Tag Archives: Coal-fired power plants

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

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

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural Alberta Advantage

AAMDC wants a Rural Alberta Electoral Advantage

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties approved a resolution opposing the recommendations included in the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission this week at their annual meeting in Edmonton. The organization representing municipal districts and counties opposes the dissolution of three rural districts and is calling for an amendment to Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.

“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”

Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.

While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.

The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.

Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.

In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.

The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.

Politics and Rural Representation

When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.

Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.

The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).

The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.

This week’s announcement from Shaye Anderson that the government will provide a tax credit for uncollectible education property taxes on defunct oil and gas properties, known as orphan wells, should be popular among rural municipal leaders. But previous transgressions, like the fumbled passage of Bill 6 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants early in the NDP’s term in government created significant resentment in rural areas. These issues will pose a major challenge for NDP MLAs seeking re-election in rural districts in the 2019 election.

Alberta Politics Roundup: It rarely slows down, even in the summer

Photo: Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, and Little Bow MLA David Schneider. (credit: Brian Jean’s Facebook page)

It feels like politics rarely slow down in Alberta, even in the summer. Here is a quick look at some of what has been happening:

New UCP caucus has a spending problems

A day after the United Conservative Party lined up to criticize Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, it was revealed that the UCP caucus is facing a $337,000-deficit this year. The report triggered criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (pictured in the photo above) from Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Scott Cyr and party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer.

Cyr said Wildrose MLAs were stonewalled when they requested information about ballooning staff at the former official opposition caucus office.

Schweitzer said the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot manage its own internal budget. Schweitzer has described Jean’s leadership platform as “big government” and is proposing deep cuts to the provincial budget if he becomes premier in 2019.

Bilous hosts town halls in Coal Communities

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous will be spending much of the next week visiting communities impacted by the phase-out of coal fired power plants. Bilous will be hosting town hall meetings in Hanna on August 27 and 28, Forestburg on August 28 and 29, and Leduc, Warburg and Wabamun on August 31. Bilous admitted earlier this month that the New Democratic Party government needed to improve its communications with these communities (I wrote about this in Nov. 2016).

Kenney too busy to meet with kd lang

When Jason Kenney was asked why he was not attending any Calgary Pride Week events, he initially said it was because he did not get an invitation. When he received an invitation from Alberta-born internationally successful musician kd lang to meet in person to discuss LGBTQ issues, Kenney’s spokesperson said the UCP leadership candidate was too busy. It appears as though Kenney will go to far lengths not to do anything that would alienate the social conservative supporters he hopes will help make him leader of the UCP in October 2017.

Hehr on the move

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr is expected to be shuffled from his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan is moved into the role. When Hehr was appointed to cabinet in 2015, he became the first Liberal cabinet minister from Calgary since the early 1970s. It is not yet known what his new role will be.

Kang expected to be booted from Liberal caucus

The Hill Times reports that Calgary MP Darshan Kang is expected to be removed from the Liberal Caucus this week “after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a young staffer unearthed troubling findings.” Kang was elected as the MP for Calgary-Skyview in 2015 after serving two-terms as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-McCall.

Keller out of Sturgeon River-Parkland race

Gerry Keller, the former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, has decided not to enter the Conservative Party nomination to run in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election. Current candidates running for the nomination include local party organizer Jamie Mozeson, recently relocated BC-businessman Rick Peterson and political staffer Dane Lloyd.

 

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

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

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

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

The Speaker: The hon. Premier.

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

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

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

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

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

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

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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