Alberta Politics

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.”

Alberta Politics

why would the government of alberta help fund the proposed Katz group arena?

This week Edmonton’s City Council is holding hearings and holding a vote to purchase the lands underneath the proposed Katz Group Arena on 104th Avenue north of downtown Edmonton. This vote will take place despite the $100 million which is still missing from the funding formula that has been negotiated by Mayor Stephen Mandel, the City Administration, and billionaire Daryl Katz‘s Katz Group. The current funding formula would have the City of Edmonton fund an approximate $450 million towards the mega-project.

Some advocates of the proposed Katz Group Arena will tell you not to pay too much attention to the details, because the proposed Katz Group Arena will cure all of Edmonton’s civic ills, but reasonable voices are pointing out the raw deal that the City of Edmonton has negotiated. Paula Simons wrote an excellent column about this last week, and Edmonton Journal business reporter Gary Lamphier waded in to the discussion today, highlighting the point that Mr. Katz is no longer willing to pay the $100 million he has previously committed towards the project:

“It’s a terrible deal,” says U of A sports economist Brad Humphreys. “They’re still short $100 million and I don’t see it going very far until they come up with the remainder of the funding.”

What’s more, by allowing Katz to forgo the $100 million upfront funding commitment in return for a 30-year lease at $5.5 million per annum, Humphreys says the city has further softened the financial burden on the Oilers owner.

“I notice in the reporting to date, people are saying Katz is paying $165 million, which is $5.5 million over 30 years. But that’s not right. That calculation ignores the time value of money, which believe me, is coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

The federal government has given no indication that it is interested in entering this kind of financial venture, which has led some arena advocates to look to the provincial government to fill the gap. It is a risky venture for the provincial government to become involved with.

During the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, now Premier Alison Redford said in a media release that she opposed any government funding for the Edmonton arena, direct or through a dedicated tax.

It has been speculated that provincial funding already allocated through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative could be allocated to the Katz Group Arena, but such a move could come at the cost of much needed public transit and community infrastructure.

Provincial involvement in the proposed Katz Group Arena could also create expectations by other municipalities that the provincial government should fund other professional arena mega-projects. This could be the case especially in the City of Calgary where the aging Scotiabank Saddledome could need be replaced or undergo major renovations in coming years.

Premier Redford has said that she wants the provincial government to deliver a balanced budget by 2013-2014. Diverting $100 million toward the proposed Katz Group Arena to fill a funding gap that was a result of poor negotiations on the part of the City of Edmonton does not exactly send a clear message of fiscal responsibility to Albertans. This would open the Progressive Conservatives to increased attacks by the NDP and Wildrose, who have already taken hardline positions against public dollars supporting the proposed Katz Group Arena.

In a September 29 media release, NDP leader Brian Mason (who was elected to City Council during the Peter Pockington-era of Edmonton Oilers ownership) said:

“I’d rather see that $100 million used to reverse this year’s education cuts, or used for publicly accessible infrastructure like LRT. I’ll put kids before a billionaire team owner any day.”

There is also the possibility that provincial funding for an expensive mega-project like the proposed Katz Group Arena could hurt Edmonton’s chances of securing future funding from the province for legitimate public works projects, such as future LRT expansions. The provincial government is already funding the construction of the Anthony Henday ringroad and is currently undertaking the restoration of the Federal Building, the creation of a new Centennial Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street, and providing funding to expand the LRT.

With the provincial government already pouring funds into these large infrastructure projects in Edmonton, there is the very real possibility that the province will have no interest in becoming financially involved in a mega-project like the proposed Katz Group Arena. 

That no other level of government wants to become involved in funding the proposed Katz Group Arena should be a hint to Edmontonians and their City Councillors that they should take a closer look at the “deal” that their Mayor and Administration have negotiated.

Alberta Politics

election promises, arena subsidies, and political zealots.

With a federal election call potentially around the corner, election promises are being dealt out like playing cards. Promise this, promise that. Trying to win back regional support lost over the past decade, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that he supports funding for a new arena in Quebec City.

Not surprisingly, Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples used a recent column to lead the Katz Group Arena cheer parade, praising Mr. Ignatieff as a saviour for his pre-election suggestion. Of course, no one should be surprised by Mr. Staples column given his  past columns on the topic, which have demonstrated his strident support for the proposed Katz Group Arena.

I have written before that if Canadians believe that professional sports clubs are a business sector in need of public financial support then this is a role that the three main levels of government – federal, provincial, and municipal – need to discuss. That said, raising the suggestion of public subsidies and committing to give a public subsidy are two different things, especially when the promise is packaged on the eve of an election.

The thing I find the most disappointing about Mr. Staples recent column is that he labels arena skeptics as zealots, which distracts from the legitimate concerns being raised about the public funding and construction of the Katz Group Arena. There are legitimate reasons to question about the presence of public funding and the decision to construct the Katz Group Arena in the downtown core. There are zealots on both extremes of this issue, but there are legitimate reasons to oppose and support this public policy issue.

I am not opposed to the construction of a new arena, I have not been convinced that the construction of a mega-project like a new NHL Arena will result in the kind of vitalization for the downtown core that its proponents suggest.

Even Edmonton Journal business columnist Gary Lamphier, who has described himself as a supporter of a new arena admits that many key questions remain unanswered about proposal. Proposals under negotiation would have the City of Edmonton fund around $400 million and take a large portion of the financial risk for the project, which would end up being privately owned by the Katz Group.

In the rush to push forward a City Council vote on the project, a frustrated Mayor Stephen Mandel:

“Either we build a new arena or we become a second-class city”

While Mayor Mandel soon after admitted that his “choice of words probably wasn’t right,” this comment epitomized how much boosterism has become a central part of the Katz Group Arena debate. The debate is not about whether it is smart public policy for a municipal government to finance the construction of a private arena or even whether the presence of the Katz Group Arena in the downtown core will actually lead to the “revitalization” that the company promises. It has been overshadowed by the driving desire to become a “world-class” city, though no one is quite clear about what exactly that means.

When I think of “world-class” cities like Paris, London, Vancouver, Montreal, or New York, it is not the sports arenas, tourist attractions, or expensive gimmicks that make me appreciate those cities. It is the people who live there that make those cities impressive.

This kind of boosterism is not limited to the arena debate. The decision by the federal government to not fund Edmonton’s bid to host the 2017 Expo bid also drew the ire of Edmonton’s “boosters”, who lashed out at the federal Conservatives and even made ridiculous statements about how it would lead to the Tories electoral demise in northern Alberta (a recent Angus Reid poll showed Conservative support in Alberta sitting at 69% province-wide, with the Green Party with 12% support, and the Liberals and NDP tied with 9%).

I expect some people to attempt to make federal funding for the Katz Group Arena or the denial of Expo funding an issue in the next federal election, I do not believe either of these issues has legs on the federal scene.

At a meeting last week, I joined a diverse group of eight Edmontonians to discuss local issues with a group of five of the city’s Conservative MPs. Over the course of the two hour meeting, we talked about a wide-range of issues from LRT, immigration, crime, digital economy, health care, and housing, but the words “arena” or “expo” were never mentioned.