Alberta’s climate-change strategy: Rachel Notley builds a coalition of big business, environmentalists and civil society

Posted on November 23, 2015, 1:49 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley with leaders of the remarkable coalition on climate change her NDP government has built (Government of Alberta Photo). Below: Brian Jean, Alberta’s complaint-of-the-day Opposition leader; Gary Doer, three-term NDP premier of Manitoba; and former U.S. vice-president and environmental leader Al Gore.

Finding a balance between effective action on climate change and economic growth in a province that relies so heavily on the extraction of petroleum resources is hard work.

That’s why successive Progressive Conservative governments under the four deeply flawed caretaker premiers who followed Ralph Klein after his own party pushed him out of office in 2006 basically did nothing. Day to day, it was just easier that way, even if climate-change denial got harder to sell with every passing week.

Jean-RThat, in turn, is arguably why it’s been getting harder and harder to ship, let alone sell, oil produced from Alberta’s vast Bitumen Sands deposits – a situation that went from uncomfortable to excruciating in November 2014 when the Saudis opened their oil spigots wide and left them that way for reasons that remain murky.

This handed the problem of squaring the climate-economy circle to Rachel Notley, the social democratic NDP premier who to almost everyone’s surprise – including, one suspects, her own – was elected premier last May 5 on a wave of popular disgust at the multitude of sins of the geriatric Tory dynasty.

Yesterday, Ms. Notley gave a speech at an Edmonton science – ahem! – centre and announced an evidence-based climate change strategy for Alberta that just might work, politically speaking.

“We are going to be leaders,” Ms. Notley said toward the end of her speech, and there can be very little doubt of the truth of that assertion.

The plan includes a tax on carbon that will be paid by all Albertans, a cap on carbon emissions from the Bitumen Sands, and the decision to phase out all coal-fired power plants by 2030. This is dramatic stuff. It is said here it would be impossible without the broad coalition of business, civil society and environmental groups that Premier Notley has managed to bring together.

It’s quite remarkable Ms. Notley managed to get industry and environmentalists on the same side. It is a huge step forward that will make the strategy hard for the usual suspects in both the NDP’s political opposition and the further fringes of the environmental movement to effectively attack.

GaryDoer-LThe strategy allows both rational growth in the Bitumen Sands, which should generally please the industry, and a reduction of emissions, which should make most environmentalists happy. Together – if the planets are finally in alignment – that historic compromise may just make it possible to build a new pipeline out of here, something that federal and provincial conservatives with all their dire threats, noisy foot-stomping and climate-change denial could never accomplish.

There’s also a real chance the climate-change strategy will leave Albertans feeling like their province is back in the driver’s seat, a leader once again in Confederation. And, you know, we do like that feeling.

Really, when Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Chairman N. Murray Edwards, environmental icon Al Gore, the former U.S. vice-president, and newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are all heaping laurels on Ms. Notley on the same day, you do get the feeling she may have really tapped into something!

It sure sounds a heck of a lot more positive than the Wildrose Opposition’s gripe-of-the-day approach!

Even the coal industry – the principal loser in this policy shift – will probably keep its lips zipped long enough to work through the compensation negotiations the Notley Government has promised. The same goes for coal miners’ unions and their coal-dependent communities. They may not be happy, but their best play is to negotiate for financial support.

And we haven’t even got to the health benefits of the strategy – that’s the topic of today’s mid-morning announcement by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips. Ms. Notley will leave for Ottawa later today to attend a first-ministers’ meeting to discuss climate change, days before the United Nations conference on climate change in a still jittery Paris.

Gore-RIs there even a downside, you may ask? Well, of course there is! The fly in the ointment is bound to be how the public reacts to the portion of the carbon tax that ordinary Albertans will have to pay directly.

The government can and will argue that since the money raised by the carbon tax will be invested back into the Alberta economy, it’s therefore revenue-neutral and not a mere cash grab.

But whether voters will see it that way when the price of gasoline at the pumps and fuel to heat their homes is going to increase measurably is another matter. It’s hard to say if they’ll connect the dots between those higher prices, which are bound to be felt viscerally, and the environmental, macroeconomic and health benefits that will flow from the NDP climate strategy.

The Wildrose Party clearly thinks they won’t, and that’s why Opposition Leader Brian Jean was repeating the mantra yesterday that the carbon tax “will make almost every single Alberta family poorer.” Expect to hear a lot more of this from Mr. Jean over the next couple of years.

The NDP just as obviously thinks voters will recognize the policy protects jobs, health and the environment. “It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology,” Ms. Notley said. “Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world’s biggest problems, and doing our part.”

So, is Ms. Notley channelling Gary Doer, the three-term Manitoba NDP premier who kept that job for nearly a decade by bridging the gap between business and civil society? Only time will tell.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

11 Comments to: Alberta’s climate-change strategy: Rachel Notley builds a coalition of big business, environmentalists and civil society

  1. political ranger

    November 23rd, 2015

    It truly was a great day! For Rachel Notley gov’t, for the Albertan economy and Albertans.
    Let’s get one canard outta the way; the policies of the Washington Consensus, basically the right-wing conservatives of the past 30 years have left most of us (except the top 10%) much worse off, economically speaking. Really; worse off than we were even 15 years ago. Why? Because they have impoverished the economies of the so-called first world. This is a measurable fact, some of that sciency truthiness they’ve been talking about.

    Yes, it is definitely a great thing to get everyone together and facing the same way when there is a crisis. So, a really great start.
    It will be expensive but when an economy can re-circulate a large sum of cash within the economy it boosts the velocity of money and the general level of wealth for everyone. It’s got to come from somewhere though.
    I just don’t think you should get your feathers all fluffed by the idea that Notley, or any group supported by Notley, will be able to pretty-up the tarsands. We are not going to see another inter-provincial or international pipeline in our lifetimes; at least not originating in Alberta. That bitumen stays in the ground.
    If we see a credible reduction of GHG, a steady increase in royalty savings and a sustained diversification in our provincial economy, then, and only then, will we be able to celebrate something more than a one day wonder.

    Reply
  2. anonymous

    November 23rd, 2015

    The right wing BC Gordon Campbell Liberals implemented their carbon tax in 2008.
    Here is an interesting article about that:
    “What Has BC’s Carbon Tax Shift Done? Six years in, measuring the results in five charts.”
    http://www.thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/03/12/BCs-Carbon-Tax-Shift/
    Their carbon tax has been described as the best in North America and possibly the world.
    Now, Alberta’s might be even better. It was pure gold for the Notley NDP to get Big Oil on board.
    And, Big Oil, is investing in green energy as well, which they know, will be huge in the future.

    Reply
  3. Sub-Boreal

    November 23rd, 2015

    Overall, this is welcome news, and a big step forward for Alberta and Canada. Phasing out coal-fired electrical generation and increasing renewables are genuine progress. Of course this progress looks all the more impressive since the relative performance of previous Alberta governments set the bar pretty low.

    While I hate to be the skunk at the picnic, this plan still allows a 40% increase in emissions from the tar sands, which means that other sectors and other provinces will have to make larger cuts in order to let Alberta’s party go on a little bit longer. The selling job will be interesting to watch if industry and governments try to use this plan to greenwash the remaining proposals for bitumen export expansion (Kinder-Morgan, Energy East).

    Reply
  4. November 23rd, 2015

    “since the money raised by the carbon tax will be invested back into the Alberta economy, it’s therefore revenue-neutral and not a mere cash grab.”

    I’m amazed at how this can be written with a straight face. As David Reevely opined in the Ottawa Citizen: “It’s so transparently false a claim that I can’t figure out why the Alberta government would make it.”

    Reevely sums up this “revenue neutral” claim with a three word sentence I fully agree with: “This is lying.”

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 24th, 2015

      I’m inclined to think it’s not a lie, but clearly the NDP needs to explain – pronto – how this is going to work.

      Reply
    • K. Larsen

      November 24th, 2015

      This is not a lie, this is basic economics. If the money is spent by the Government in Alberta, then it flows through the economy doing good things like paying nurses and making sure children in poorer homes do not go to bed hungry. The mud slingers are assuming money taken by government disappears from the economy, which is pure nonsense.

      The cash grab is from the 1% when they take money out of the province. Take a look at the line charges on your electrical bill every month for example.

      Reply
  5. Tom in Ontario

    November 23rd, 2015

    Despite the nattering nabobs of negativism (apologies to Spiro Agnew) about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, she and her predecessor have managed to close all coal fired electricity plants. Dependence on nuclear still looms large, but Ontario is trying to increase the use of renewable energy with some success. We’re not there yet, doing our best.

    Reply
  6. November 23rd, 2015

    I think this is a step in the right direction toward getting Alberta’s energy products to market.

    I understand that all Albertans will have to pay an extra 4.7 cents per litre of gasoline.

    Other than that charge to individuals which will also include the corporate leaders/owners, is there a specific charge to any corporation rather than to the individuals who own it? Or is it just this charge to citizens of Alberta?

    Reply
    • Chris

      November 24th, 2015

      Just the shrinking upper middle class and the rich will pay for this. Big emitters are actually getting a subsidy. And the new gasoline tax jumps from 4.7 cents in 2016 to over 7 cents in 2017.

      “This generous cap, together with the new subsidy the government is proposing to pay large emitters, means many oil sands producers will feel little in terms of effects from the carbon tax.”
      – Paul Boothe, Professor at Western’s Ivey Business School and a member of the Ecofiscal Commission. He served as Deputy Minister of Environment Canada from 2010 to 2012

      “The government will therefore rebate some of the tax revenue back to large emitters in industry…”,
      “…the panel recommends they recognise “top quartile” performance. This means 75 per cent of firms will pay more in carbon taxes than they receive in subsidies. This suggests a subsidy of about $1.50 per barrel…”,
      “This output subsidy will go to all large emitters, not just those in the oil sands. There was, unfortunately, very little detail in the announcement (understandable, given the tight time table) but a very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests it’s in the range of $2.5-3 billion, with $1.5 billion going to oil and gas firms, close to $1 billion going to electricity generators, and the rest to other large emitters. So, roughly half of all carbon tax revenue raised will be recycled in the form of output subsidies, making this the single largest line item in the whole package.”
      -above quotes from Dr. Trevor Tombe, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Calgary (look for his informative article about the pros and cons in MacLeans magazine)

      Reply
      • David Bridger

        November 24th, 2015

        While I believe that the recent announcement is a step toward reducing man made climate change, I wonder if this is possibly a mitigation effort on the part of industry and government to limit the change to a minor amount and allow business to continue more or less as usual.

        By making these decisions, which business mostly applauds, it may relieve public pressure to actually get down to some serious climate change solutions that the business and government communities may not presently find palatable.

        While it is entirely possible that we can really get more serious about stopping global warming and environmental degradation if we take this on much as was done during the second world war when government imposed some far reaching policies on industry in order to mobilise the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. In that effort price controls and rationing were imposed and people were put to work in the war effort and there was nearly full employment which also brought about the end of the great depression. That effort in fact saved capitalism from the changes that might not have been to industry’s liking.

        But this is a tepid start which may be no more than an appeasement to business and environmentalists alike.

        What do others think?

        Reply
  7. Chris

    November 24th, 2015

    The Alberta gasoline and diesel tax will have increased by 64% from March, 2015 to December, 2018. And this does not include any potential future raises from the Trudeau Liberals.

    March 26, 2015 Alberta gasoline, diesel, renewable-diesel, and renewable-alcohol fuel taxes were $0.09 per litre
    After the last Prentice PC budget they increased to $0.14
    After this first NDP Carbon tax it will increase by $0.047 to $0.1747
    After the full implementation in 2018 it will be $0.249 per litre.

    Grocery stores and retail outlets are not getting any new government rebates. Everything you buy, eat and drink is increasing in price substantially. Food for thought.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)