Alberta Politics
An oilsands mine near Fort McMurray likely similar to the new one for which Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is now seeking social license (Photo: Natural Resources Defense Fund).

This just in! Stable Reliable Liberal Democracy of Alberta suddenly adopts social license strategy for fossil fuel development

Posted on February 11, 2020, 2:04 am
8 mins

We interrupt this blog with an important bulletin from the Stable Reliable Liberal Democracy of Alberta!

In an unexpected move, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced he will seek social license for new energy projects in the Canadian province.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

How unexpected was this announcement? It was so unexpected it hadn’t even been reported by the Alberta government’s official “War Room”!

Then again, considering that the so-called Canadian Energy Centre’s mission — running a website that supposedly exposes the lies and deceptions of people who dare to suggest fossil fuels don’t have much of a future in a rapidly heating world — maybe it will never be reported there.

Instead, Mr. Kenney chose a forum in Washington and an interview with a friendly Postmedia writer to reveal Alberta’s United Conservative Government now understands it’s necessary to seek social license for new fossil fuel projects because “no reasonable person that can deny that in the decades to come we will see a gradual shift from hydrocarbon-based energy to other forms of energy.” (Emphasis added, of course.)

Mr. Kenney told a Washington forum Friday it’s “preferable that the last barrel in that transition period comes from a stable, reliable liberal democracy with among the highest environmental, human-rights and labour standards on earth.”

Alberta Environment Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The premier, who is widely considered in this province to be a very stable, reliable and democratic genius, told the interviewer, “I have a firm grasp of the obvious.”

In the message, clearly aimed at listeners outside Alberta’s borders, Mr. Kenney did not use the actual words “social license,” which thanks to his efforts over the past several years have acquired something of a tarnish in Alberta.

Nevertheless, that’s clearly what he has in mind, although with a little foot dragging thrown in as the italics in the passage above suggest. As Postmedia’s Don Braid noted while politely refraining from using the suspect term himself: “This is new. And it’s significant.”

Indeed, Mr. Kenney is clearly trying to influence federal leaders to approve a large oilsands project that while unlikely ever to be completed is apparently thought necessary for the continued political wellbeing of the UCP.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Indeed, the possibility the Teck Frontier oilsands mine might not get the nod from the federal cabinet has lately been distracting the Kenney Government from its efforts to cut public employees’ pay, cut the free speech rights of labour union members, cut education spending by $136 million, cut health care spending by up to $1.9 billion, and lower environmental standards and weaken worker safety legislation in the name of fighting what the UCP refers to as “red tape.”

Recognizing that his effort to seek social license for Alberta’s petroleum industry needs to impress one audience in particular, Mr. Kenney also sent a rambling, four-page open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he complained about how frustrating it is while “genuinely looking for a path to responsible and sustainable development to be met with ambiguous shrugs.”

As the premier’s thoughtful journalistic interpreter concluded, “it is almost impossible to imagine those minority Liberal ministers approving Teck without some assurance that, over time, UCP Alberta is comfortable with transition.”

One imagines muffled guffaws inside the PMO, which along with Alberta’s former NDP government has been on the receiving end of Mr. Kenney’s sustained and bitter campaign against the efficacy of the social license strategy for about five years.

The NDP’s ‘social license’ deal with Justin Trudeau has been a miserable failure for Albertans,” Mr. Kenney said in a typical pre-election tweet in 2019. “Social license is a shell game by ideologues,” he told a far-right video blogger back in 2016.

Nevertheless, we ought not to imagine Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals will stand too vigorously in the way of Teck’s ambitions, regardless of how they view Mr. Kenney.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Photo: Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers, Creative Commons).

Mr. Braid argues we ought not to be annoyed at Mr. Kenney’s dramatic flip-flop because “it’s Alberta’s future that matters most.” At least former premier Rachel Notley, who long advocated the strategy, is entitled to say, “I told you so!”

I wonder if some of Mr. Kenney’s other cheerleaders in media, not to mention his army of trolls on social media, will be able to catch up with his neck-snapping reversal as quickly?

When a handout is a hand up

Speaking of sudden flip-flops, I wonder how Environment Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon feels about the handout Alberta farmers have just received from the federal government?

No sooner had Mr. Nixon got done sharply advising the Liberals that Albertans are proud people who don’t want handouts from Ottawa to compensate for rejection of that oilsands mine than Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen announced what appears to be a 50/50 grant from the federals so farmers can upgrade their grain drying and handling equipment.

“Albertans are not looking for a Justin Trudeau handout,” Mr. Nixon huffed in Calgary on Friday. “We’re not interested in that.” Except when we are, of course, in which case we prefer to call it a hand up.

Mr. Dreeshen’s news release didn’t go out of its way to explain the federal connection, although it did quote federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, a sure sign of what’s up.

It’s worth noting that on-farm grain drying equipment is yet another cost of the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board, finally eliminated by Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government in early 2015 after its single-desk grain sales were ended in 2012 in the name of utopian market fundamentalism.

24 Comments to: This just in! Stable Reliable Liberal Democracy of Alberta suddenly adopts social license strategy for fossil fuel development

  1. Dave

    February 11th, 2020

    I have a few theories about Premier Kenney’s, who reminds me a bit of “the lady is not for turning”, somewhat strange turn about here. First, it could be something they put in the water in DC. This would also (partly) explain Trump’s strange behavior, although to be fair to DC, Trump was strange long before when living in New York too. Second, maybe the Tides Foundation and the Rockefellers finally got to Kenney and some have some very interesting Kompremat on him. How’s that for a good conspiracy theory? Third, maybe Kenney was happily driving along our ship of state, recently just happened to check and was a bit surprised and terrified to notice that its social licence expired, I don’t know, but lets say around 10 months ago.

    The most likely explanation is that if Kenney can’t get the Teck project approved he will look somewhat poweless and that is was ultimately did the Wizard of Oz in (and more than a few autocrats too), so he is desperately trying to pull all the levers on this one. On a related note, I wonder if the Kompremat in any way involves ruby slippers.

    In any event, after his interesting and somewhat bumpy road show, perhaps Kenney will feel there is no place like home and click his heels three times to get back to Canada as quickly as possible before anything else odd happens, like say John Baird taking over as Federal Conservative leader.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    February 11th, 2020

    A deliciously snide essay on the wonder that is kenney.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    February 11th, 2020

    “…stable, reliable liberal democracy with among the highest environmental, human-rights and labour standards on earth.”

    You have to love how Kenney boasts about the very things he is undoing, or would undo if he could get away with it. Meanwhile it appears he is arguing that the last barrel should come from Norway.

    Reply
  4. Farmer Brian

    February 11th, 2020

    David as someone who has farmed in Alberta for 37 years I am totally confused as to how you connect the ending of the CWB with the necessity of on farm grain drying. My now deceased Uncle who’s land I rent from his children had a grain dryer back in the 80’s which he used every year to dry his malt barley. Successfully harvesting malt barley without the ability to dry it is impossible some years. In 4 out of the last 5 falls we have experienced early snows and abysmal fall weather creating the need for many farmers to purchase grain dryers. In my area 5 years ago less than 5% of farmers had a grain dryer, today I would say at least 65% of my neighbors have a grain dryer. Most grain elevators I sell grain to have grain dryers as well. Who buys my grain has zero effect on whether it requires drying!

    As for government subsidies to help with updating grain drying equipment, bad idea in my opinion. There are a limited number of farmers who will be able to recieve the sudsidy or grant because there is never enough money to help everyone. Plus anytime you have government get involved the price of the equipment involved goes artificially up as retailers take advantage of the program and pad their profits. A good example of this is I would say about 5-6 years ago through I believe it was growing forward 2 you could get financial help to upgrade cattle handling facilities, the price of this eqipment went up 50% in a very short time making the cost of new equipment almost out of reach without government help. If the federal government really wants to help farmers eliminate the carbon tax on the natural gas or propane used for drying grain.

    Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      February 11th, 2020

      Farmer Brian, the whole point behind the carbon tax is to encourage businesses, which includes farmers, to become more resourceful by demanding manufacturers develop more efficient equipment, which includes grain dryers, that would use fuel more efficiently or that would use alternative sources of energy. With you methodology farmers would still be back in the old days using horses to plough and seed their fields and harness manufacturers would be the billionaires. Maybe going back to those days would leave a smaller foot print that you create.

      And rumor has it that Kenney while on his U.S. trip was scolded by investors and governments for removing Alberta’s carbon tax and has made the Frontier Teck oil sands project more difficult to get approved. Apparently Kenney is trying to reintroduce a carbon tax disguised under a different name.

      A news program aired recently with two First Nations Chiefs and an Oil Consultant with the Athabasca First Nations oil sands projects, who want to get involved with the Teck Project, said they had no issues dealing with the Federal Government but the Alberta Government is dragging it’s heels on the Teck project. There were two Conservative Reps on this program who initially slammed the Federal government over this project however failed to rebut anything the Athabasca First Nation and Consultant had to say. They also noted that with the Federal Government buying the Trans Mountain pipeline, it was like a gift to Alberta otherwise the pipeline would never be built. Before long Kenney will be crawling on his hands and knees and asking the Feds, please sir, please give me more.

      Reply
    • Ken Larsen

      February 11th, 2020

      Dear Farmer Brian:
      Just to add a bit of detail to our host’s response to you. As the Auditor General of Canada found and Deloitte and Touche’s Annual Audits of the CWB showed, the CWB regulated the grain handling system to lower costs to farmers and raise prices. It directed and scheduled shipments to improve grain quality and satisfy customers.

      Both those points were especially critical in wet years. The Wheat Board coordinated grain movement for drying damp grain and blending it with already dry grain to minimise costs to farmers. They also prioritized deliveries to country elevators with dryers and shipping the stuff to port. This practice meant fewer farmers actually needed sophisticated grain drying equipment.

      Farmers, like yourself, who try to grow malt barley in climatically marginal areas have always needed fans and often grain dryers in an attempt to match grain grown in the dryer areas of the prairies. There is a reason the malt plant at Alix, Alberta is small and the one at Biggar, Sask is gigantic.

      Like most gifts administered by the Government of Alberta, I suspect the chosen ones have already gotten their handouts with this latest program. But as you know, two-million dollars only buys about 10 grain dryers, so the announcement is more vapour-ware than real. You missed a chance to bash Ottawa for delivering a trivial handout but then you would have to agree the UCP Ag Minister is just blowing smoke.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        February 12th, 2020

        “There is a reason the malt plant at Alix, Alberta is small and the one at Biggar, Sask is gigantic.” I am curious Ken did you do any research before making this statement. I did some quick research and here is what I found. The malt plant in Biggar is capable of producing 220,000 tonnes of malt per year according to a 2018 article I found. The Rahr malt plant in Alix was capable of producing 180,000 tonnes of malt per year in 2011 when it expanded its storage facilities from 400,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes. Unfortunately I have not found any more recent articles relating to Rahr’s production capacity. But it certainly doesn’t appear to me that the one in Alix is small and the one in Biggar gigantic lol.

        Having said that I certainly agree with your last paragraph that $2 million dollars won’t go very far in buying grain dryers. Although after a little reading it appears the program is for updating existing drying installations and making them more efficient not for subsidizing the purchase of new installations.

        Reply
        • Ken Larsen

          February 13th, 2020

          Dear Farmer Brian:
          Did I do any research? Yes of course. When doing research, it is best to be cautious of reports based on “businessmen’s puffery.” It is also important to read carefully. For example, Rahr’s 2011 expansion announcement was reported in bushels, not the metric tonnes you mentioned. It is also important not to confuse the storage capacity of a malt plant with its processing capacity.

          So, let’s look at the data from some credible sources. According to the Canadian Grain Commission, as of December 2011 Rahr Malting was licensed to have a storage capacity of 39,000 metric tonnes. In contrast the malt plant at Biggar had a licenced storage capacity of 107,380 mt which is just about three times larger than Rarh’s size at the time.

          As of Dec. 2019, Rahr is licensed by the CGC to have a storage capacity of 63,500 mt which is still about 40% smaller than the Biggar plant (63.5k vs 107.3k mt). That’s still a gigantic difference in most worlds.

          According to today’s Rahr web site its malting house has a capacity of 140,000 mt/year, which is much less than the higher number you claimed they had in 2011.

          A couple of years ago the malt plant at Biggar was sold to a French company but its processing capacity was not disclosed. However, if we accept the news reports of its processing capacity, it is still much larger than Rarh’s (220k mt/yr. vs 140k mt/yr.).

          All proving once again that Alix may be big, but no matter how you measure it, Biggar, is well, bigger, maybe even gigantic.

          Reply
          • David Climenhaga

            February 14th, 2020

            Isn’t there a sign on the edge of town that says … “Alix is big, but this is Biggar“? Something like that, anyway. DJC

  5. Farmer Brian

    February 11th, 2020

    One other point it was August 1,2012 that the Canadian Wheat Board was dissolved not 2015.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 11th, 2020

      Farmer Brian: The Wheat Board ceased to exist as an entity in April 2015 with the final giveaway of its assets by the Harper Government. But you do have a point that single desk sales were shut down in 2012, which pretty well put paid to the whole concept, so I have amended the sentence accordingly. As always, I am grateful to my readers for their sharp eyes and editing advice. As for your other point, it’s not that complicated, although possibly more complicated than the extreme self-imposed brevity of that section allowed for. Most farms did not need to have grain drying facilities on site because the Wheat Board, the Government of Canada, and the pools operated equipment at elevators and terminals. Without those institutional supports farmers have had to expand their own on-farm facilities. That downloads the cost onto individual farmers. DJC

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        February 11th, 2020

        David I called a grain buyer who has been in the industry for 32 years and happens to employed by G3. His memory and my memory had the same recollection of history. There are more facilities equipped with grain drying equipment today than 15 or 20 years ago. It is the same today as it was then if the facility had drying equipment the cost of drying was payed by the producer selling the grain not the government or the CWB. Coastal terminals do not have drying infrastructure today or in the past. I have 6 grain elevators within 1 hour of my farm, 4 of the 6 have drying infrastructure. Your belief that there were institutional supports supplied by the wheat board or the government are in my opinion and in the opinion of this long term grain industry employee wrong. The elimination of the CWB has not downloaded the responsibilty of drying grain to the farmer in my opinion in any way. Remember only wheat and malt barley sales were the responsibilty of the CWB, canola, pulse crops and feed grains were outside the CWB.

        Reply
        • Ken Larsen

          February 12th, 2020

          Dear Farmer Brian: the source of your information is hardly disinterested and represents an industry that is failing to manage our export grain system efficiently. Ships continue to pile up at our ports and are sent back to anchor several times a trip. This is a great cost to farmers and a situation almost unheard of when the CWB ran the show.

          Telling you that “Coastal terminals do not have drying infrastructure today or in the past” is just wrong. Our export grain terminals always had drying capacity. For almost a century the Canadian Grain Commission has published the tariffs licensed terminal and inland elevators can charge for grain drying.

          As dozens of independent audits showed farmers usually more than made up for drying costs taken off their first payment by the extra revenue they got from the “blending revenue” the CWB returned to farmers on their final payment. By arranging to blend and condition the whole prairie export wheat and barley crop to higher standards, all farmers gained money on that extra value created by the institutional support the CWB provided. On non-CWB grains like canola if the private trade does the same things, they send the extra money to shareholders not farmers. Usually they don’t bother because it is easier to give farmers a lower price.

          Through its regulatory and marketing powers the Board ran the inland elevators and port terminals as one integrated system. Doing so saved farmers money through economies of scale which the private trade is structurally incapable of matching.

          Yes, farmers are regularly screwed on non-Board grains like canola and the like. Without the Wheat Board the same thing is now happening on all export grains. In an unregulated free-for-all the biggest guys take everything they can.

          Reply
  6. Geoffrey Pounder

    February 11th, 2020

    “genuinely looking for a path to responsible and sustainable development”

    What does “responsible and sustainable development” mean? Do these buzzwords have any meaning?
    Federal politicians and even the Pembina Institute are fond of the term, so presumably they understand what Kenney is talking about.
    I don’t.

    Report of the Joint Review Panel
    Teck Resources Limited: Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project
    “We find that the project is likely to result in SIGNIFICANT ADVERSE ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS to wetlands, oldgrowth forests, wetland- and old-growth-reliant species at risk, the Ronald Lake bison herd, and biodiversity. The project is also likely to result in SIGNIFICANT ADVERSE EFFECTS TO THE ASSERTED RIGHTS, USE OF LANDS AND RESOURCES, AND CULTURE OF INDIGENOUS GROUPS who use the project area. The proposed mitigation measures have not been proven to be effective or to fully mitigate project effects on the environment or on indigenous rights, use of lands and resources, and culture.”
    *
    If that’s sustainable development, what does unsustainable development look like?

    Reply
  7. Abs

    February 11th, 2020

    One wonders with all this flip-flopping, for what seems pure self-interest in getting Teck approved, if the UCP will flip-flop again, and retroactively reverse this reversal if and when Teck is appproved. The UCP is very good at reversals. Remember the election platform switcheroo?

    Speaking of flopping like a fish, we know the UCP is fond of logos, and changing logos, so how about a stylized carp logo for the War Room? Seems appropriate.

    Reply
  8. Tiddo

    February 11th, 2020

    “preferable that the last barrel in that transition period comes from a stable, reliable liberal democracy with among the highest environmental, human-rights and labour standards on earth.”

    …. So… from BC? Quebec? California?

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      February 12th, 2020

      Norway!!!

      Reply
  9. Just Me

    February 11th, 2020

    If Kenney spins the spin any faster, he’s going to cause a temporal rift and plunge into the vast unknown and never be seen again. We can only hope.

    All things considered, the angry conspiracy theory spewing angry midget act was going no where. While Kenney wants to drop the blame squarely on Andrew Scheer’s shoulders for blowing an election that was his to win, the much vaunted Resistance has collapsed. Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick are seeking social license and have joined the zero-carbon revolution. Now that Premier Moe is his only stooge, Kenney has decided that fighting against PMJT’s raging river of public consent that Climate Change is a real and present danger.

    Better late than never. And we get a break from the angry midget tantrums.

    Reply
  10. ronmac

    February 11th, 2020

    Further to these developments there is a rumour Kenney is about to resign as Premier and will be joining the pipeline protests in BC.

    Reply
  11. Magda

    February 11th, 2020

    I’m going to go with my personal theory: the Canadian Energy Centre has succeeded in doing what no environmental or social democratic party has been able to do – make the oil and gas sector look stupid. (Rachel Notley needs to knock it off with her demands that it be closed down. It’s doing a much better job than the NDP ever did at undermining the oil and gas sector.)

    Oil and gas sector executives really don’t like looking stupid on top of all the grown-up problems their companies face, and I would not be at all surprised if a number of them have told their lobbyists to tell the Premier’s office to stop “helping”.

    On a side note, at the risk of suggesting a topic to our Gracious Host, who can come up with his own topics, I would enjoy reading something that dissects the membership of the oil and gas sector, and gives us some idea of who Kenney is trying to appeal to. I’m sure most of them don’t really work for Exxon or Shell, but rather for smaller local or regional vendors or suppliers.

    Reply
  12. e.a.f.

    February 11th, 2020

    omg, that was funny. what was Jason drinking at the time? how did he get all those words out of his mouth or was some one pulling a little string at his back…………what a nut job. does he expect anyone to believe his words

    Reply
  13. James Kohut

    February 13th, 2020

    Those, like Kenney, who support the oil sands mining project by the poor corporate citizen Teck, support ripping up huge amounts of the Boreal Forest and destroying huge amounts of bird habitat as well as putting the Alberta Woodland Caribou a step closer to extinction. Billions of birds have disappeared in the last few decades due to humans destroying their habitat and this is going to lead to many more birds disappearing. This will lead to more environmental problems such as increasing pests for agriculture producers which will lead to more pesticide use. Pollution from the Teck tar sands mining operation will acidify many more lakes, and even harm the Arctic Ocean. Some of the air pollution will likely travel around the global 2x before settling out in high mountain ranges and at the north pole.

    Environmentalists have proven that the unethical land destroying tar sands industry has been polluting far more than what the oil industry has suggested they are, as has been reported in the media. They exceed mandatory legal pollution limits for many years and the last thing we need is a poor corporate citizen like Teck to bolster legal or illegal pollution levels.

    Teck is a piss poor corporate citizen which does not truly care for the safety of people or the environment. Their various operations are extremely polluting and have harmed people’s health. They have harmed surface and ground waters which farmers use or no longer can use. They allow huge amounts of mining dust to contaminate public and private lands illegally. Whether it is the Highlands Valley Mine water and air polluting operations or their coal mines or their Trail smelting operations, they operate like poor corporate citizens and Alberta would be better off without Teck expanding into the oil sands.

    It is highly likely that the tar sands industry will start to abandon mining operations when the solar tipping point occurs sometime around 2035. Like the conventional oil industry abandoning well sites with billions of dollars worth of clean up costs now on the backs of Albertans, the tar sands industry will likely leave billions of dollars worth of toxic mining clean up costs as well which will greatly burden the Alberta tax payer at a time when we can least afford such clean up costs.

    Some people suggest Alberta has about 141,000 square kilometers of tar sands deposits. If 10% of that is economically viable to extract, that would mean we would potentially unethically mine rape around 14,000 square kilometers of Alberta Boreal Forest and muskeg wetlands. Some suggest 20% of the deposits could be mined which would mean up to 28,000 square kilometers of unethical oil extraction mining. This would make the Trump of the Amazon look pretty tame and ethical as compared to Alberta Conservative leaders such as Keney.

    We need a debate in this province as to when enough oil development is enough. Canada has around 34 exporting oil pipelines either operating or about to be operated. How many more oil developments do we want to benefit primarily foreign shareholders of corporations along with the bank investors such as BMO or TD while we get stuck with oil industry clean up costs? How much of Alberta do we want to destroy for primarily foreign shareholders and the bankster’s economic benefit? The more mines the more population. The more population the more your taxes go up to build infrastructure like highways, hospitals, schools, water treatment plants, sewage plants and so on. The more mining the more foreign workers coming in which Kenney is a great fan of as they drive down wages and allow cheaper faster raping of our resources for the primary benefit of foreign shareholders and banks that hold most of the stocks with companies like Teck.

    We need more value out of our resources, we don’t need more tar sands mines or pipelines. We need to be economically smarter with our oil investments like Norway or Saudi Arabia and other countries rather than being dumb about it like the Conservatives and their supporters.

    Please God let their be another oil boom and I promise not to let the Conservatives piss it away again. Corrupt Albertans support the corrupt Conservatives who are corruptly pissing the future of this resource Province away for the primary benefit of banksters and foreign investors. Enough stupidity is enough.

    The Conservatives have been pissing away Alberta’s wealth for decades. This has now shamefully become a part of our Canadian Heritage.

    Reply

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