Tag Archives: Shannon Phillips

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?

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

The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

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

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

Don MacIntyre MLA

Don MacIntyre

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

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

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

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

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

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

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

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

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

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017: Shannon Phillips, Sarah Hoffman, Sandra Jansen, Derek Fildebrandt, Brian Jean, RIchard Starke, Thomas Dang, Christina Gray, Jessica Littlewood, and David Swann.

Ten Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017

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?

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.

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 20162015 and 2014.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

Notley searches for her Lougheed moment by demanding pipelines for Trudeau’s carbon tax

Demanding the federal government help “break the landlock” and support the construction of oil pipelines from Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips drew a line for Alberta’s support of the Justin Trudeau government’s proposed national carbon pricing plan. In a statement released today, Ms. Notley stated that the Alberta government would not support the federal carbon pricing plan without federal support for increased “energy infrastructure” (a.k.a. oil pipelines).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

There is nothing more Albertan than a good old fashioned political battle between the provincial government and Ottawa over energy issues. Premier Notley may be hoping this standoff could be reminiscent of the heated political disputes that took place between the governments of Premier Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mr. Lougheed, an iconic figure in Alberta politics, political fights with Ottawa can help boost a politician’s popularity at home.

When Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice began casting the New Democratic Party as “extremists” during the 2015 election, Ms. Notley frequently turned to quotes by Mr. Lougheed to support her party’s positions on issues like raising corporate taxes.

Ms. Notley’s NDP have been vocal supporters of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline since she became party leader in 2014. Now, as government, the Alberta NDP’s support for oil pipeline expansion has contributed to an increasingly deep divide between the national and provincial NDP in this province. The national NDP, with strong support in anti-pipeline constituencies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has played a much less supportive role in advocating for Alberta’s oil industry.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The Alberta government’s criticism of the federal government puts Ms. Notley in the company of conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a constant critic of Ottawa. But unlike Mr. Wall’s government, which has dragged its feet on tackling climate change, Ms. Notley’s government cannot be accused of doing nothing to address climate change. Alberta’s NDP government has led the charge with its flagship ‘Climate Leadership Plan‘ which includes its own carbon tax and an aggressive phasing out of dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Alberta NDP plan enjoys the support of environmental groups and oil and gas industry heavyweights like Cenovus, Suncor, CNRL and Shell.

Meanwhile, opposition groups like the Wildrose Party are literally hoping to rehash the political battles of the 1980s. The official opposition Wildrose Party circulated a meme online today comparing the national carbon tax announcement to the unpopular National Energy Program of the 1980s. The Wildrose Party continues to be fierce critics of the federal Liberals and NDP but party leader Brian Jean has yet to offer any alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Ironically, the Wildrose Party’s 2015 election platform proposes to “Ensure Alberta’s standards for CO2 emissions and pollutants are in line with national and international standards.” This statement was written during a time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and a national climate change plan was nowhere on the agenda. It is amazing how quickly politics can change in a short seventeen months.

Breaking the landlock,’ which I predict will become the latest political buzzword, is analogous to the “bitumen bubble” that former premier Alison Redford warned Albertans of in a televised address in 2014. Both buzzwords are part of a public campaign to build pipelines that would presumably allow for easier export of Alberta’s oil, and allow the private companies exporting the oil to sell Western Canadian Select at a lower discount rate than in previous years. This probably would not make a significant difference to Alberta until the international price of oil rebounds.

Over the past year, Ms. Notley has shown her willingness to work with Mr. Trudeau on a wide-range of issues. This may have led the Prime Minister to expect he would find an ally in Ms. Notley in his bid to implement a national carbon pricing plan. But by attaching strings to Alberta’s support for a national carbon pricing plan, Ms. Notley is playing a political game that could pay out political dividends at home. In a fight between the Alberta government and Ottawa, as Mr. Lougheed discovered, you can bet that nine times out of ten, Albertans will side with Edmonton.


Here is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons today announcing the national carbon pricing plan:

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

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

Gary Lamphier

Gary Lamphier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Outrage over Oil Sands appointment is a Tzeporah in a teapot

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

Dave Collyer

Dave Collyer

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

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

Steve Williams

Steve Williams

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

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

Melody Lepine

Melody Lepine

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

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

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

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

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

What President Obama said about Canada, Alberta and Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

A look at some of the new laws passed in Alberta in Spring 2016

The Spring session of the Alberta Legislature ended yesterday after forty-days of debate.

The evacuation of more than 88,000 Albertans sparked by the wildfires in Fort McMurray dominated the attention of our political leaders during this session. In response to the wildfire crisis, Premier Rachel Notley and Wildrose leader Brian Jean briefly put aside politics and demonstrated their strengths as political leaders. It was a refreshing break from the negative rhetoric and hyperbole that has come to dominate Alberta politics.

The legislative session produced ejections, MLA suspensions and other intrigue but amidst the budget debates and political drama the New Democratic Party government pursued a fairly ambitious legislative agenda.

Twenty-one government bill and one two private members’ bills were passed during this session.

Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, a private members’ bill introduced by Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Ellis received unanimous support from MLAs when it was passed in the Legislature. The bill restricts ownership of pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis.

Bill 1: Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act introduced by Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous gave the minister new powers to create programs focused on broadening the province’s industries and businesses. “Jobs” and “diversification” were key buzzwords used by NDP cabinet ministers this spring as they face an increase in unemployment and decrease in industry investment caused by the decline of the international price of oil.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services introduced by Labour Minister Christina Gray lifted the ban on strikes by all public sector employees in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015.

Bill 7: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley pushed forward the timelines to redraw the electoral boundaries before the provincial election in 2019, which could have an impact on the results of that election. The timelines as they were previously legislated were askew after the Progressive Conservatives called an election one year earlier than Alberta’s fixed-election date law in 2015.

The NDP missed an opportunity to improve the composition of the commissions, which will include five appointees (two appointed by the Government Caucus, two by the Official Opposition and one “neutral” chairperson chosen by the government). The NDP should have amended the legislation to create a non-partisan judicial commission similar to the ones appointed to redraw federal electoral boundaries.

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 10: Fiscal Statutes Amendment Act removed the 15 per cent debt-to-nominal-GDP cap implemented by the NDP in the fall session of 2015. This was a classic example of a government walking back on a law which they probably should not have passed in the first place. The Alberta government’s net-debt levels remain low enough that Albertans should not immediately be worried. But as our provincial credit ratings have been downgraded, it will be important for the current and future governments to implement policies that will actually address the government’s significant revenue shortfall and growing budget deficit.

Bill 11: Alberta Research and Innovation Amendment Act reorganized Alberta’s four “Innovates” branded research and development agencies into one agency governed by a single board and CEO. Bill 18: An Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring dissolved the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency and brought its responsibilities into the Department of Environment and Parks. Bill 11 also established the position of Chief Scientist.

Bill 15: An Act to End Predatory Lending introduced by Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean targeted the payday loan industry, bringing down the amounts paid on payday loans from $23 per $100 borrowed down to $15 per $100. Ms. McLean announced that the government is working with credit unions to offer short-term loans as an alternative to predatory loans.

Bill 19: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act injected transparency into Alberta’s byzantine system of appointed agencies, boards and commissions that had become a safe-haven for PC Party loyalists, patrons and retired MLAs during the previous government’s 44 years in power.

A long-time coming, Bill 21: Modernized Municipal Government Act, was in the works for years, but even so it was surprising that the NDP has been able to introduce it so early in their mandate. Bill 21 overhauls and updates sections of the province’s second largest piece of legislation. Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a rising-star in the NDP, will travel across the province this summer to consult with municipal leaders about the changes proposed in this bill, which only passed first reading during this session.

Bill 21 sets the ground for the creation of Big City Charters in the Act’s regulations, as advocated for by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The Charters are expected to be drafted by Spring 2017 and enacted by Summer 2017.

The NDP government’s flag ship piece of legislation of spring 2016 was Bill 20: Climate Leadership Implementation ActPart of the much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan, Bill 20 implements the Carbon levy and rebate program. In what is becoming a signature move of the NDP government, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips assembled an impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders in support of the new law.

While there are legitimate criticism of the bill, including whether the carbon levy is actually “revenue neutral,” the Wildrose Opposition failed to offer any alternative plan. The Official Opposition was knee-capped by a serious self-inflicted wound when an article signed by nine Wildrose MLAs compared carbon pricing to Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Dave Hanson apologized for the comment but the nine MLAs avoided answering questions about the genocide comparison when asked by the media.

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is expected to reconvene on October 31, 2016 and sit until December 1, 2016.

[Note: This was just a brief description of some of the bills debated and passed during the spring session. A full list of bills debated in this session can be found here]

Worth watching: Alberta MLA on gender-based online harassment

These are hateful comments. They are nasty, gender-based and demeaning. They are not constructive and it’s no wonder why so many women fear choosing politics as a career,” said Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly yesterday.

Ms. Drever’s Members’ Statement followed comments last week from Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips about online harassment directed at women politicians. “I have no idea why women might think twice about entering politics,” Phillips tweeted on May 25, 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley and other female cabinet ministers in Alberta have been the target of vicious online attacks and threats since the New Democratic Party formed government in May 2015. For the first time in our province’s history, the majority of Alberta’s cabinet ministers are women.

Here is the entire text of Ms. Drever’s statement from Hansard:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the last year there has been a growing awareness of online gender-based violence. Hundreds of thousands of women face online harassment because of who they are and what they say. Women sports journalists and broadcasters, provincial and federal cabinet ministers, even our own Premier have been trolled online with hateful messages and name-calling due to their gender and public profile.

Mr. Speaker, as you and others in the House already know, shortly after I was elected, I experienced hate messages that were explicitly sexist and subject to taunting and online harassment because I am a woman. In May 2015, after forming our government with near gender parity in our caucus, an individual posted publicly on Twitter using the ableg hashtag, “Pretty confident things’ll run smooth with so many broads’ ladyshipping over the #ableg. Aren’t you? Guys? Don’t you want broads mitigating?”

Another example is a comment directed at a federal female MP: “What a C you next Tuesday. Like seriously just go back to your house and run your car in your garage while you think of another anti oil campaign to attend.”

Mr. Speaker, these are hateful comments. They’re nasty, gender-based, and demeaning. They are not constructive, and it’s no wonder so many women fear choosing politics as their career. In no way do they provide a constructive conversation on policy or political action.

For many women things often escalate further. Name-calling, violent messages, rape, sexual assault, and even the threat of targeting family members are sent through online threats to feminists regularly. The practice has become so common that the process of reporting these has become second nature. The intersections of harassment get even more intense for women of
colour, queer women, indigenous women, and women living with disabilities. They are targeted even more intensely, and the
language used to attack them is almost unrepeatable. Online communities are working to stand up against gender based attacks online.

Mr. Speaker, as a woman in politics I stand with all women who have experienced gender-based harassment. You are not alone in your struggle. I encourage all members of this Assembly to respect us and treat us with dignity and equality.
Thank you. [Standing ovation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

•Karen Sorensen, Mayor, Town of Banff

•John Borrowman, Mayor, Town of Canmore

•Don Iveson, Mayor, City of Edmonton

•Jesse Row, Executive Director, Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance

•Mark Ramsankar, President, Alberta Teachers’ Association

•Scott Thon, President and CEO, AltaLink

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

•Grant Arnold, President and CEO, BluEarth Renewables

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

•Robert Hornung, President, Canadian Wind Energy Association

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

•Brian Ferguson, President and CEO, Cenovus

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

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

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

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

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

•Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute

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

•Sean Collins, Co-Founder, Student Energy

•Steve Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Suncor

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

Oil Sands workers call for training in Renewable Energy

A group of oil sands workers are calling on the Alberta government to support the training of 1,000 out of work electricians as solar specialists.

With plans to facilitate the registration of those 1,000 training candidates, the Iron & Earth non-profit organization is proposing the installation of solar panels at 100 sites to provide employment and further the province’s goal for 30 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030.

According to company founder and boilermaker Lliam Hildebrand, the solar program is the first of several planned training programs. “Next, we’re looking to find ways to put pipefitters, boilermakers, ironworkers, and other building trades in Alberta back to work in the geothermal, wind, biomass, and biofuel industries,” Hildebrand said in a press release today.

Oil sands workers for training in renewable energyThe government of Alberta should invest in training out-of-work oil sands workers in renewable energy. Agree? Add your name: http://www.ironandearth.org/take_the_pledge

Posted by Iron & Earth on Monday, 21 March 2016

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips unveiled the Alberta government’s ambitious Climate Leadership Plan in Nov. 2015 after months of consultation. In Feb. 2016, the government announced the creation of the Alberta Municipal Solar Program and the On-Farm Energy Management Program to help farms and municipalities install solar panels.

For readers who might be skeptical of solar power, the Pembina Institute recently published two articles debunking some of the myths about renewable energy production and potential in Alberta.

A recent podcast by Green Energy Futures also focused on solar power in Alberta:

Editor’s note: A previous version of this post referred to Iron & Earth as a company. It is not a company. It is a non-profit organization.

Worth Watching: Shannon Phillips’ maiden speech as MLA for Lethbridge-West

I made my first visit to the Alberta Legislature visitors gallery in 2 years to watch Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips deliver her maiden speech as the MLA for Lethbridge-West. Ms. Phillips was first elected on May 5, 2015 and was appointed to cabinet soon after.

Her speech is worth watching.