Alberta Politics
The Red Deer pork processing plant affected by a Chinese export ban (Photo: Startec.ca).

Meanwhile, back on the Alberta farm, when in doubt, blame Ottawa

Posted on May 03, 2019, 12:25 am
6 mins

CALGARY – Meanwhile, back on the farm, a new template for government of Alberta news releases is a-birthin’.

Henceforth and forevermore, presumably, all news releases issued by Alberta’s New Government ™ – a phrase that hasn’t appeared yet, but likely soon will, I reckon – will have to include the following points:

  1. The federal government must do something
  2. You can count on the Alberta Government to stand up for Alberta
  3. While you’re counting on it, it will not sit idly by …

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Photo: Facebook).

This observation was prompted by the statement yesterday by Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen in response to the announcement by the Chinese Government it has suspended permits required by two Canadian pork exporting companies that ship meat to the People’s Republic.

The companies in question are based in Quebec, but one of the plants affected is in Red Deer, which explains the interest of the MAGA-hat minister. It is not clear just yet whether the action resulted from incorrect labelling on some permits, as federal officials suggest, or official Chinese unhappiness over the arrest in Vancouver last year of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. officials.

Ms. Meng remains in Vancouver while a Canadian court tries to determine if the rule of law still prevails south of the 49th Parallel. This is not completely clear at this moment, particularly in light of the suggestion by Mr. Dreehsen’s favourite American politician that the arrest request was really just a negotiating tactic to get a U.S.-China trade agreement that suits his Republican administration.

Regardless, Mr. Dreeshen chose to believe the second explanation, presumably because it is the harder one for the Liberal Government in Ottawa to resolve. “The federal government must find a resolution to these diplomatic disputes and restore access to our agricultural export markets,” he said, offering no hints on how they might achieve that goal without infuriating the colossus to the south.

He noted that Alberta is standing with its farmers, for whom market access is a critical issue, and that they can count on the Alberta government to stand up for Alberta, which demonstrates the minister is a stand-up guy, I guess, even if that extra Alberta sounds faintly redundant. (Note: Everyone thinks they’re an editor – Ed.)

Markets are sore point in rural Alberta nowadays not just because of that pipeline thing, but because the Chinese government has also blocked exports from two of Canada’s largest canola seed exporting corporations, saying Canadian canola seed is infested with pests.

According to the CBC’s report yesterday, Canadian politicians insist that just isn’t true.

The reality, though, is that whatever is going on at the Red Deer pork plant and in Vancouver, the Chinese have long had legitimate concerns about Canadian canola seed – to wit, dirt, straw, seed pods and other junk, some of it infected with fungus that the Chinese want limited to 1 per cent, which finds its way into Canadian canola seeds bound for export.

This is a problem that seems to have its roots in the free-market fanaticism of the former Harper Conservative Government in which Mr. Dreeshen’s boss, United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, held important cabinet posts. It has continued, though, under the softer, gentler neoliberal regime of the Trudeau Government.

Getting back to the Red Deer swine swivet, Mr. Dreeshen concluded: “We will not sit idly by while these disruptions continue to impact Alberta producers.”

It is not clear what the Alberta government can do while it’s not sitting idly by – other than standing up, perhaps – but that is not really the point of this kind of this kind of rhetoric, of which we can expect to hear a lot more.

The strategy in a nutshell: blame Ottawa; say you’re doing something; if the problem gets fixed, take credit; if not, assign blame again.

For his part, Premier Kenney put out a long statement of his own, complaining about federal Bill C-69, which changes how major infrastructure programs are reviewed and approved in Canada. (If it was a Kenney Government bill, of course, it would be called Bill C-89.)

The provincial government was less voluble, though, on the topic of Trident Energy Co., the Calgary energy corporation that closed shop on Tuesday, ignoring an order to properly manage its 4,700 wells and walking away from obligations of more than $300-million for cleanup and reclamation.

It’s not at all clear how a government so committed to cutting “red tape” it’s created a new bureaucracy to do that is going to ensure Alberta taxpayers don’t end up having to pay to clean up after Alberta’s fossil fuel industry, which some estimates say could cost as much as $260-billion.

Don’t expect a press release on that topic just now.

17 Comments to: Meanwhile, back on the Alberta farm, when in doubt, blame Ottawa

  1. Gail

    May 3rd, 2019

    Canada’s treatment of China when it comes to agriculture issues is terrible. China is the customer. They don’t want to buy what we are selling so we are trying to bully them into it instead of providing a better product – in what world does that make sense? The most infuriating part of the canola mess is that Canadian farmers can provide the clean product China wants – it’s the dockage added port by the grain trade that’s causing this problem and that is something the federal government could do something about. But instead the Feds are continuing to be rude to China instead of dealing with the real issue.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    May 3rd, 2019

    A brilliant post.

    Jason Kenney put on a marvellous acting show in Ottawa yesterdayday: Canada is alienating the poor folks of Alberta with Bill C-69, so don’t alienate them even further by passing it as an Act. Alberta might secede. Other than giving him the ossified eye he so grandly deserves, nobody much gave a damn. There are 33 million Canadians who are not self-entitled Albertans and who do pay PST, the capital is suffering with a climate change flood of almost biblical proportion when you see video of the Ottawa River, and here comes some guy from Canada’s richest province complaining they’re not rich enough and to whom the word environment does not exist.

    Kenney needs to go and fix the Alberta oil royalty regime so that the vastly increased tarsands production of the past decade reflects in provincial revenue increases. As it stands, Kenney might as well be a PR spokesman for the foreign oil interests currently ripping off Alberta, and by implication so are a majority of Albertans. Living in a bubble where nobody else’s interests matter is challenging, but Albertans are giving it the old college try.

    Reply
  3. Sam Gunsch

    May 3rd, 2019

    re: AB oil industry leaving billions and billions of clean-up costs to the citizens….

    UCP Kenney is already asking Trudeau Liberals to make all Canadians help pay for the mess of abandoned wells by our AB oil industry.

    Here is my memo for Kenney from an Albertan; to be read in a mocking tone: Dear fellow Canadians, my Premier wants your $$$ for a GoFundMe to bail out AB oil industry: i.e. fund – ‘incentives’ – to pay for our AB oil/gas industry mess ‘Kenney…wants Trudeau…to create incentives for co’s to clean up old wells.’

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/05/02/news/kenney-recommends-lower-property-taxes-oilpatch-after-company-abandons-4700-wells

    Reply
  4. Sam Gunsch

    May 3rd, 2019

    More explanation of why UCP Kenney is going to rely on a flim-flam cover story for the oil/gas/oilsands industry, i.e. Alberta’s main corporate welfare sector…

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/05/02/opinion/kenney-already-facing-albertas-reckoning-over-mismanaged-oilfield-cleanup?fbclid=IwAR0M8pIQa_lVD_NwhO1PjifhjlXuGeVwql9vIV2RJTLhte-f0odFFyp4zow

    excerpt: The Alberta government only collects about five cents per dollar of oil and gas production and previous royalty cuts have left the province mired in deficits for the last decade. Lowering royalties further is not a sane option.

    Reply
  5. Jim Williamson

    May 3rd, 2019

    I’m interested in your assertion that the the canola export issue “is a problem that seems to have its roots in the free-market fanaticism of the former Harper Conservative Government”. Could you expand on that?

    Reply
  6. ronmac

    May 3rd, 2019

    No offence to Mr Dreeshen or Jason Kenney but we are finding out who our true masters are and it is not Ottawa or even Donald Trump. It is the US Deep State legal system which has Trump embroiled in a Russiagate witchhunt the past three years and who’s tentacles ensnarled Ms. Meng last December. Half of the gd politicians down there cut their teeth as public prosecutors who have an arbitrary power to cast people in legal troubles on a whim. Heck, not too far down the road Donald Trump and Ms. Meng may be sharing the same cell. That would be a laugh and a half.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      May 4th, 2019

      I think Ms Meng would claim cruel and unusual punishment.

      Reply
  7. Political Ranger

    May 3rd, 2019

    Well, let me give you the outlines of one …

    First, you have to understand that Trident didn’t just decide to close up shop between getting out of bed on Tuesday morning and breakfast; no, they had been contemplating this for some time, fair to say at least a year. So, their decision to just walk away the very day that the Notley gov’t had zero jurisdiction and the Kenny kleptocracy had complete control was not a coincidence. Trident knows they will get off scott-free under Kenney.
    Under the Notley regime and partially as a result of the Redwater case regulators were looking into (dare I say, even preventing) petro-corps practice of selling off assets before they abandoned their liabilities to the Crown. This is what Trident was contemplating for the last couple years as it saw it’s operations fail. But with the Kenney klown show in town they just walk away.

    To any who have been paying attention, a small and lonely crowd to be sure, this abandonment is nothing new in Albaturda. What is news is that this is just the beginning of a flood of abandonments.
    The 100,000 jobs or so that disappeared in the Albaturda petro-patch are never coming back and there are 2 good reasons why. Automation is a big reason; new drilling and production processes require only 20% of the previous workforce. The second reason is that the resource is gone; it just ain’t there anymore.
    Now there will always be oil in the basin but not in sufficient quantities to pay for the very expensive , highly automated production infrastructure available today to get it out of the ground. A well that might have been profitable to bring in with 10 or 15 guys and a single rig is just not going to attract the modern expensive infrastructure used today.
    Even Suncor’s new president, Mark Little was saying recently that his main focus is to increase profitability from automating processes as versus from increasing production.
    The conclusion is that whatever petroleum resource remains in Alberta is only valuable to the extent that extraction costs can be reduced; that’s biz-speak for automation.

    And that means that the vast majority of Albaturda’s small and mid-size petro-players are not and will not be profitable under the current good ol’ boy management style. Depending on the state of their balance sheets these petro-corps will be bought up by the majors or the shareholders will just walk.
    It’s been a good run for them and they will never have a better chance to get away scott-free like they do now.
    Just sayin’.

    Reply
  8. Bob Raynard

    May 3rd, 2019

    A few days ago Ken Larson attached this link (http://www.cwbafacts.ca/2016/09/4780/) to his comment. I found it interesting, and surfed a bit more and found this article as well, also written by Ken Larsen:

    https://www.ontariofarmer.com/opinion/comments/larsen-canada-has-lost-credibility-and-grain-customer-trust-thanks-to-deregulation

    Combining the ideas presented in both articles, Mr. Larsen is arguing that once upon a time the Canadian Government, through various agencies, put a lot of resources into developing a strong reputation for Canadian canola, and other farm products, to get purchasing countries to specifically request our products. To this end, one of the things they did was make sure Canadian canola had considerably less debris in it than was required by international standards.

    When the Harper government dissolved the CWB, multinationals took over the marketing of canola etc. These multinationals realized they could take reasonably clean canola and add debris to it so it just met the international standard instead of greatly exceeding it. In addition to collecting more money for the same amount of canola, it also freed the company of the hassle of purchasers insisting on Canadian canola. This way the multinational could more efficiently pool all of the canola they are marketing from all the other canola producers.

    The whole thing does feel a bit conspiracy theory-like, but when we see aircraft manufacturers lobby their government to be allowed to do their own safety testing, and politicians organizing a rival’s leadership campaign so someone else will badmouth the opponent, well, simply feeling like a conspiracy theory doesn’t make it so.

    If this is true, I don’t see how any post-Harper government could fix the problem since the assets have been sold. I expect the sales contract also prohibits re-establishing the CWB.

    Over the years I have come to realize that any article offering ‘facts’ in the title tends to be anything but. ‘Ontario Farmer’ is a Postmedia publication which, once upon a time gave what they published credibility, but that cred has been spent long ago. Farmers Brian and Dave, I hope you will chime in with any kind of inside knowledge you may have; Ken Larsen, can you offer any kind of collaborating evidence?

    Reply
    • Ken Larsen

      May 5th, 2019

      Mr. Raynard: I don’t want to impose on our host’s hospitality too far, but here is a summary along with a couple of corroborating links.

      I made the point that China started complaining about too much junk in canola three years ago. You can read the CBC story here:
      https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/trudeau-canola-export-regime-china-1.3742341

      Fixing the problem then would have been easy since prairie farmers already deliver canola which could meet the Chinese standard. You can read about Canada’s dirty little secret about adding dockage back into canola here:
      https://www.manitobacooperator.ca/editorial/called-out-on-our-dirty-little-secret/?module=cat5&pgtype=article&i

      The Canadian Grain Commission has the authority to set export dockage standards. The sloppy standard in canola was presumably set in consultation with the Canola Council of Canada which includes canola farmers and the private trade.
      Whose idea it was to snub the Chinese three years ago and humiliate them by characterizing their request for a better dockage standard as “unscientific” remains a mystery. The Canadian government is still pushing this irrelevant argument about science. The original dispute was about the amount of junk in each canola shipment, not how disease free the junk is. Like water in gasoline, dockage for a grain customer is a liability.

      The three government agencies concerned with grain quality assurance I mentioned (AAFC, CGC and CIGI) all still exist but they no longer have the benefit of the impartial advice of the CWB’s professional sales staff.

      The CWB was responsible for marketing export and domestic human consumption wheat and barley. The CWB maintained offices in China and Japan with local staff that spoke the languages and had relationships with local customers.

      The CWB provided a halo effect to the private Canadian exporters of non-Board grains like canola. CWB staff often provided those exporters with assistance.

      As to your last point: There are no legal impediments to re-establishing a Wheat or grain board with the exclusive responsibility for marketing Canadian grain. Farmers have the same constitutional right to collective bargaining as any other group of citizens – collective bargaining in the form of marketing their grain through a single-desk is possible and has been successfully done in the past.

      The old CWB’s hard assets like buildings were worth several hundred million dollars, but its much greater value was the brand reputation and single-desk responsibility – both of which can be restored.

      Most cultures have a longer attention span than North Americans. In China and much of south Asia they well remember being starved or short changed by the big international grain companies who are now the face of Canadian grain.

      Reply
  9. Keith McClary

    May 3rd, 2019

    Re: Trident Energy
    ____________________________________________________
    Kenney said his government has more work to do in reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision before identifying how it can assist companies with compliance. He also said his government would be meeting with municipalities to raise concerns identified by Trident about high property taxes.

    “There are a number of small and junior gas producers in Alberta that are running down their balance sheets, almost giving away their natural gas, because of market asset challenges,” he said.

    “They simply can’t afford higher and higher municipal taxes in addition to the uncertainty created by the Redwater decision.”
    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/05/02/news/kenney-recommends-lower-property-taxes-oilpatch-after-company-abandons-4700-wells
    ——————————————————————
    Property tax on pipelines and other resource infrastructure is a cash cow for many small towns and rural municipalities. These municipalities also depend heavily on provincial grants and provincial government jobs (schools, hospitals, ag, SRD), all potential targets for cost cutting, but also Kenney’s base. Here in Crowsnest Pass (pop. 6000) they are praying for an $8,000,000 grant for a sewage plant upgrade. Will we be rewarded for staunch conservative support?
    ——————————————————
    I wonder what the MAGA-hat minister will say if his hero slaps import restrictions on Alberta ag products.

    Reply
  10. Dave

    May 3rd, 2019

    Prairie resentment against the “east” runs deep and in Alberta the words Liberals and NEP are still fighting words for some particularly in rural Alberta, so Kenney probably has a good short term strategy here – blame Ottawa for everything. However there are three potential problems with this.

    First is if Ottawa does not cooperate and instead of engaging in a war of words, sounds reasonable and pleasant. There is a big risk that overblown rhetoric will cause Kenney to overplay his hand, not so much in Alberta but with the rest of Canada where support for pipelines, oil industry expansion and Conservatives is tentative. I think former Premier Notley understood this and for that reason was reluctant to engage in Ottawa or Canada bashing that might play well at home. Now, Kenney no longer needs to win an election in Alberta, but work something out with the rest of Canada, so it is time to shift strategy, but he is somewhat captive to all the promises he made to his angry base and their expectation that he would fight with Ottawa.

    Second, what Kenney says does not go unnoticed in Ottawa. I doubt there is much trust in him there, particularly with the Federal Liberal government after all all the nasty things he has already said about the Prime Minister. More of the same would not be helpful. The Federal government would probably prefer the pipeline they bought goes ahead eventually, although they are no rush to do so and they certainly do not want to be blamed for its failure, at least outside of Alberta. However, if Kenney’s bluster alienates those outside of Alberta too much and public opinion shifts away from support for pipelines, the Federal Liberals probably will too.

    Third, blaming Ottawa sometimes is sometimes just ridiculous. China bans canola, blame Ottawa? Really? I think that one is on the Chinese. Yes, Scheer and the Conservatives will argue they would somehow magically solve the problems with the Chinese (they don’t really explain how), just as they would magically build pipelines (again I’m not sure how in particular how they would stop all those court challenges, even if they could somehow pummel the BC government into submission) and they would magically reduce carbon emissions without a carbon tax ( still waiting for an answer on that one for over a year). There is a lot of reliance on magic solutions for a party full of religious fundamentalists, or perhaps they are praying for miracles, but if that is their strategy they should at least be honest about it. Yes, Kenney claims he is fighting for Alberta and his theatrics support that, but what if all that fighting results in little or nothing. That might be when the mob whose anger he stirred up turns on him. In the end, people don’t want a government that is fighting, they want a government that gets results and if it becomes clear Kenney’s strategy is not the best way to get results then people may come to the conclusion he is not the one to get results.

    Reply
  11. Farmer Dave

    May 3rd, 2019

    Can not believe farmer Brian has not waded into your post and blamed Ottawa for all his farming issues. Maybe he thinks Kenney will wave his magic wand and save everyone on the planet.

    Reply
  12. Jerrymacgp

    May 4th, 2019

    Re Meng and Huawei: IMHO, the best thing that could happen with this would be if the court, without any inappropriate pressure or attempt at influence by the politico-bureaucratic sectors of government, finds that the US government has no case, and denies the extradition application on its merits. The Chinese would thus get Ms Meng back, but the rule of law and the independence of our judiciary would still be respected. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say how likely this is, but there you go, FWIW.

    Reply
  13. Farmer Brian

    May 4th, 2019

    China’s refusal to purchase canola, peas, soybeans and pork all comes down to the detention of one person Meng Wanshou. Canola was never under the pervue of the CWB, farmers could sell it to any grain company or crusher without the interference or oversight of the CWB. To infer that the demise of the CWB has in any way affected canola marketing in the world is rediculous. Importers set the specs on the product they want to buy and exporters must meet those specs. Now do I agree with grain companies maximizing their allowable dockage at 2.5%, no I do not. When China kicked up a fuss a few years ago it was just to slow imports and get the price of canola reduced, nothing more. What can be done to fix the problem today? Let Meng Wanshou escape in the dark of night back to China.

    I happen to have a few Trident gas wells on my land. As such I received a letter last fall requesting a reduction in what they were paying me for the leases. So eventually I phoned the contact guy and discussed it. He said with the low price of natural gas they needed to cut costs to make a profit. He said they had become more efficient but the high costs of leases and county taxes needed to change. He said they were having no luck negotiating a more reasonable tax regime with the rural municipalities. But realistically I would say the final straw was the Redwater decision. If I understand it correctly originally those who were owed money like the Banks had the right to be payed out first when the assets were sold and if anything was left it went to well reclamation. Today I believe it is the opposite. In Tridents case it will have to be determined what assets are productive and saleable. Then these will be sold to other companies but the proceeds will first go to cleaning up the non producing wells before creditors see a dime. So if I am a bank or investor oil and gas companies just became a whole lot riskier and hence why Trident couldn’t get anymore financing and had to pull the plug. I am sure it will take years to sort out.

    Carbon taxes and those objecting to them are certainly in the news. Interesting article on the CBC by Adam Wherry: “By claiming Ontario’s done it’s fair share Doug Ford pushes the climate burden west.” Everyone reads an article and gets something different out of it based on their outlook. This is what I got. From 2006-2017 each province in Canada has had various levels of success in lowering GHG emissions. The most successful is Nova Scotia at a 33% reduction, then NewBrunswick at a 28% reduction, Ontario a 22% reduction, PEI a 10% reduction, Quebec a 9.8% reduction, B.C. a 1.5% reduction and everyone else’s has increased. What stuck out to me is that out of the top six provinces B.C. has had the longest imposed and most celebrated carbon tax and yet it has had the lowest percentage reduction in GHG emissions. So while all the climate fanatics lose their minds yelling and screaming we need a carbon tax we need a carbon tax, maybe they should study how the top provinces did it. With Justin Trudeau’s tax, I still don’t see how giving 80% of Canadians a full rebate on their carbon tax is an incentive to change. Anyway it is May 4 and out I go into the snow to begin the day. Unfortunately it is to damn cold and white to go seeding. Enjoy your day.

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      May 6th, 2019

      “I still don’t see how giving 80% of Canadians a full rebate on their carbon tax is an incentive to change. ”

      It is not a rebate on tax paid (did you notice you don’t need to save your fuel receipts?). It is a fixed amount, so you come out ahead if you drive a Pius instead of a monster truck. Does that explain to you why it is an incentive?

      And, yes, I know, a Pius won’t work for farmers.

      Nova Scotia’s GHG reductions seem to be due to the decline of their oil and gas industry and reducing coal fired generating.
      https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/nrgsstmprfls/ns-eng.html?=undefined&wbdisable=true
      Figures 1 and 8

      Reply

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