It’s not a bad thing for Alberta’s NDP Opposition to hammer the Smith Government’s scandalous RStar scheme, as they did yesterday, but it’s frustrating to have to wonder where they were on the issue during last spring’s election campaign. 

Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

RStar, which has the potential to be the largest daylight robbery in Canadian history, is a plan to give multi-billion-dollar oil and gas corporations a huge royalty holiday as an incentive to clean up messes they’re already legally obligated to pay to clean up.

The idea of tossing the polluter-pay principle out the window to prop up the fossil fuel industry is so outrageous that even small-c conservative Albertans could have been swayed to “lend their votes” to the NDP if only the NDP had tried a bit harder. But it was one of the topics Premier Danielle Smith didn’t really want to talk about until after the election, and for some reason the NDP barely mentioned it.

Officially, it’s been renamed the “Liability Management Incentive Program,” a term clearly intended to put potential critics to sleep. But it’s the same old scam that Ms. Smith tried to persuade United Conservative Party 1.0 led by then-premier Jason Kenney to adopt back when she was a registered lobbyist for the boondoggle. 

The idea was so bad, though, that even Mr. Kenney’s energy minister, Sonya Savage, told Ms. Smith to pump something other than oil.

Now that the lobbyist is the leader of UCP 2.0 and premier of Alberta, she’s instructed her energy minister, the hapless perennial quitter Brian Jean, to develop “a strategy to effectively incentivize reclamation of inactive legacy oil and natural gas sites, and to enable future drilling while respecting the principle of polluter pay.”

NDP Environment Critic Jody Calahoo Stonehouse (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That mention of the polluter-pay principle got into Mr. Jean’s ministerial mandate letter, by the way, because there has been such public and expert hostility to this terrible idea, another contender for the worst UCP policy ever. 

But attacking the dirty RStar deal was mostly left by the Opposition to extreme Green Marxists like the financial research staff of the Bank of Nova Scotia. A Scotiabank report even argued that RStar “goes against the core capitalist principle that private companies should take full responsibility for the liabilities they willingly accept.”

Well, at least Mr. Jean’s mandate letter apparently incentivized the NDP to finally return to this issue and put out a news release accurately pointing out the letter contains coded language for “Danielle Smith’s RStar giveaway to negligent polluters.” 

“In this mandate, ‘inactive sites’ means environmental liabilities held by active and solvent companies and ‘incentivize’ means taxpayers will now be paying off the environmental liabilities of private industry, liabilities that they are legally responsible for,” said the NDP news release – which was sent to media yesterday but appears not to have been posted anywhere yet. 

In the release, NDP Environment Critic Jody Calahoo Stonehouse complained that “instead of enforcing the law and fully upholding the polluter pay principle, Albertans will pick up the tab, yet again.”

Kenney Government energy minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is all true, but at this point the exercise seems performative and, now that the horse is gone, rather like slamming the proverbial barn door shut.

A few other interesting topics are touched upon by Mr. Jean’s mandate letter, including helping the nuclear industry stay afloat by giving it money to cook up plans for so-called “small modular reactors,” a topic we’ll return to in the near future, and giving Mr. Kenney’s notorious “Energy War Room,” legally known as the Canadian Energy Centre, a new role that sounds exactly the same as its old role. 

In other words, in both cases, more tax money down the rathole. 

The NDP news release also said more “coded language” is found in Finance Minister Nate Horner’s mandate letter telling him to get cracking on pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan, a topic that was dealt with adequately here on Saturday, and to explore setting up an Alberta Revenue Agency. 

The latter scheme, the NDP complained, quoting former UCP finance minister Travis Toews, “will mean hiring 5,000 public tax collectors” and will “cost Albertans more than $500 million annually.”

But the Smith Government won’t be doing that to provide some accountants with good public-sector unionized jobs – a point in the idea’s favour, if you ask me – but because it’s “a dog whistle to Alberta separatism, endorsed by Smith’s Executive Director Rob Anderson.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that either. But with the Smith-led UCP entrenched in power for another four years at least, it’s also going to be very hard to do anything about it. 

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  1. Gawd, the NDP is so [I was going to say lame, but that would be denounced as ableist]. Their staffers & MLAs must be so preoccupied with feathering their future lobbyist nests that they have no time or attention left over for other distractions like, uh, actual politics.

    1. Motivated enough to move back to BC yet? Although there might not be as much grist for the blogger’s mill out there…

  2. I had thought something like the RStar scheme which was starting to get some public discussion in the months before the election, could have been a big election issue. It should have been. It involves several things voters should really care about – conflict of interest, spending billions of dollars needlessly and the environment. Scrutiny now is good, but it would have been better during the election.

    However, the UCP learned well from conservatives elsewhere – say a lot of random stupid things, use that to confuse and distract people, then sound reasonable for a while and do not under any circumstances say anything more about controversial ideas during the course of the campaign, except to downplay them. So they swept this all under the carpet for a while, but now the election is over and guess what, we start to realize now it didn’t really go away.

    There is a difference between not talking about something for a while and actually changing positions. I suspect it is not just RStar, but a lot of other controversial ideas that the UCP avoided saying much about during the campaign. Sadly, the UCP was able to lull enough voters into complacency and others, including our main stream media, let that happen.

  3. “[T]he largest daylight robbery in Canadian history.”

    I used to say that about the BC Liberal government’s corrupt sale, or privatization, of BC Rail back in 2003–until, that is, its attempt to bankrupt an even bigger public enterprise, the venerable behemoth BC Hydro, was more fully revealed after the 16 year-old regime was toppled in a vote of confidence upon the tabling of its very first bill in the Legislative Assembly shortly after the coming up one seat shy of a majority in 2017. (Alls it took was 41 Dippers, 3 Greens, 1 former-BC Liberal MLA who was kicked out of caucus for volunteering to be Speaker, and 1 former-premier who resigned her seat in a snit).

    Could happen to anybody, though: party-leaders Adrian Dix, BC NDP (Opposition, naturally) and Jim Prentice, Alberta premier (and losing ProgCon closing-pitcher) did something of the same thing on their very night of their respective defeats.)

    But now the RStar must be awarded the biggest scam of the public weal—at least in dollar terms—quite probably north of the $100 billion of the ‘deferred debt’ maliciously stashed by the BC Liberals into BC Hydro (few have offered to estimate the dollar-value of lost resources and opportunity, and childhood safety—owed to indigenous nations party to bad-faith treaties with the Crown or those without treaties constitutionally owed to them even yet—probably because it’s frighteningly huge—possibly in the many hundreds of billions. Or, for that matter, the fiscal, civic, natural resource, and human-health costs of climate-change damage to the environment—these should also be considered a kind of daylight robbery because they’re so plain, even though few want to talk about it).

    Maybe the NDP rather likes to be in Opposition than in government—after all, it’s tried both, now, in Alberta. How else can one explain its campaign-inappropriate reticence to clobbering the UCP over the head with the frightful and dangerous flaws that will cost the public purse very large? It’s the same old Dipper problem of, apparently, regarding itself as ‘above’ the dirty-pool tactics of its chief partisan rival.

    But, hey!—how’s about the nobility of being His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition! Not too shabby, eh!

    Problem is the Dipper Opposition can’t easily stop hare-brained policies like RStar for the next four years when its next opportunity to bump the almost unbelievably costly and destructive UCP out of office comes around.

    It’s not as if the NDP wasn’t implored by advisors ordinary and extraordinary to turn up the critic-heat on the UCP’s goofy campaign platform. The Dippers stomping their feet while holding the UCP’s to the fire—now, when the election is over—might, then, not be as promising for next time as it seems.

    We criticize Danielle Smith for designing an in-party Edmonton advisory ‘caucus’ of UCP candidates who failed to dislodge Dipper candidates from this longtime NDP stronghold, but it’s almost as if we need some kind of shadow caucus to make sure the bravado the NDP targets RStar with now doesn’t become a forgotten exercise come next election.

    Cuz, like Ian and Sylvia Tyson used to sing, those election-time feet sure get cold way out there. At least by then it won’t be winter —not if Danielle Smith hasn’t totally rearranged the deck chairs by then.

    It’s like the NDP needs to go into training for the next four years under Clint Eastwood or Burgess Meredith. But even then,…those winds sure blew cold way out there…

  4. This is so true! The Alberta NDP under Rachel Notley are at their finest 6 weeks after an election. You could set your watch by it. It was the same the previous go around. I wonder if word comes down from NDP management to be as meek and mild as possible during elections out of fear of angering the UCP extremist fringe, Post Media and the right wing think tanks so the NDP don’t get hit with a full court press and get wiped off the map. Thus ensuring the requisite number of seats for funding and opposition status.

  5. ” . . . but it’s frustrating to have to wonder where they were on the issue during last spring’s election campaign.”

    How easy is this (to parse) if it is assumed that it is vitally important not to overstep boundaries, ‘cross the line’, step on the true toes of power, ect., ect.? The NDP know fully and completely the rules of the extractive industry ‘game’ in good old Alberta and the potential sanctions that exist for ‘rule breakers’ and/or ‘inakomysliachtchie’. Because as the old chestnut declares:

    “You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance. You may be the heavyweight champion of the world. You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you’re going to have to serve somebody, yes indeed you’re going to have to serve somebody.”

    In any case, the reality remains one where: “After today’s royalty rate announcement, I think a fair argument can be made that Notley is quite supportive of the industry, . . . . During the past eight months or so, Notley has engaged in three major energy industry initiatives: The royalty review, introducing sweeping climate change policies, and engaging on pipeline projects. On the first two issues, Big Oil has been fulsome in its praise. Four energy CEOs joined her on stage to make the climate change announcement back in Nov. and CAPP fell all over itself bragging about how the different tack would “increase market access,” especially after companies figured out how to take the carbon out of the barrel.”

    Or, as a commonplace 2 party coke vs. pepsi political system continues to demonstrate: “Both parties have differences in policies that, at the margin, deviate from each other, but do not represent large fundamental changes to the way that Alberta is going to operate,” said Trevor Tombe, professor of economics at University of Calgary.”

    That observation, not surprisingly, continues to elude the unsophisticated, naive, hard core tribal loyalists and useful idiots.

  6. I picked a random oil and gas company to tell a story. I have never worked for Suncor.

    Suncor Energy currently pays a dividend of about $2.00 (CDN) per share to shareholders, on an annual basis (dividends are distributed quarterly).

    There are about 1,300,00,000 (1.3 billion) outstanding Suncor shares.

    If Suncor reduced it annual dividend by just $0.04 per share, it would have about $52,000,000.00 for cleanup. Just this past year.

    1,300,000,000 shares x $0.04 dividend reduction = $52,000,000.00

    These calculations were eyeballed by me and done on the fly. But I did confirm dividend rate and outstanding shares using Yahoo finance canada, using rounded numbers for simplicity.

    The point is this.

    Oil and gas companies can afford to clean up their stuff.

    Brian Jean and the UCP are hostage to the industry donors who profit immensely from their incompetence, non-seriousness, greed…

    The UCP scams the voting public, then claim to be victims of Ottawa, or the Liberals or anyone named Trudeau.

    As long a this con job still works, the UCP will keep it going.

  7. Troubling indeed David. We, at Liability Disclosure Project have been railing against this since it was first aired. particularly Mark Dorin and Regan Boychuk.

  8. The UCP does the most priciest shenanigans, and we end up paying for them. Billions of dollars that we don’t have.

  9. The list of fossil subsidies in Canada runs decades long and billions of dollars deep. Consecutive Alberta govts have thrown billions of dollars in subsidies at the industry. Notley’s NDP government (2015-19) was no exception.

    The federal and provincial governments exist to funnel public money to private interests, notably the largely foreign-owned oil & gas industry. The giveaway party that never ends.

    One item on a much longer list of NDP subsidies:
    In April 2018, the NDP announced more than $2.3 billion in subsidies to the oil & gas industry to cut methane emissions. Including an industry exemption from carbon levy costs for the following five years.
    Ostensibly, the goal was to protect the industry’s “economic competitiveness” and “ensure actions are kept at the lowest cost to Alberta’s energy sector”. I.e., protect industry profits.

    Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, Minister of Energy “… we are well on our way to an Alberta-made plan that puts the jobs of hard-working Albertans and a strong economy front and centre.”

    Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks and the Minister Responsible for the Climate Change Office: “We know what’s at stake here, including good jobs in the energy sector and the health of the planet we leave behind for our kids.”

    Alberta’s NDP pays lip service to the polluter-pay principle:
    Notley 2023: “We don’t give people bonuses for cleaning up after themselves. It sends the wrong message to companies that have chosen to follow the law and live up to their obligations.”

    1. “Alberta’s draft rules to cut methane emissions not good enough, groups say” (ipolitics, Jun 28, 2018)
      “Under the plan, Alberta would provide subsidies to the oil and gas industry to facilitate the use of clean technology. The province would also provide more than $2.3 billion in financial assistance to help energy companies save money ‘which they can use to focus on methane reductions,’ the release said.
      “As is, Alberta’s proposed methane pollution regulations would result in a ‘big payout to Canada’s largest industrial emitters while failing to shrink methane pollution to the required target,’ a joint statement from the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, and the Pembina Institute read.”

      Alberta Government News Release 2018
      “Protecting Alberta jobs, cutting methane pollution” (Apr 24, 2018)
      “Alberta is protecting jobs and the economic competitiveness of its oil and gas sector as it delivers on its commitment to cut industrial methane pollution 45 per cent by 2025.
      “… The draft directives, released today by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), are designed to ensure actions are kept at the lowest cost to Alberta’s energy sector by securing flexibility for companies to innovate and use technologies best suited to their operations through an outcome-based approach…
      “‘To help industry through this transition, the government is providing more than $2.3 billion in assistance, including exempting them from carbon levy costs for the next five years. This will save companies an estimated $2 billion, which they can use to focus on methane reductions.”
      “Other supports include:
      “● An estimated $200 million to reward early action to reduce methane through emission offsets.
      “● Over $30 million of funding for 12 methane-reduction projects funded by Emissions Reductions Alberta as part of its Methane Challenge in 2017. The projects leverage a total investment of over $88 million…
      “● $38 million over three years available under industrial Energy Efficiency Alberta programs – providing rebates for investments in industrial retrofits, including for methane-reducing equipment.
      “● $5 million in new support for the deployment of technologies to monitor, detect, measure, verify and reduce methane emissions in partnership with the Methane Emissions Leadership Alliance.”

      Isn’t that the point of carbon pricing? To encourage industry to reduce emissions.
      But what else would you expect from a government that demanded new pipelines as the price for a carbon “tax”?

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