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.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced through press release and a video on YouTube that the “war on fun” being waged by the “nanny state” was coming to an end as the government relaxes alcohol restrictions at festivals and in parks, including lifting the annual ban on liquor in provincial campgrounds over the May long weekend.
Kenney referenced prohibition-era laws in the video, but the May long weekend ban at some provincial campgrounds was only first imposed in 2004, when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. Klein had supposedly sworn-off alcohol by that point in his political career but he could hardly be described as a prohibitionist.
The 2004 government press release reinforced the reason for the ban: “During the 2003 May long weekend, there were a total of 239 recorded liquor-related enforcement action occurrences in Alberta’s 68 provincial parks, including written warnings, charges, arrests and evictions.”
Campers in parks across Alberta will find out quickly whether this or future May long weekends result in a return to the alcohol-fuel chaos that led to the ban in the first place.
The company that owns the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal and dozens of other daily and local newspapers in Alberta and across Canada has hired a lobbyist to “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”
During the election campaign, Kenney pledged to fund a $30-million “war room” to respond to critics of the oil and gas industry, including environmental groups and Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The energy war room is essentially a $30-million public relations subsidy for some of the wealthiest corporations operating in Canada’s oil and gas sector.
It would appear that Postmedia is fishing for a cut of the war room advertising money, likely for its “Content Works” division, which creates advertisements in the style of an editorial or news article. Literal fake news funded by taxpayers. The whole thing stinks.
Postmedia’s conservative editorial bias is well-known. Despite attempts by some local editors-in-chief to maintain local autonomy, the Toronto-based company has in required its newspapers to publish prescribed election endorsements of Conservative parties across the country.
This is not the first time Canada’s largest media company has become involved with oil and gas industry advocacy. In 2014, it was revealed that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers made a pitch to Postmedia Network’s board of directors to create an “Energy Channel Sponsorship” for Postmedia newspapers to “amplify” CAPP’s “energy mandate.”
And as Postmedia is positioning itself for a role in the war room, its CEO Paul Godfrey is one of the key players agitating for funding from a new $595 million federal government media fund.
So this weekend as you relax in your lawn chair in one of Alberta’s beautiful provincial parks, forget about toasting a monarch who has been dead for 118-years, as Kenney and Nixon did in their video. Instead, raise a responsible drink or two for efforts to combat climate change, the freedom of the press, and for those poor reporters working for Postmedia who are just trying to do good journalism despite the best attempts of their bosses in Toronto.
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.
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.
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.”
Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.
As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozo–eruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.
Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.
Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.
Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).
Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petitiondemanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.
On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.
We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.
Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.
Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.
Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.
This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.
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.
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.
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, 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.
O’Leary will be joined by former Conservative MP Tim Uppal who will moderate the chat. Uppal represented the Edmonton-Sherwood Park riding from 2006 until 2015 when he switched ridings and was defeated by Liberal candidate Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods in October 2015.
O’Leary does not have the support of any sitting MPs from Alberta but has gained support from Uppal and former PC MLA Ken Hughes. O’Leary was widely mocked online last year after writing an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley pledging to invest $1 million to Alberta economy if she would resign (it is not known if the letter was sent by O’Leary from his home in Massachusetts).
Federal NDP skip Alberta in leadership debate schedule
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).
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.
But arguments in favour of the made-in-Alberta carbon tax have been, well, confusing and technical.
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.
In November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeauheaped 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.
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.
Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.
Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:
Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.
Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.
Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?
Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.
Richard Starke(Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.
Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.
Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.
Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.
David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.
Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 2016, 2015 and 2014.
As the fall Legislative session ends and MLAs prepare to return home to their constituencies for the holiday season, Premier Rachel Notley announced big changes in the senior ranks of her political office.
Gone is Brian Topp, the veteran political operative who became Ms. Notley’s Chief of Staff after the NDP formed government in 2015. He is reportedly becoming a fellow with the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.
Mr. Topp is replaced by John Heaney, a former British Columbia NDP political operative who served as Chief of Staff to John Horgan until moving east to Alberta last year. He was filling the role as Alberta’s policy czar as Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office.
Former federal NDP campaign manager Anne McGrath, who was hired as Ms. Notley’s Principal Secretary after the 2015 federal election, moves south to run the Premier’s Calgary office at the McDougall Centre.
Ms. McGrath, who lived in the city and studied at the University of Calgary, replaces former alderman and MLA Bob Hawkesworthas Executive Director. It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a demotion. But the addition of Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen to the government caucus, placing a campaign manager in the role could signal that the NDP are beginning to realize the need to shore up support in Alberta’s largest city before the next election.
Back in Edmonton, Ms. McGrath will be replaced by ministerial chief of staff and former BC NDP advisor Jim Rutkowski, who rounds up the group of recently imported BC NDP operatives now filling the two most powerful political jobs in Alberta.
It is too soon to tell what today’s staff changes will mean or how they will impact how the NDP government operates. The NDP focused on introducing policy and legislative changes during its first year in office, and now the government will need to shift political gears as it moves to implement its ambitious Alberta-changing policy goals.
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.
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.
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.
Support 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.