses in the courts might do little to stop opposition to the pipeline.
South of the border, a Massachusetts judge ruled that more than a dozen protesters who blocked the construction of a gas pipeline were “not responsible” after they argued their actions to try and stop climate change were a legal “necessity.” I do not know if a similar outcome would be possible in Canadian courts, but I suspect we will begin to hear some of the same arguments in the coming months.
In the chambers of parliament in Ottawa, the Senate unanimously adopted a motion introduced by BC Conservative Senator Richard Neufeld urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “bring the full weight and power of his office to ensure that Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project gets completed on schedule.” This week, Independent Senator Doug Black of Calgary introduced Bill S-245, the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project Act, which would declare the pipeline “to be works for the general advantage of Canada.”
It is not clear what Neufeld believes “the full weight and power” of the Prime Minister’s Office includes, but aside from Trudeau sending in the Army or suspending constitutional rights of Canadians, we should expect the protests to intensify. The Trudeau government in Ottawa has been clear about its support for the pipeline, but the political calculus, including the 18 incumbent Liberal MPs in British Columbia, has meant most federal pressure on the BC government is likely being applied behind the scenes.
Notley was right to point out the contradiction in the BC government’s position opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline while trying to jump-start the west coast liquid natural gas industry. Just as Albertans have discovered in this pipeline dispute, provincial governments can sometimes be much more sympathetic to their own local industries than the opinions of neighbouring provinces.
There are contradictions on both sides of this debate.
Opponents of the pipeline are happy to point out the conflicting messages sent by Notley’s government, which pushes the expansion of an oilsands pipeline while lauding its Climate Leadership Plan. The success of the oil pipeline has been made central to the Alberta NDP government’s political future, The awkward shoehorning of the pipeline issue into the provincial budget was the most recent example.
It feels unlikely this issue will be resolved anytime soon and, despite rulings in the courts, opponents of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline will likely get louder and more determined before the pipeline is expanded, if ever.
Fresh from the Alberta NDP’s victory over Saskatchewan in the Fake Trade War on the Prairies, the ongoing political fight over the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby is heating up.
In the British Columbia NDP government’s most recent move to block the oil pipeline, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heymanannounced new rules today that would limit “the increase of diluted bitumen transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”
A key section of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and 3-MLA Green caucus that props up BC Premier John Horgan‘s minority government 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.
“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley read in a statement.
While the pipeline was always going to be politically challenging, with unflinching support in Alberta and unwavering opposition in British Columbia, the Notley government has poured a considerable amount of political capital into the success of pipelines. In a gamble, they even used their much lauded Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy program as a key part of their sales pitch for oil pipeline expansion.
But opposition in BC remains strong.
“The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens,” Notley said. “It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless.”