Brace for it: Alberta is about to endure weeks of vicious climate-change-induced political weather!

Posted on May 25, 2016, 2:06 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: Environment Minister Shannon Phillips at a related announcement last fall. As you can see, some of the same supporters were with her yesterday, as shown below by the Government of Alberta photo taken at the notorious Sky Palace in Edmonton, which has been converted to a meeting area by the NDP. Below that, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Premier Rachel Notley.

The Notley Government officially introduced its package of climate-change strategy in the Legislature yesterday and as a result Alberta is now sure to face weeks of nasty, even vicious, political weather.

At a rooftop news conference at the site of former premier Alison Redford’s notorious Sky Palace, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips also introduced to the media a very broad range of supporters for Bill 20, the Climate Leadership Implementation Act, including business leaders, municipal politicians, environmental leaders, green technology promoters, union officers and economists.

ShannonGovIf nothing else, this illustrates there is broad – if far from universal – stakeholder support for the government’s “Climate Leadership Plan.”

Once passed – which the NDP majority is certain to do – the bill itself will result in the creation of two new laws: the Climate Leadership Act, which will give the government authority to establish a provincial carbon levy and consumer rebates, and the Energy Efficiency Alberta Act, which will establish a new provincial agency to administer about $170 million a year in grants and loans to energy-efficiency projects from funds raised by the levy.

Bill 20 will also amend the Corporate Tax Act to reduce the small business tax rate from 3 to 2 per cent to, the government’s news release says, “help small businesses adjust to the price of carbon.”

Mainstream media coverage naturally focused yesterday on the cost to Albertans of the carbon levy (or, if you’re opposed to it, the carbon tax). The government estimates it at $70 to $100 per year per family. The opposition estimates it will be at 10 times as much.

How this will all play out politically is not yet clear.

In fact, the debate that follows yesterday’s developments contains big risks for both the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley and the Official Opposition, the Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean.

JEAN-JPGTo win this battle for the hearts and minds of Albertans, both the NDP and Wildrose will need to keep their strongest supporters on side, and in line.

While they keep their base sweet, both also need to appeal to that broad and fairly large group of uncommitted voters who are looking for a policy that is both environmentally sound and won’t wreck the provincial economy, which as everyone knows is heavily dependent on the petroleum industry.

The extent of that dependence may be the fault of decades of mismanagement of the economy by successive Progressive Conservative governments, but that fact is of very little help to Ms. Notley and her New Democrats. If you’re the government, inevitably, you own real-time economic problems, however they came about.

A key part of the NDP economic strategy, with which many Albertans passionately disagree, is based on the assumption you can’t get pipelines approved to carry Alberta’s resources to market without a degree of social license, and you can’t get the necessary license without proving to governments in other jurisdictions you’re environmentally responsible.

The opposition argument to date, with which many other Albertans disagree with equal passion, is that that’s all baloney, and we can only get our pipelines by threatening and browbeating other jurisdictions as the Harper Government and, to a lesser extend, the old PCs, used to do. In the NDP’s favour, at least, there’s a decade of evidence the opposition strategy doesn’t work very well.

NOTLEYJPGRegardless, support for both positions is widespread, and never the twain shall meet. Albertans can safely anticipate government and opposition will stick with their current scripts in the belief most Albertans can be persuaded to take their side.

The biggest problem for both sides is bound to be what their base will do and say.

The NDP base, as we saw at the party’s recent national convention in Edmonton, really does include committed environmentalists who think the time has come to leave Alberta’s petroleum resources in the ground, especially the province’s Bitumen Sands. Those people are unlikely to shut up, no matter how much the Notley Government wishes they would. And New Democrats in other parts of Canada who feel that way won’t be able to resist the temptation to stick their oar in either.

Obviously, that has the potential to hurt the NDP, and especially to leave the impression their social license approach is not working and, the opposition is certain to claim, never will.

Premier Notley seems to have her caucus well in hand, so what used to be known as “bozo eruptions” in Alberta politics are unlikely from that source. Environmentalists embittered by past NDP environmental commitments are another matter entirely.

Moreover, if the NDP strays too far from its base, it risks splitting the party.

The official opposition’s problem is much the same.

The Wildrose base and its caucus contain many outright climate-change deniers. Their leadership will want them to shut up so he can portray the party as a moderate, centre-right alternative. Mr. Jean should be able to persuade his caucus at least to keep its collective lips zipped.

People so inclined in the Wildrose base are unlikely to do so, though. Climate change deniers in other parts of Canada are also unlikely to be able to resist the temptation to stick their oar in.

What’s more, just like the NDP’s problem with greens too green for Alberta’s political climate, if Mr. Jean drifts too far from his base, he could split his party … again. If he let’s the climate-change deniers loose, he’ll be tarred with the same brush.

Worse, from the Wildrose leadership’s perspective, its base is home to some very angry people whose public social media commentary borders on hysteria and genuinely frightens ordinary voting Albertans with its violent, separatist rhetoric. Guaranteed, that crowd won’t be able to control themselves and keep their traps shut.

This tendency in Alberta political rhetoric has been muted for the past month by the consensus and unity that resulted from reaction to the Fort McMurray fire and evacuation. But the Fort Mac evacuees are about to go home, and it’s reasonable to expect such rhetoric to start cranking up again soon.

Everything is complicated by the fact many people occupying the fringes on both sides of this debate think any compromise is a betrayal and sincerely believe the more overheated their rhetoric, the more likely their position is to succeed.

At least two other parties, the PCs and the Liberals, will also be looking for ways to occupy the middle ground and thereby steal a few votes.

How this will shake out may depends to a significant degree on the skill of the two party leaders – Ms. Notley and Mr. Jean. They need to keep the tone balanced and their supporters in check. In that regard, this may truly be a case in which your best friends are your worst enemies and your worst enemies your best friends!

Factors completely outside the two leaders’ control can and probably will also play a role. If the oil price goes up or down – something neither party can even influence – it will have an impact. If a supporter says something particularly stupid or offensive, that too could have an impact.

If a political leader does something foolish – say, elbows an opposing MLA –  that too will have an impact, although I think we can count on it that such a misstep is not very likely. Surely both Ms. Notley and Mr. Jean know their political fate may rest on who can sound the most rational and persuasive.

Nevertheless, we should probably batten down the hatches, because a fast, hot, empty wind is certain to blow from certain quarters here in Alberta for a while now. If nothing else, the next few weeks will be interesting.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

12 Comments to: Brace for it: Alberta is about to endure weeks of vicious climate-change-induced political weather!

  1. Maria

    May 25th, 2016

    Given the recent wildfire destruction in Fort Mac – Mr. Jean’s home – I dare to hope that there is some acknowledgement by the deniers that climate change could/might be one reason for the extremely dry spring in Alberta.

    Reply
  2. JoeQPublic

    May 25th, 2016

    “The government estimates it at $70 to $100 per year per family. The opposition estimates it will be at 10 times as much.” Well, rough math it’s going to cost me (just me, not my family) an extra $160/yr in gasoline alone, never mind heating and electric and the subsequent trickle down of other services potentially going up such as the cost of food. Did Notley forget that Prentice raised the Provincial fuel tax from 4.x cents/Litre to 9cents/Litre if I recall correctly, what, a little over a year ago? The extra $200 a year isn’t going to break me, but it annoys me. With gas sitting at around $1/L and oil still around $45/barrel.. I swear they’re just priming us for $2/L when oil goes back up to $80+/barrel. And I know full well my wages won’t go up to cover that inflation.

    Reply
    • Pogo

      May 25th, 2016

      Pump prices haven’t been lower in a decade. Wages in Alberta have been escalated beyond the mean since 2004. Breath deep and chill. Just think. You could be some TFW schmuck that the cons brought in to keep the poors down during the boom. Maybe we should give landed immigrant status to all of them and cancel the program eh? Or maybe tell the pay day lenders to fuck off?

      Reply
      • JoeQPublic

        May 26th, 2016

        Well, back in Feb gas was at 58cents/L and oil was at $32/barrel. Back in Jan 2009 oil hit $46/barrel and gas was at 66cent/L. Oil currently at about $49/barrel, yet gas is $.95-$1/L

        I don’t know where the TFW tangent came into play, or the pay day loans?

        My comment was mainly to reflect that the Government estimate of how much it would cost the average family was way off.

        As to wages, for some yes (such as my brother-in-law) I work in IT in the public sector and he can’t believe how little I make. But it’s a trade off, meager pay, but job security.

        Reply
  3. Farmer B

    May 25th, 2016

    The question is how does the NDP climate policy address Alberta’s most pressing problems. First, none of the proceeds from the carbon tax are to be directed towards our ever increasing debt. Albertans demand government services but continue to refuse the necessary tax structures to pay for them.

    Second will the carbon tax change our use of fossil fuels? When 60% of Albertans will receive a rebate equal to or slightly more than what they are expected to pay in carbon tax before they even start paying it how will this change behavior? Answer it won’t! They are trying to buy 60% of the vote.

    Will this tax lower our emissions? If I read correctly no reduction in C02 emissions are projected until after 2030 if then.

    Will it get pipelines built? Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is still against the Kinder Morgan expansion. This tells me that the environmental lobby is not swayed in any way shape or form by this plan. It will not get the social licence needed to build pipelines.

    What needs to happen is first we need a sales tax to create a more consistent source of government income. We need investment in research into low carbon emission energy sources. Find sources of green energy which are cost competitive with oil and natural gas. If green energy makes economic sense it will replace oil plain and simple. At some point energy sources like thorium reactors will hopefully be practical.

    Unfortunately the NDP plan is not the answer imo. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • Pogo

      May 25th, 2016

      Ok, I’m very respectful of our landlord here, but I beg his pardon in advance for the unfortunate length of my reply.
      Farmer (wasn’t that euphemism for “fuck” back in the day?) said:
      “The question is how does the NDP climate policy address Alberta’s most pressing problems. First, none of the proceeds from the carbon tax are to be directed towards our ever increasing debt. Albertans demand government services but continue to refuse the necessary tax structures to pay for them.”
      This is like a mixed metaphor. There is no “ever” increasing debt. Our debt load if you ran it by any economist who had graduated from a real university as opposed to the “Calgary School” would tell you that until we rack up actual debt we are still debt free. Once we actually issue debt then it will take over 150 billion in spending to catch us up to pretty much the median and more than 300 billion to put us anywhere near Greece. Take a chill pill stubble jumper. The world is not like your email in box says it is. But wait! You go on to say: “Albertans demand government services but continue to refuse the necessary tax structures to pay for them.” Well of course. Because both the right and left know that the most efficient tax system is a VAT that’s regulated to protect lower incomes against regressive impacts. Are you a commie?

      Second will the carbon tax change our use of fossil fuels? When 60% of Albertans will receive a rebate equal to or slightly more than what they are expected to pay in carbon tax before they even start paying it how will this change behavior? Answer it won’t! They are trying to buy 60% of the vote. Whoa! I have just become overwhelmed by pretzel logic. The behavior that those dastardly Notleys are trying to change, is the burning of coal. Hadn’t you heard? They’re trying to make that change a little less onerous.

      Will this tax lower our emissions? If I read correctly no reduction in C02 emissions are projected until after 2030 if then. Sorry buddy, but math is hard.

      Will it get pipelines built? Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is still against the Kinder Morgan expansion. This tells me that the environmental lobby is not swayed in any way shape or form by this plan. It will not get the social licence needed to build pipelines.
      Ok then. We knew we needed tide water capacity in the 90’s . What am I missing about the genius of conservative logic?
      What needs to happen is first we need a sales tax to create a more consistent source of government income. We need investment in research into low carbon emission energy sources. Find sources of green energy which are cost competitive with oil and natural gas. If green energy makes economic sense it will replace oil plain and simple. At some point energy sources like thorium reactors will hopefully be practical.
      You are a socialist! Welcome home comrade!
      Unfortunately the NDP plan is not the answer imo. Have a good day:-)

      Reply
      • John Clark

        May 26th, 2016

        We inherited a flat broke, in the hole financial situation from the Conservatives. 700 billion dollars taken from the heritage trust leaves nothing to draw on literally. In fairness, I put to you which is more important, feeding and housing the people from our half a loaf or selling the half loaf for a profit allowing the population to suffer at large.

        The downgrading of our credit in this provice is very expensive. The province will pay much more for the money borrowed. Today and this year yes, I can say I’m a socialist. In the Klein years I was proudly Conservative (Didn’t know any better).

        Bottom line is the province is broke, the country is broke and the world is heading there quickly and there is no quick fix in sight. The debt is an unavoidable problem yes, but there is really and reasonably no alternative for it. I notice you did not put forward any ideas for a cured.

        Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      May 26th, 2016

      I’m not sure the carbon levy/tax is even supposed to go to paying down debt. Rather, these things are supposed to all about reducing carbon usage. If they are revenue-neutral, then taxes can be lowered elsewhere to compensate. If not, then they can be put to good use in a number of places (including paying down debt/reducing deficit, if so desired). As to rebates, I don’t know the details, but are they not like GST rebates that go only to low-income people?

      Reply
  4. anonymous

    May 25th, 2016

    I hope this plan succeeds. My advice to Ms. Notley and the NDP is to play cool political jazz. That may help extinguish this particular political firestorm. In other words, heed the advice of this sensible Saskatoon woman:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOWk9rWfoYg

    Reply
  5. May 25th, 2016

    Something has to be done; some state has to take the initiative. We elected NDP on the promise of positive change. They entered into an arena working with a judicial system that was put in place by the Conservatives and little they can do about it.

    Alberta is below 1 inch moisture difference in Alberta and a desert condition. We have built a rather enviable farming industry on it not because we have a lot of moisture but because it came at the right time.

    The glaciers (our drinking water) are vanishing at an unprecedented rate! That means more spring flooding until there is nothing left to flood with!

    The arctic coast tundra both Russia and Canada is melting every summer now and re freezing. This kind of situation has the great possibility of a cascade effect. There is more carbon dioxide and methane stored in that same tundra than there is presently in the atmosphere! Maps and professessional assessment here http://albertathedetails.blogspot.ca/2016/05/alberta-and-climate-change.html

    We are somewhere between the outhouse and the woodshed holding candles for light! MY only gripe with what they are doing is going with the most expensive green power there is; wind farms and silicon reflectors.

    They fail to consider the new nuclear power available even in the Candu reactors. They Nuclear power the public is afraid of is the original technology which was given to US industry by the US navy straight out of their submarines of the day. The Navy did not tell industry they had cooling problems on the boats.

    Industry built the navy reactors and tried to run a business on them. Because heating problems many had to shut down while others ran at 50% capacity not leaving money for clearing landscape around power lines and so on.

    We should in my mind, be well on our way to building a couple 1000 MW nuclear plants.

    The “rods” people make so much noise about and know nothing about are hollow tubes filled with chicklet sized ceramic beads each impregnated with a miniscule amount of radioactivity.They come start out at 2.5% and when they deplete to 1% they are changed out. The new Candu can re charge their own rods! There is no waste to dispose of. 3M has invented a new membrane that will pull the free radical oxygen out of the reactor cooling waters meaning the pipes should now last the 60 or 100 year window of operation once only dreamed of with no shut downs.

    Reply
  6. Nick

    May 25th, 2016

    Pro LNG demonstrators already assembled outside of city hall. Not sure why outside of a municipal body but details aren’t necessarily important to those types.
    One had a banner that literally said “give us money” support LNG….so conservatives asking for handouts.
    Oh and they’re totally disrupting the Children’s Festival.

    Reply
  7. jerrymacgp

    May 27th, 2016

    Critics claim that the new carbon tax will do little do reduce fossil fuel consumption or GHG emissions; I tend to agree, only because fuel consumption in a province strewn with massive jacked-up pickups & highway-bus sized RVs is highly price inelastic. Critics also claim that Alberta’s share of world CO2 emissions is a fraction of a percentage point; true, maybe, but also beside the point. Alberta needs to appear to its numerous domestic and foreign critics to finally be doing something about climate change, something the PCs made no credible effort to achieve. A price on carbon, no matter how ineffectual it might turn out to be, is necessary to improve the province’s reputation on this file.

    Finally, critics from the environmentalist side of the debate argue that the pipelines we hope to get social license to build will
    promote fossil fuel consumption at a time when we need to reduce it; I disagree. Energy East, for example, is not intended to increase fossil fuel consumption, but to displace imported Middle East crude in the supply stream for Eastern Canadian refineries. Maritimers will still buy smaller cars, by & large, than Albertans; but the tiny sips of fuel they put into them from time to time will come from Alberta and not, for example, Saudia Arabia.

    All in all, this is the right move, even if taken years later than it should.

    Reply

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