What Canada’s environment and climate policies will look like under a Liberal minority government
From eliminating fossil fuel subsidies to support for nature-based climate solutions and protected areas, here...
It didn’t exactly come as a surprise. For months, pollsters have been predicting a sweeping win for Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party (UCP).
Here we are: the election theatrics are over, and Alberta is settling in with a new premier-elect. Now what?
We know where the party stands on pipeline issues, but what else has the UCP promised it will do when it comes to energy and the environment?
Welcome to a new world — a world of “war rooms,” red-tape reductions and some rapid-fire repeals of existing programs and legislation.
Kenney has made it clear that a UCP government will be all about “streamlining” and “efficiencies.”
As part of that plan, the UCP government will ramp up approvals for new energy projects. Kenney described his plan as a “rapid acceleration of approvals.”
At the same time, his “red tape reduction action plan” will “cut red tape by a third.” There will be a new so-called “one-in, one-out” rule that will require that every new regulation created is offset by the elimination of an existing regulation.
He’ll even appoint a “Minister for Red Tape Reduction.”
Red tape, according to the UCP, is a “costly and growing burden” that “kills jobs.”
Given the heated backlash over the province’s Bighorn Country proposal earlier this year, it won’t come as a surprise if the UCP doesn’t pursue the planned parks and recreation areas.
Kenney had previously described the NDP’s Bighorn land-use plans as “an extreme approach to land use which cuts out local residents and legitimate economical and recreational use.”
The UCP has, however, pledged to provide $10 million to support the creation of a new urban provincial park within Edmonton city limits.
It has also pledged that “major environmental protection proposals” will be subject to a review of their economic impacts to ensure they are not harmful to the economy — a “balance,” the party says, to current environmental impact assessments of industrial projects.
The party’s platform outlines an increased emphasis of partnerships with park societies, and suggests the UCP will support increased volunteer activities to maintain parks.
An initial pilot project will determine if nearly all park services could be privatized, by examining “whether park societies could effectively be contracted to assume all park management responsibilities from [Alberta Environment and Parks], with the exception of enforcement.”
But, hey — soon we’ll be able to relax with a glass of wine after a long day of trail maintenance. The UCP has pledged to “relax liquor constraints in a number of provincial parks” as well as loosening liquor laws in municipal parks.
Alberta’s NDP government committed to source 30 per cent of the province’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The UCP government has not made any similar commitments and, in the party’s platform, it’s made clear that subsidies to a fledgling renewable energy industry are not in the cards.
Instead, it says it will “welcome market-driven green power.”
As part of the UCP’s carbon-emissions reduction plan (more on that soon), funds raised will go toward “Alberta-based technologies that reduce carbon emissions.”
But the platform does not list renewable energy as an example of these technologies (Alberta has some decades-long contracts with alternative energy providers and the future of those contracts are unclear). Instead, the UCP focuses on carbon capture and new oilsands extraction technology.
Currently, coal is the biggest source of electricity in the province.
Kenney wants to reduce regulation across the government, but he particularly wants to reduce what he calls red tape at the Alberta Energy Regulator, the industry-funded corporation responsible for enforcing rules surrounding the province’s energy industry.
This is the same regulator that issues 97 per cent of reclamation certificates without sending an inspector out to the oil or gas well in question for a field audit.
A Kenney government is promising to “identify efficiencies” within the regulator within the first 180 days of forming government.
What oilsands emissions cap?
Kenney has promised he will “absolutely” scrap the cap.
The oilsands emissions cap was enacted to limit emissions from the oilsands to 100 megatonnes. The province currently estimates total emissions to be around 70 megatonnes.
Canada’s climate commitments include an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. This means cutting total emissions to 150 megatonnes — across the entire country — in three decades.
Projects that have already received approvals add up to 131 megatonnes, according to the Pembina Institute. But even if emissions from the oilsands were capped at Alberta’s old 100-megatonne cap — they would take up two-thirds of Canada’s total emissions budget by 2050.
In early March — before the election got underway — Kenney made headlines for announcing that Albertans “don’t need bureaucrats changing our shower heads and our light bulbs.”
According to the Edmonton Journal, Kenney also said “programs under the agency would be ‘gone.’ ”
Energy Efficiency Alberta is a public agency mandated to support reductions in energy consumption in homes and businesses across the province, and is supported in part by revenue from the carbon tax.
Alberta was the only jurisdiction in North America to not have any energy efficiency agency prior to the program’s launch in early 2017.
One of the first promises of UCP leader Jason Kenney’s platform was well-known, and oft-repeated: The UCP government will scrap the carbon tax — on day one — boasting that, “at $1.4 billion, this will be the largest tax cut in Alberta’s history.”
Carbon pricing was enacted by Alberta premier Rachel Notley in 2015. The program involves collecting a levy on carbon-producing activities, then reinvesting that money into designated programs, as well as returning a portion of the funds to taxpayers through a means-based rebate program.
When Alberta repeals its own carbon-pricing plan, the federal government’s system will be put into place by default.
The UCP has a plan to target large industrial emitters, defined as “existing facilities with emissions above 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.”
Those large emitters will be required to reduce their emissions intensity, which is not the same as total emissions (intensity refers to a ratio with economic output).
Large emitters will be required to reduce emissions intensity by 10 per cent initially (then increasing by one per cent per year), compared to their own emissions, averaged out between 2016 and 2018.
Large emitters that fail to reduce their emissions by the required benchmark will either pay a per-tonne price (lower than the current price) or buy offsets.
The UCP’s plan — called the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) Fund — has been criticized as being a “symbolic” tax that will not be as effective in incentivizing reductions in carbon emissions as a broad-based carbon-pricing scheme.
Kenney has a plan to fight back against the federal carbon tax that will be imposed on Alberta. He’ll sue.
The UCP will “challenge the constitutionality of the Trudeau carbon tax by filing a judicial reference to the Court of Appeal, while continuing to support similar challenges by the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario.”
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party budgeted $30 million for its lawsuit, and Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick have since joined in on the fight, too.
The Narwhal reported earlier this month that the Alberta Energy Regulator had privately predicted that the number of inactive wells in the province will double in the coming decade unless there’s a significant change in policy.
In a presentation obtained through a freedom of information request, the regulator noted that without the implementation of deadlines on when wells need to be plugged or cleaned up, and without a more robust tool for assessing whether companies can actually afford to clean up after drilling is done, the province has “a problem.”
In 1999, there were 30,000 inactive wells in the province. By 2030, the regulator is predicting there could be 180,000.
The cost of cleaning these wells up has been pegged at $100 billion.
The UCP’s platform includes a few measures to request help from the federal government in incentivizing well clean-up, but few other specifics on how the government will curb the problem, which has been described as “a massive ticking time bomb.”
In the final days of the election campaign, Kenney amped up his anti-B.C. rhetoric, mocking Vancouver’s goal of being zero-emissions by 2040, and taunting the city’s mayor by announcing that a Kenney government would ensure “a carbon-free Vancouver by 2020” . . . by turning off the taps and restricting shipments of Alberta fuel to B.C.
The threat is in the party’s platform, too. The party pledges it will “use the ‘Turn off the Taps’ legislation should provinces, including British Columbia, continue to obstruct the construction of pipelines.”
Gas prices in the Lower Mainland of B.C are already reaching record levels.
We’re going to fight the carbon tax.
We’re going to fight Trudeau.
We’re going to fight Horgan.
We’re going to fight the Canadian confederation.
We’re going to fight environmental charities.
We’re going to fight foreign “special interests.”
We’re going to fight HSBC.
The UCP platforms declares that the Alberta government will boycott companies, such as HSBC, that boycott Alberta products.
It also states the party will “ask the energy industry to significantly increase its advocacy efforts” and will “support” companies willing to do so.
A UCP government will also “challenge the charitable status of groups that are funneling foreign money into anti-Alberta campaigns.”
(But wait, in the era of global markets and multinational corporations, what is all this foreign-funding talk even referring to?)
It all adds up to a lot of fighting.
He’s planning to launch what he calls an “energy war room,” which will, in the words of the UCP’s platform, “fight fake news and share the truth about Alberta’s resource sector and energy issues.”
The war room will have a $30 million annual budget.
Its goal? To “stand up to well-funded foreign special interests who have been waging a decade-long campaign to landlock Alberta’s oil and gas with their campaign of defamation.”
If you’re scratching your head, read this. And then maybe go have a glass of wine in a park.
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