By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Canadian Press notes the recent visits of Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Environment Minister Peter Kent to the Washington, DC.
In separate appearances and meetings, Kent and Redford both stressed that Canada was taking climate change very seriously and that strong measures were in the works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector … Gone was the federal talk about any form of carbon pricing being akin to a carbon tax that would raise the price of everything. Indeed, Kent took pains to stress that while Ottawa likes its regulatory approach to emissions, he was open to provinces setting up their own plans — as long as such arrangements lead to actual reductions in emissions.
So the Harper government might believe that putting a price on carbon is a terrible idea, but it respects provincial jurisdiction enough to refrain from criticizing provincial governments that decide to implement cap-and-trade systems or carbon taxes. That’s an entirely admirable and mature approach to federalism.
Peter Kent explains…
“There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing…
… There are those carbon taxes where the revenues go into general revenue and do not guarantee the reduction of a single ton of greenhouse gases. (But) Alberta has a tech fund wherein their revenues are focused only, and in isolation, on technology to achieve further ghg reductions than the emitters in that province are already able to achieve.”
Less than a year ago, Mr. Kent ventured that “carbon pricing in any form is a carbon tax.” There would not seem to have been any subtlety left at that point, at least so far as the Conservatives were concerned. A few months later, Conservative MP John Williamson explained that “cap and trade or cap and tax, a price on carbon is a tax on carbon.”
Over the subsequent weeks and months, the Conservatives have repeatedly criticized the NDP’s plan to implement a cap-and-trade system: saying, for instance, that ”a carbon tax like the NDP is proposing would critically hurt Canadian families” and that “the economy would be lost and family would be lost” and that “this costly new tax that will kill jobs, stall the economy and ruin winter” and so on.
So what is Mr. Kent saying now? Is he saying that carbon taxes aren’t necessarily bad? Is he saying that Alberta’s carbon tax is somehow okay or at least somehow less ruinous?
Let’s go back to CP’s report of last Wednesday—when CP paraphrased Mr. Kent as saying the federal government is not against carbon pricing. Here is what Mr. Kent was quoted as saying in that piece.
“I’m saying that carbon taxes where the taxes go into general revenues…
The general “revenue” argument is not new, but I’m still not sure how that matters if, in Mr. Kent’s opinion, any price on carbon is equivalent to a carbon tax and if, as it seems the government wishes to convey, a carbon tax is an inherently bad idea. Unless, again, we’re allowing now that a price on carbon isn’t necessarily a terrible thing…
…, as the NDP’s would, for social engineering, not for the reduction of (greenhouse gases)…
This particular matter of revenue is perhaps an interesting and worthwhile nuance to explore: that any revenue derived from cap-and-trade or a carbon tax should not be used for social programs. If that’s what Mr. Kent means by “social engineering.” This point has been raised in the past: Stephane Dion’s Green Shift used some of the revenue to reduce poverty and Brian Topp raised it as a point of concern during the NDP leadership race.
In 2011, the NDP committed almost all of the revenues from cap-and-trade to what it termed “green initiatives.” And when I spoke with Thomas Mulcair in December, I asked him about this point. He said then that “there has to be an equivalent amount that goes into environmental purposes” and “it has to be concentrated in those provinces, those areas where that money is being generated.”
Is there a possible difference between “environmental purposes” and “the reduction of (greenhouse gases)”? Maybe. But is that suddenly all that remains of this apparent disagreement over the NDP’s cap-and-trade platform?
… that’s something we would consider to be … unworthy,” he said.
So is there a kind of carbon tax that Mr. Kent would consider worthy? Is Alberta’s carbon tax worthy?
The global debate about how to reduce carbon has not really taken a hard look at how effective carbon taxes are in actually cutting emissions, he added.
Fair enough. There are certainly questions to be asked. Which approach would be most effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Cap-and-trade, a carbon tax or regulations. Which would be the most cost-effective and efficient option? Here is Stephen Gordon’s take. Here is Jack Mintz’s take. If Mr. Kent is willing to engage it, there is certainly an interesting debate to be had.
I asked Mr. Kent’s office two questions after reading CP’s story on Wednesday. Here are those questions, with the responses provided.
Does Mr. Kent not categorically oppose all forms of carbon pricing?
Our government has been clear: we will not implement a carbon tax.
And what is Mr. Kent’s opinion of the kind of carbon tax used in Alberta?
With regards to Alberta, the Minister was very clear in the press conference and I refer you to the following statement from the presser on Wednesday: “Well, we’ve been working in terms of our federal sector by sector regulatory process with the oil and gas sector since late 2011. We continue to work with – with the sector, with stakeholders, with the provinces – Alberta and other provinces that are blessed with oil and gas. But I think it would be premature today to talk about where we are.”
These responses didn’t seem to sufficiently explain Mr. Kent’s position on carbon pricing, so I tried again.
The minister is quoted today as saying: “There hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing There are those carbon taxes where the revenues go into general revenue and do not guarantee the reduction of a single ton of greenhouse gases. (But) Alberta has a tech fund wherein their revenues are focused only, and in isolation, on technology to achieve further ghg reductions than the emitters in that province are already able to achieve.” Is he saying that carbon taxes are not necessarily bad policy?
To that I was told to refer to the previous responses.
By Erica Alini - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 5:12 PM - 0 Comments
So Alberta hasn’t really proposed to increase its carbon price to $40, as reported last week. Speaking with Luiza Savage in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Premier Alison Redford said the much debated 40-40 plan isn’t something “we’ve in any way landed on or proposed.” (Read the full interview here.)
You still need to know about Alberta and its system for pricing carbon. Why? Because it might be the blueprint for federal emission regulations for the oil and gas industry that are expected to — forgive the pun — come down the pipe later this year. Alberta and Ottawa are collaborating “intensely” on the upcoming federal rules for the oil and gas industry, Redford told Maclean’s.
But is Alberta’s setup the model the nation should follow? Here’s what you need to know to start making up your mind:
1. Provincial vs. federal regulations, a bit of history.
In 2006 Ottawa let it be known via the Canada Gazette that it intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The approach the government had in mind was the following: target the largest polluters, those with emissions over 100,000 tonnes per year, and use “intensity targets.” That would limit the amount of GHGs per unit of output rather than putting a cap on aggregate emissions. However, the government added, such targets should be “ambitious enough to lead to absolute reductions in emissions and thus support the establishment of a fixed cap on emissions.” (A big hat-tip to University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach here, who wrote this paper.)
Deeds, however, did not follow those words speedily, and a few provinces have since pressed ahead with their own rules. Alberta was the first to put a price on carbon in 2007; a few months later, Quebec imposed a carbon levy on energy producers and a cap-and-trade system in 2011. B.C. followed suit in 2008 with a carbon tax on gasoline and other fuels.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 4:33 PM - 0 Comments
Alberta premier Alison Redford is in Washington, DC today to speak about her province’s energy resources and environmental policies as the Obama administration continues to review the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
She is having meetings on Capitol Hill and gave a speech to the Brookings Institution, in which she made the case that if the cross-border pipeline is rejected, the winner will be Venezuela. Said Redford:
“The opponents of Keystone are, in effect, tilting the playing field in favor of Venezuela, which would be the biggest beneficiary in the absence of Keystone. If it is not Canadian oil sands in those US refineries, it will be Venezuelan heavy oil. Yet Venezuela’s oil has the same carbon footprint, while Venezuela has little of the environmental policies and commitment that we do in Alberta. And importing oil from Venezuela does far less for the US economy and US jobs than Canadian imports.”
I asked her about reports that her government is planning to raise Alberta’s $15 per tonne carbon price to $40 per tonne as a means to getting American approval for the pipeline project — a price that environmental critics say would be still too low. Below are highlights of our conversation:
Q: Washington, DC is very polarized on the issue of oil sands and Keystone XL. So who is left for you to persuade here on your trip?
A: It’s funny. This is my fourth trip down here in the last 18 months. I was thinking about it on my way down yesterday that in some ways the conversation hasn’t changed. But this happens to be a point in time when people are very focused on this issue. So from our perspective, it’s not about a roster of people we are trying to convince. It’s to make sure that we are present in the discussion. So that as the dialogue changes and more people get engaged, we have more of an opportunity to talk about the issues related to the project.
This is an issue about Keystone but we never come to say, ‘We are proponents of Keystone and please approve the project.’ We come to say, ‘We know that in your considerations with respect to this project you are asking questions about Canada and Alberta – what does environmental sustainability look like? How do you balance environmental sustainability and economic development? What are the priorities for Canada and the U.S.?’ For me, part of that dialogue is to have thoughtful conversations with people so that they understand that we are thinking about the same issues, that our values as Canadians are not different than the values of people who are involved in these issues in the United States.
Q: What is the question you get asked most often?
A: I think that the approach that we’ve taken, which gets a very good response, is we don’t ever have people sit down and interrogate us. But what we say is we’re here to talk about what our environmental record has been in Canada. We have a commitment to ensuring that we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions; that we understand that climate change of course is real; and that there are different approaches to deal with this. You have to ensure that you are developing your energy resources in a sustainable way, you have to ensure you are investing in technology, ensure that your extraction is sustainable; that integrated land use management is important and we understand that you need to have a strong regulatory process with respect to water usage, land management, air quality; that communities matter, and that First Nations matter. We want to be able to talk about the fact we have an integrated approach and have had for well over a decade.
Q: It has been reported that you have a carbon tax plan – the 40/40 plan. Is that a part of your effort to get Keystone XL passed?
A: There are two separate pieces to this. One is that Keystone is a particular project and because people are making a decision around that project, they are looking to see what Canada and Alberta are doing around their environmental record, and so we come and talk about that. This story about 40/40 is sort of – how would I say it – it was reported as ‘news.’ It’s actually part of the work we just do on an ongoing basis with the federal government. This happens to be a point in time when Alberta and Ottawa are working intensely on what our new oil and gas regulations will look like with respect to emissions. So 40/40 isn’t a number that we’ve in any way landed on or proposed. I know that is the story out there. But that’s just a story. It’s very much around what are we doing to make sure we continue to be competitive – that we ensure that we are putting in place an integrated approach to economic development and energy.
This can never be a quid pro quo. This isn’t about saying [to the Obama administration], ‘If we were to make changes, please approve the deal.’ That’s not right. That’s not good public policy. In fact, we have never taken that approach with respect to the work that we do on environmental sustainability. So even though it’s been reported as a particular step or a point in time, nothing has dramatically has shifted. It really is just an evolution, an ongoing dialogue we have with the federal government and industry about what we can do to make sure we are still able to achieve our targets in a competitive way.
Q: So you are saying this did not come out of the effort to approve Keystone?
Q: So what was the genesis?
A: There was not a genesis. We have a minister of environment and a minister of energy who meet with their federal counterparts to make sure we are putting in place policies and approach to environmental sustainability that make sense for Canada and Alberta. So it’s not as if there was a point in time that people sat down and said it’s time to make a decision to go in a different direction.
Q: What have you heard from the U.S. administration – how explicit or blunt or vague have they been in saying, “Look, we can’t approve this unless you do more on emissions?” Have you ever heard a message like that?
A: No. I haven’t had any either pointed or vague conversation with respect to these issues that is any different than if I’m sitting in Edmonton and talking to people at a coffee shop. This is what we talk about now, as citizens of the world.
Q: Is 40/40 a specific proposal or a jumping off point? Some environmentalists say you would need $100 per tonne, or $150 per tonne to really get the remissions reductions…
A: But that’s the point. This isn’t a specific proposal. This is part of an evolution with respect to what we do around policy. We’re not negotiating on specifics with environmental groups, we’re not negotiating with anyone. We’re not negotiating on this issue. We are simply developing a policy approach — because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. It has to be sustainable. It has to make sense for Canada’s economy. It has to make sense for Alberta.
Q: So the 40/40 thing is not a policy, it’s just an idea put out there for discussion.. So at the end of the day, it could not happen at all, or it could be a different number?
Q: So you are collecting input into this?
A: Everyone is. If you were to sit down right now with industry in Alberta they would tell you they run numbers like this all the time. It’s not even related to environmental issues. It could be numbers with respect to this issue or with respect to pipeline capacity or how many rail cars they need to be able to contract to export product.
Q: Is it your expectation that at some point the carbon tax in Alberta will be raised from where it is now?
A: I don’t know. And it’s not a carbon tax, it’s a price on carbon – and that’s different. A carbon tax is when you tax emitters and use the money for whatever government may choose to do. We don’t do that. We have a price on carbon, of $15 per tonne, that goes into a technology fund that is then used to invest in projects that will allow for more sustainable development of the resource. It’s not a carbon tax, it’s a price on carbon. There is a difference.
Q: So do you expect to change that $15 – maybe not to $40, but to something else?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Is there some timeline at which these decisions are being made?
Q: So it’s been reported as a new policy but really it’s just an internal conversation?
A: Think about what politicians do every single day, what governments do. We continually try to get ahead of public policy issues.
Q: So this is an internal policy discussion?
A: It’s not even internal. We are talking to industry they are talking to the federal government, and the federal government is talking to us. This is our job. This is what we do.
Q: So you don’t have a particular vision of where this might go?
Q: Will you be discussing it here [in Washington, DC] while you are meeting with people?
A: What we’ve talked about is the fund we have in place. There are still a lot of people here who are surprised by the fact that we have legislation that has put a price on carbon. The governor of Colorado was visiting two weeks ago and I had a chat with him, and he said he didn’t know we had a price on carbon. And it’s important for people to know that.
We’re not down here to pitch a project and say, ‘Boy, if you approve this project, we’ll do all these things.’ What we are here to do is say, ‘We want to tell you what we’ve done because we are proud of what our record has been.” The technology fund, carbon capture and storage, integrated land use planning, ensuring that land, air and water are developed in a sustainable way, an independent monitoring agency that provides real time data, a strong regulatory process. These are all things we’ve already done and we want to make sure people know that.
Q: Do you expect to be coming out with in the next months or a year new steps to get closer to meeting emissions targets?
A: Well, we’re very confident with respect to where we are going already. If there are innovative approaches that allow us to do more, that’s great.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 1:53 PM - 0 Comments
Politico has an interesting profile today of Tom Steyer, a billionaire who is using his wealth to press Democratic politicians on environmental issues, including TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline:
The former hedge fund trader-turned-philanthropist is bankrolling a far-flung political operation pushing environmental causes and candidates, including his pricey effort to torpedo the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He’s increasingly drawing scrutiny for trying to take down the Senate candidacy of Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who has expressed support for Keystone. Steyer is signaling that his efforts against Lynch are just the beginning of an aggressive political expansion that could target Democrats in other races who go against environmental causes.
He’ll be giving Obama an earful tonight:
Steyer and his wife are hosting Obama at their San Francisco home Wednesday night for a $5,000-a-person cocktail reception that will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The event will be filled with environmental and green-energy donors, who Steyer said won’t hide their feelings about Keystone from the president. “We will certainly talk about what we care about,” said Steyer…
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is in the process collecting public comment on their latest environmental impact review of the pipeline, which was considered friendly to the pipeline. The public comment deadline runs until April 22, and includes a public hearing in Nebraska on April 18. After State Department issues a final environmental impact statement, the State Department will have another 90 days to come up with a National Interest Determination. Other departments will then have another 15 days to weigh in, before President Obama makes a final decision on whether or not to issue a permit for the cross-border portion of the pipeline that is to run from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
And Alberta premier Alison Redford is expected in Washington, DC next week. According to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC think tank:
On April 9, the Energy Security Initiative at Brookings will host Alison Redford, the premier of Alberta, for a discussion on the the Alberta-U. S. energy relationship, environmental efforts undertaken by her administration, and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Senior Fellow Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative, will provide introductory remarks. Brookings Trustee Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, will moderate the discussion with Premier Redford to include questions from the audience.
The event will be webcast and can be live Tweeted at hashtag #AlbertaUS.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, March 29, 2013 at 5:45 PM - 0 Comments
Ralph Klein, the former premier of Alberta, has died at 70. He shall not now ever be able to collect on the vast debt of apologies he is owed by calumniators, false chroniclers, lazy pundits, and political enemies. The misunderstandings of Ralph have been copious and mostly deliberate. He is still routinely characterized as an anti-gay social conservative in league with sinister theocratic forces, even though he was personally about as churchy as an alley cat. More importantly, he took a diamond-hard line against the use of the “notwithstanding” clause after the Supreme Court wrote sexual orientation into Alberta’s discrimination law in the Vriend decision; and he insisted the public accept the court’s verdict.
He is accused of failing to maximize the public benefits of Alberta’s resource wealth and “save” oil and gas funds for the future, although government resource revenues grew more than fourfold in his 14 years as premier and the net financial position of the province improved by $43 billion. Both promptly collapsed under his bamboozled successor Ed Stelmach, and have not yet recovered to Ralphian levels. Klein is also charged with failing to pay enough conscious attention to economic diversification, a concept that served as the pretext for a hundred costly boondoggles under earlier Conservative regimes; yet somehow he succeeded in presiding over an Alberta economy whose GDP moved sharply away from energy-dependence, and which saw the emergence of previously unimaginable non-energy businesses like software maker Matrikon and game manufacturer BioWare. Whether or not you care to give an iota of credit to Klein, his rule coincided with Alberta becoming a place young technicians and entrepreneurs don’t have to be stupid not to leave.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 7:56 AM - 0 Comments
EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she has been losing hearing in her…
EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she has been losing hearing in her right ear over the past 18 months.
Redford, who is 48, told reporters that it’s at the point where she’s now “almost deaf” in that ear.
She says she just got an appointment Wednesday with a specialist in Calgary after trying for more than a year.
Redford says she hopes the specialist can fix it so she can hear again in that ear.
She did not say what she thinks may have caused the hearing loss.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
On the environment, Redford said she would like to see the federal government adopt a strategy similar to Alberta’s $15-per-tonne carbon levy on large industrial emitters that are unable to meet their greenhouse-gas reduction targets, with the cash then used to improve environmental outcomes. “We think that’s the right approach,” Redford said, when asked whether Ottawa should introduce a federal carbon levy on large emitters.
Alberta’s carbon tax of sorts has generated more than $300 million for a technology fund used to green operations and improve environmental performance. “The federal government needs to be supportive of that policy (setting a carbon price) in areas where it can actually make a difference to the outcome. Simply symbolically setting a price doesn’t actually achieve an outcome,” she added. “So I think it’s fine to set targets, I think it’s time to be supportive of sectors that are looking to try to reduce emissions and to be able to partner together on that.”
But Ms. Redford’s office now says that she wasn’t quite endorsing a national carbon tax.
Premier Alison Redford did not advocate for a national carbon tax as today’s PostMedia story implies. The Premier was clear that Alberta’s climate change actions to date—including the creation of a fund for clean technology projects—have been successful and are driving innovation. Clean technology initiatives are worthy of consideration as the federal government develops new greenhouse gas emission regulations for the oil and gas industry.
John Baird once bragged of plans to establish a clean technology fund with the proceeds of a $15-per-tonne carbon price, but the Harper government has since decided that any price on carbon is a carbon tax.
But then Ms. Redford also prefers her province’s carbon levy to a cap-and-trade system (another policy the Harper government used to support).
Redford, however, doesn’t believe a widespread cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme is necessary or the best approach for the federal government, questioning whether it would actually be effective in reducing emissions. “The goal is not to do something as a PR stunt; it’s to actually do something that is going to make a difference to outcomes. It can be a price on carbon, it can be work on consumer policies, energy efficiency, dealing with greening the (electricity) grid, that kind of thing,” she said.
But then the Alberta NDP doesn’t think the province’s carbon levy is sufficient.
“The ad is extremely misleading with respect to Alberta’s environmental record. It says that we have put a price on carbon. What we have is a very low price put on carbon intensity emissions,” Mason said.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 12:35 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on the Parti Québécois’s sudden love of resources
Few events challenge a political party’s convictions more profoundly than the transition from opposition to power. Suddenly everything is so much more complicated than it was. The other day I asked a Quebec government official how Pauline Marois, the province’s Parti Québécois premier, plans to handle Jean Charest’s plan for major natural resources development in the North.
“We keep going,” the official said. This surprised me. Marois campaigned last autumn on claims that Charest’s vast northern strategy—$80 billion in public and private investment, $14 billion in benefit to the Quebec government—amounted to pillage of Quebec’s natural beauty by private interests. She didn’t want to cancel the whole thing, but she was eager to rein it in by charging much higher royalty rates to mining companies, so Quebec could share the wealth. Of course that might have killed the goose that laid the mineral-laden eggs.
These days she doesn’t talk as much about overhauling the royalty regime. In December she visited New York City to pitch northern development to U.S. investors, telling reporters on the way that she now expected to implement Charest’s plan with “slightly different parameters.”
But there’s more. So much more.
“The two most important days since Mme. Marois became premier,” the Quebec official told me, “were budget day and the day she met Alison Redford.”
That meeting happened last Nov. 22 in Halifax, during the annual premiers’ conference. Redford is Alberta’s premier. She is trying to get oil sands bitumen out of the ground and to market. If she cannot sell the oil, very little of the massive investment in northern Alberta makes economic sense. But everywhere she looks she sees obstacles. Westward, the Northern Gateway pipeline faces opposition from British Columbia’s premier, her likely successor, and just about everyone who shows up at environmental hearings. Southward, the Keystone XL pipeline faces perhaps years of delay even if, as now seems likely, Barack Obama finally gets around to approving it.
That leaves the east. On the day Marois met Redford, the Canadian Press described the Quebecer as a “potentially combative customer.” A reasonable guess but flat wrong. Marois seems positively eager. Last month she added New Brunswick Premier David Alward to her meeting schedule. The two emerged with a plan to jointly study a proposal by TransCanada to pipe hundreds of thousands of barrels a day through Quebec to the Irving refinery in New Brunswick.
Add that to Enbridge’s plan to reverse an existing pipeline to send 300,000 barrels a day to the Suncor refinery in the east end of Montreal, where some of it would be refined on site and the rest shipped by boat—big honking boats—to the Ultramar refinery in Lévis, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.
The stakes for Suncor and Ultramar are clear. They’re the last two refineries in Quebec. In 2010 Shell’s plant in Montreal closed and 500 jobs were lost. But of course with oil those are never the only stakes. Quebec environmental groups were pretty sure they had a friend in Marois. Already they’re wondering what happened. “She told us she wanted a strategy for reducing dependance on oil,” Equiterre’s Steven Guilbault told Le Devoir’s environment reporter Alexandre Shields, whose reporting on all these developments has been diligent. Now, Guilbault said, there’s nothing about an oil-reduction strategy, and a lot about pipelines. Who’s on these committees Marois has struck with Redford and Alward? Will their reports be public?
The longer you look at Big Oil’s recent moves in Quebec, the more intriguing coincidences you see. Recall that Marois and Redford first met on Nov. 22. That was the day Joe Oliver, the federal natural resources minister, visited the Ultramar plant in Lévis. He told reporters the Alberta oil, if it makes it that far east, would “replace higher-priced foreign oil . . . from countries such as Algeria, Angola and the United Kingdom.” I’m told the Quebec government observed the coverage of Oliver’s visit closely. What they saw was that coverage concentrated not on the prospect of dirty Alberta oil ravaging Quebec’s virtue, but on the prospect (hardly guaranteed in any event) of cheaper gas at the pump.
Oliver has been in Quebec at least once a month since November for activities designed to help the oil patch and the PQ get along.
Of course, the oil patch likes to make friends. A month after Marois and Redford met, Enbridge announced it was buying a half stake in the 150-megawatt Massif du Sud windmill farm southeast of Quebec City. The windmill farm was developed by Electricité de France. Enbridge’s share cost it $170 million. The windmills are across the St. Lawrence River from Pauline Marois’s riding.
Albertans and Quebecers really need to stop hurling insults at one another. They’re forming the most intimately connected business partnership in Confederation. A year ago a Quebec think tank reported that the Caisse de dépôt, which invests the Quebec Pension Plan’s assets, held $5.4 billion in oil sands assets, more than double its holdings in all Quebec companies combined. The Caisse has done its math. Marois is doing hers. A prosperous Alberta keeps Canada’s equalization system going, but why wait for equalization?
All of this has many implications. Here’s one. Tom Mulcair is the former Quebec environment minister who’s staked the NDP’s future on a classic confrontation between Quebec’s environmental virtue and Alberta’s profligacy. What does he do if the two provinces become partners?
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
Colby Cosh on spending Alberta’s oil cash
Alberta premier Alison Redford has put her government in national headlines with news that the province, at a time of high oil prices and outstanding labour-market conditions, is going to finish with an enormous deficit for 2012-13. The actual shortfall for the first half of the year came to $1.3 billion, and the 12-month total might be more than $4 billion. Redford blames what she calls the “bitumen bubble.” Alberta has sometimes gotten into ﬁscal trouble because of the unpredictability of benchmark prices for oil, but this time it is getting crushed by poor regional prices as the U.S. Midwest transforms from needy buyer to massive seller.
Economists and pundits inside and outside Alberta have used the opportunity to repeat long-standing pleas for the province to make its public revenue less oil-dependent. Since oil is a “non-renewable resource” that can only be sold once, goes the theory, the province’s share shouldn’t be used to meet ongoing government expenses; the worthy thing to do is to set it aside and invest it.
I find aspects of this argument amusing. In the early ’70s everyone agreed that Alberta’s “non-renewable” conventional oil would be gone in a decade or so. Yet the trend was for the amount remaining to keep getting larger. Meanwhile, how’s Newfoundland making out with its hypothetically “renewable” cod biz? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 7, 2012 at 4:59 PM - 0 Comments
Acquisitions of Nexen and Progress Energy will go through
The Harper government has approved both CNOOC Limited’s $15.1-billion acquisition of Nexen Inc. and Petronas’ $5.2-billion acquisition of Progress Energy Resources Corp., while announcing new guidelines for foreign investment in Canada.
In separate statements released after North American markets closed on Friday, Industry Minister Christian Paradis said he was satisfied that the acquisitions by Malaysia’s Petronas and China’s CNOOC were likely to be of net benefit to Canada. Paradis said both companies had “made significant commitments to Canada in the areas of: governance, including commitments on transparency and disclosure; commercial orientation, including an adherence to Canadian laws and practices as well as free market principles” and “employment and capital investments, which demonstrate a long-term commitment to the development of the Canadian economy.” Initially, Malaysia’s Petronas $6-billion bid for Progress Energy was rejected by the federal government and the company later revised its proposal.
“Our statements today will not satisfy everybody,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said shortly after the announcements were made. “Some believe you are either ‘for’ foreign investment under all circumstances, or that you must be ‘against’ foreign investment under any circumstance. Practical government rarely permits such simplicity.”
Under the new guidelines, the acquisition of oil sands companies by foreign state-owned enterprises will only be found to constitute a new benefit for Canada in “exceptional circumstances.” And, despite today’s decision on Nexen, the prime minister seemed eager to draw a line on such investments, saying these decisions marked “not the beginning of a trend, but rather the end of a trend.”
“To be blunt, Canadians have not spent years reducing the ownership of sectors of the economy by our own governments, only to see them bought and controlled by foreign governments instead. That was never the purpose of the Investment Canada Act. It is not an outcome that Canadians would ever support. It is not an outcome any responsible government of Canada could ever allow to happen,” the Prime Minister explained.
Beyond the oil sands, acquisitions by state-owned companies will be reviewed to consider the control or influence to be exerted on the Canadian business, the control or influence likely to be exerted on the larger industry and the control or influence likely to be exerted by the foreign government over the state-owned company.
“In light of growing trends, and following the decisions made today, the government of Canada has determined that foreign state control of oil sands development has reached the point at which further such foreign state control would not be of net benefit to Canada,” Harper said. “When we say that Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments.”
The Conservative government’s decisions drew mixed reviews.
David Detomasi, a professor of international business at Queen’s University, said the two deals forced Ottawa to clarify the Investment Canada Act’s “net benefit” test, which was used to quash the takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan two years ago. “I think the Harper government was caught a little bit flat-footed when these bids were made,” he says. “I think they realized that whatever precedent they set was going to be something they were going to have to live with. And that’s because there are likely other deals in the offing.”
Even so, it will be a tough balance for Ottawa to strike, according to Detomasi. Recovering crude from the oil sands is a massively capital-intensive business and there aren’t enough deep-pocketed Canadian companies capable of making the necessary investments. And many foreign companies—particularly those in China—are state-owned. “Unfortunately, they’re the ones with the cash.”
The opposition New Democrats declared themselves “profoundly disappointed” with the Nexen deal, suggesting that proper public consultation did not occur before the decision was made. “Canadians should be very apprehensive about the long-term economic and environmental consequences,” Peter Julian, the NDP’s natural resources critic, said in a release. “In the past, these kinds of takeovers have resulted in job losses. In October, the NDP called for the government to reject the CNOOC acquisition.
While saying that the Liberals welcome investment—”we do need investment in the oilsands and in other industries”—Liberal trade critic Wayne Easter also expressed concerns. “There’s still really no clarity. We still don’t know the details. We have no idea what those rules really are,” he said. “Are all state-owned enterprises being handled the same, whether it’s China or any other country? Should there be different criteria, given the strategic planning of some countries versus others? Is there reciprocity here? I’m led to believe there’s not. There should be reciprocity in terms of how Canadian investment in China is handled in a similar way to Chinese investment in Canada.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford said her government was “pleased” with the Harper government’s decisions, but that Alberta would be seeking clarity on how “exceptional circumstances” will be defined.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
What Rob Ford and Alison Redford have in common
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: thrown out of office over the consequences of using it to raise $3,150 for his youth football charity. Alberta Premier Alison Redford: not thrown out of office, and not likely to be, over her handling of a $10-billion tobacco lawsuit. Yes, the troubles of these oddly paired cross-country mirror images are very different in scale. But both, to some degree, have bogged down over conflicts of interest not just because of their actions but because of their very identities. One could argue that, like Shakespearean heroes, they have been undone by their virtues.
Ford, the single-minded, ebullient football coach, charged ahead and shrugged off warnings from the city’s integrity commissioner and the Speaker about his conflict in a council vote, leaving a judge with no choice but to punish him. Redford, a product of the ultra-small world of the Alberta bar, simply doesn’t seem to have imagined there would be controversy over choosing her ex-husband’s law firm to manage a massive tobacco lawsuit while she was justice minister of the province. As even her defenders observe, that’s just how business is done there. (Which would seem to be an argument for letting somebody from another province choose among bidders for giga-contracts.)
Toronto voted for Ford, by and large, because it wanted a renegade mayor who wouldn’t be a prisoner of city hall. Alberta voted for Redford, by and large, because it was tired of self-taught outsiders; it was ready to welcome back a premier from the right side of Calgary’s tracks. You buy the steak, you get the gristle as well as the sizzle. Continue…
By Dean Bennett - Friday, November 30, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford — fending off accusations she had been caught…
EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford — fending off accusations she had been caught red-handed in a patronage scandal involving her ex-husband — faced calls Thursday to step down and be cited for contempt of the legislature.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the premier lied,” claimed NDP Leader Brian Mason, speaking to reporters.
“This is one of the most serious situations that I have ever seen affecting a premier. I’m today calling on Premier Redford to step aside until this matter is properly investigated.
“It will be very difficult to for this premier to continue to lead the province if she is not prepared to tell us the truth,” Mason maintained.
Redford insisted for a second day that she told the truth about not picking her ex-husband’s law firm to handle the Alberta government’s lawsuit against big tobacco while she was justice minister in 2010. Continue…
By Emily Senger - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
Documents obtained by CBC News show that Alberta Premier Alison Redford may have been…
Documents obtained by CBC News show that Alberta Premier Alison Redford may have been in a conflict of interest when she made a decision to award a government contract to a law consortium that involved her ex-husband, lawyer Robert Hawkes.
In a report released Wednesday morning, CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell says documents show that when Redford was justice minister she personally chose a firm which employed her ex-husband for a government tobacco-litigation contract, which has the potential to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Redford has remained close with Hawkes after their divorce and he headed her transition team when she became premier in October 2011.
Already Wednesday morning, opposition members were crying foul over the CBC report:
— Rob Anderson (@RAndersonMLA) November 28, 2012
This latest report comes as the Wildrose puts pressure on Redford to answer more questions during question period, in a campaign which included a Wild-West-style wanted poster the party released Tuesday.
“We believe if you truly want to have transparency and openness, the premier should be prepared to stand and answer questions on policy and accountability of her government,” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told the Edmonton Journal. “She’s clearly not prepared to do that and we are hoping to press her to make a commitment to this legislature that she will be here.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 2:39 PM - 0 Comments
And DiCaprio’s birthday-party bickerers
Eggs on her face
Alberta’s scandal over kickbacks of public funds to the governing Progressive Conservative party developed a new wrinkle after a CBC News access-to-information request uncovered documents pointing to Lynn Redford, sister of Premier Alison Redford. As a government-relations adviser to the Calgary Health Region, Lynn held a barbecue for MLAs at CHR’s expense, and was compensated for tickets to a 2005 PC constituency fundraiser for then-premier Ralph Klein. And in her current job as a vice-president at Alberta Health Services, she approved a controversial expense claim by AHS president Chris Eagle, who had attended a 2011 “premier’s dinner” fundraiser. The request also revealed that in 2008, Lynn Redford expensed the $37.29 cost of a breakfast with her sister, tastefully referred to on the claim form only as “MLA, Calgary Elbow.”
Snaky on a plane
Journalists travelling on Rihanna’s private 777 tour jet (seven concerts in seven cities in seven days) may not get the outrageous stories they were hoping for, because according to one journalist’s inflight video, “We are the story.” Britain’s Independent reports that the sleep-deprived media has yet to get more than a glimpse of the singer—who sold the tour as a chance to “party” with fans and press alike. So the press has taken to partying on its own, indulging in complimentary champagne, chanting Rihanna’s nickname—Riri—and, occasionally, streaking: an Australian reporter was captured on video running naked through the airplane’s aisles, as desperate reporters called out, “I need a headline,” and, “Just one quote!” Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
The Oilers’ owner faces a probe over his gift to the Alberta Tories
The public-relations problems continue to pile up for Daryl Katz, the drugstore magnate who wants a new downtown arena in Edmonton for his NHL Oilers to play in. It has been more than a year since Katz Group and the city’s council arrived at a “framework” for an arena funding deal, with Katz relenting on his insistence that the existing Rexall Place be pushed out of the concert business. That framework fell apart Oct. 18 after Katz made new demands and a previously sympathetic council ran out of patience, calling off negotiations and flinging the arena into limbo.
The city had made major concessions to get Katz to back off on the demand for a non-compete agreement with Northlands, the powerful non-profit that operates Rexall Place (i.e., the old Northlands Coliseum, which now bears the name of Katz’s main pharmaceutical brand). But the two sides remained $100 million short of the full amount for the new building—money that both insisted, despite an endless series of fairly strident refusals from the province and Ottawa, would eventually arrive courtesy of “another level of government.” Continue…
By Tamsin McMahon - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
Why the premiers of B.C. and Alberta just can’t learn to get along
On the night roughly a year ago when Alison Redford became the first female leader in Alberta’s history, she fielded a call from someone whom many at the time predicted would become one of her greatest political allies. Along with well wishes from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Redford spoke with Christy Clark, if not B.C.’s first female premier, certainly the woman who has done the most to shake up her province’s political scene.
The conversation was friendly. Clark offered her congratulations and the two joked about just how wrong the pundits had been about both women’s chances of winning the premiership of their respective provinces. “I said, ‘Alison, how did the pollsters get it so wrong?’ ” Clark recalled in an interview with Maclean’s earlier this year. “And she said, ‘Christy, of all the people in the country I can’t believe you’re the one asking me that.’ ”
For many, Redford’s election was considered a win for B.C. After all, the two premiers, part of a growing powerhouse of women in Canadian politics, have some remarkable parallels.
Both are the same age—46—and born in B.C. (Clark in Burnaby, Redford in Kitimat). Both are mothers to preteens—Clark’s son Hamish is 11, Redford’s daughter Sarah is 10. Both were long-time party loyalists who spent time in federal government, Clark working for Chrétien-era transportation minister Doug Young and Redford for Joe Clark. What’s more, both were once married to party stalwarts and maintain close ties with their ex-husbands. So close, in fact, that both recruited their former spouses to work on their campaigns.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 9:49 AM - 0 Comments
Jason Kenney joins the pipeline fight between Alberta and British Columbia.
Kenney, who met with the Times Colonist editorial board, said he does not support the provincial government’s call for a larger share of the estimated $81 billion in tax revenue that would be generated if the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is approved. ”I think taking a balkanized approach to the federation is unhelpful,” Kenney said. “The notion that there are 10 separate fiefdoms and you have to tollgate everything you move from east to west would massively undermine the whole concept of an economic union and efficient operation of the Canadian economy,” he said.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM - 0 Comments
Christy Clark responds to Alison Redford.
“If Alberta doesn’t decide they want to sit down and engage, the project stops. It’s as simple as that,” Clark said in an interview Tuesday. ”So the ball is in Alberta’s court today to decide whether or not they want to sit down.”
… ”I think it’s a little unreasonable to suggest that I’m trying to destroy confederation. I’m only trying to get B.C.’s fair share out of this project and make sure we’re protecting our environment. It’s as simple as that,” she said. ”It doesn’t have to be some massive project to reopen the constitution for heaven’s sake. That’s just silly,” she added.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 9:13 AM - 0 Comments
Alberta Premier Alison Redford is unimpressed.
Redford said such an arrangement would be a first in Canada. She said many pipelines that cross Alberta carry resources from B.C., and mused about whether B.C. would be willing to give Alberta a cut of the royalties it earns from those resources. She said Clark is essentially suggesting “that somehow the fundamental fiscal arrangements of Confederation need to change.” “When you start doing that, it means every commercial project in Canada will now become or would become a matter for interprovincial negotiation,” Redford said.
Alberta’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister chimes in.
“I don’t think that’s a contemplated option,” said Cal Dallas heading into a late afternoon cabinet meeting. “Clearly we need to move all kinds of product around the country through a variety of different infrastructure types and that hasn’t been the way we’ve done business in the past and I don’t believe there’ll be early contemplation of an option of such as you’re describing.”
“We don’t have any history of sharing in uranium in Saskatchewan or the vast mining resources that exist in Ontario and Quebec and certainly with respect to forestry products and the like that move from west to east from British Columbia so the answer is we have a system in place, it’s worked well.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
This past week we also learned of the elimination of the Police Officers Recruitment Fund which was a major federal program designed to help municipalities and provinces recruit police officers. In a backgrounder on the program, Public Safety Canada and Emergency Preparedness Canada offers the following rationale; “The purpose of the Fund is to support the efforts of provinces and territories in recruiting additional front-line police officers nationwide who can target local crimes and make communities safer.” Taking this information into account then, the cancellation of this important fund must therefore mean that the Harper Conservatives have made a conscious decision to eliminate their “support the efforts of front-line police officers nationwide in their work to target local crimes and make our communities safer.“ Seems like a strange decision for a Conservative Party that claims to be the most committed to upholding ‘law and order’ wouldn’t you say?
There were similar concerns raised in Sudbury earlier this year. Alberta Premier Alison Redford called for the fund to be extended when she ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership last year. During the last federal campaign, the NDP proposed doubling the fund and making it permanent.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Five years, two tribunals, secret hearings, a court challenge and a turning point
For all the passion it stirred, you’d think it would get a noisier send-off. An ovation, maybe. Or tears. Instead, Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act slipped quietly beneath the waves last week during a night-time sitting of the House of Commons—victim of a private member’s bill and a trailer load of toxic publicity. Brian Storseth, Conservative MP for Westlock-St. Paul, had glanced anxiously around the chamber as his kill bill went through its third reading. “The benches weren’t full,” he recalls. “That always makes for a bit of extra heart pumping.”
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had voiced support for the legislation. So had the Prime Minister. The result, then, was never in doubt: at 9:35 p.m. on June 6, by a vote of 153-136, Parliament got Canada’s human rights bureaucrats out of the business of policing speech on the Internet. There was a scattering of applause, and handshakes for Storseth (the bill requires the rubber stamp of Senate approval). “To be honest, it’s all a blur,” says the three-term MP, laughing. But if the passage of Bill C-304 represents a fundamental shift in Canadian culture, you’d never have known it that night. Members dealt with a few housekeeping matters, then waded through a supply bill. Finally, one by one, they trickled out into the cool Ottawa night.
The effect of killing Section 13 will be debated for years among anti-racist groups and civil libertarians. But it is undoubtedly a turning point. Since 1999, Canadians who felt aggrieved by material transmitted online have been encouraged to seek redress under federal human rights law, which targeted material “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” based on grounds of discrimination like race, religion or sexual orientation. Storseth’s bill repeals the provision outright, leaving the Criminal Code as the primary bulwark against the dissemination of hate propaganda by electronic means.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
The mayor of Fort McMurray reports on her meeting with the NDP leader.
“His passion is deep for the advances he’s trying to make in environmental legislation,” she said. “He’s got some valid points. He’s got some that I disagree with. But overall, I respect the visit he made to our region and the time that he spent while he was here.”
The three Western premiers have condemned Mulcair’s comments, saying that he is using wedge politics to divide the country. But Mulcair rejected that premise saying he is holding the federal government to account accusing the Stephen Harper Conservatives of failing to meet its legislative obligations in enforcing environmental standards.
“Our thesis has always been that one of the reasons we have an artificially high number of U.S. dollars coming in is because we haven’t internalized the environmental costs,” he said. “We haven’t included those costs in the product so allowing a bit of a free ride in using the air, the soil and the water in an unlimited way.”
He also tries a little diplomacy, saying he agrees with Premier Alison Redford that there needs to be a national conversation about resource development.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
The Conservative MP for Calgary Centre rose after QP today to announce his resignation. Mr. Richardson was first elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1988—here is his maiden speech—but he first worked on the Hill as an executive assistant to John Diefenbaker and later served in the Prime Minister’s Office of Brian Mulroney.
Last spring, he sought the Speaker’s chair, finishing third in balloting. He will be returning to Alberta to serve as principal secretary to Premier Alison Redford.
Below, the text of Mr. Richardson’s remarks in the House. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The NDP leader is scolded by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
“Here’s someone who wants to be a national leader, who, for the sake of politics, I think, would risk the economic advantage of the country,” Wall said. ”I work for the people of Saskatchewan and if Mr. Mulcair is wondering for whom I am a messenger, I am a messenger for the people of Saskatchewan and for the economic interests of this province.”
And dismissed by B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.
“Of course not. The prime minister or the finance minister has never phoned me to suggest what we should be saying about ignorant comments that a national leader may say,” he said. “I’m just telling you exactly what I think about those comments. When I read them, at the time, I was shaking my head. I just could not believe it,” he added.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford expands on her concerns via Facebook.
His claims about unregulated development and disregard for the environment are false. I would also like to make it clear to Mr. Mulcair that as Premier of Alberta I expect that someone would have the courtesy to properly inform themselves rather than making disparaging comments about Alberta.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 1:35 PM - 0 Comments
Two weeks after he made a diagnosis of Dutch disease, Thomas Mulcair is dismissing the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia and Alison Redford is tweeting her disappointment in Mr. Mulcair. As to the central economic question, the Institute for Research on Public Policy has a new report.
The results are more nuanced than conventional wisdom would suggest. Only 25 of the 80 industries (accounting for about one-quarter of total manufacturing output) show a significant negative relationship between the US-Canada exchange rate and output. The effects are most pronounced in small labour-intensive industries such as textiles and apparel. Larger industry groups such as food products, metals and machinery are much less adversely affected by the strong dollar, and these minor problems have generally been offset by strong growth in demand. Interestingly, automotive industries do not show symptoms of the Dutch disease; their weakness stems from cyclical changes in demand and lagging productivity growth.
On balance, the evidence indicates that Canada suffers from a mild case of the Dutch disease, which warrants a commensurate policy response. It is difficult to implement national policies to directly counteract the rising exchange rate (policies such as investing resource revenues in foreign assets, as Norway does), because resource revenues are under provincial jurisdiction. However, Ottawa can use additional federal tax revenues stemming from natural resource booms to invest in infrastructural and other activities that bolster the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector as a whole.
See previously: The Dutch, oil and Thomas Mulcair