A Man of Half-Measures

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”—Winston Churchill.     

Lives and…

When he’s not on the front line fighting covid, Dr Joe Vipond is busy analyzing the data and providing information to help Albertans understand what’s happening to them and their province.  

Dr Vipond’s most recent analysis (posted on Twitter on Saturday Apr 17) states that Kenny’s restrictions are slightly bending the curve, but we are still experiencing exponential growth. Our positivity rate is much too high, we’re missing many community cases, and variants now make up 64.2% of the cases.

Dr Vipond concludes Alberta is heading towards an Ontario-style health care disaster—Premier Ford is so concerned Ontario’s healthcare system will be overwhelmed that he’s asked Alberta and other provinces to send healthcare professionals to help.

Leaving aside the question of whether the government has the power to ship healthcare workers to another province, let alone whether they would be willing to go, Kenney responded that Alberta’s healthcare workers were not going anywhere, they were needed here.

Mr Ford and Mr Kenney

No kidding.

We are staring into the abyss and Ontario is staring back at us.

…Livelihoods

Kenney refuses to implement tougher restrictions. He believes half-measures will protect lives.

At first Ms Soapbox thought this was because Kenney’s real priority is protecting livelihoods. It turns out that’s not entirely the case.  

On Apr 6 when Kenney announced the province was returning to Step 1 restrictions (no indoor dining, restrictions on indoor gyms and retail outlets), he promised additional help for small and medium business owners. These businesses make up more than 99% of all businesses in the province and account for nearly 55% of all employment.  

All in all, the government will provide $751 million in aid.  

This sounds like a lot of money but it pales in comparison to the almost $2 billion Kenney gave to just two companies—$1.5 billion to TC Energy for a pipeline that will never be built and $408 million to Inter Pipeline Ltd for…well, who knows.   

TC Energy

As we all know, when President Biden revoked TC Energy’s permit for KXL, the pipeline went belly up.

In its Annual Report TC Energy says it was “disappointed” the permit had been revoked but its growth platform “remains very strong” and its core businesses and prospects have never been stronger. TC Energy outperformed in 2020 with record earnings and bumped its quarterly dividend up by 7.4%. Its CEO, Russ Girling, received more than $13 million for a job well done.

Alberta’s $1.5 billion is gone…and TC Energy has moved on.

Inter Pipeline Ltd

The Inter Pipeline story is even more unsettling.  

The day before Kenney promised additional financial aid to small and medium businesses, he announced a $408 million grant to Inter Pipeline to support the Heartland Petrochemical Project under a government program designed to attract investment in petrochemical projects. The grant is twice as big as the one the NDP were prepared to provide.   

What’s odd about the $408 million grant is Inter Pipeline’s project is very attractive to investors and is not in financial distress. The company’s CEO describes business as “fantastic” and “extremely profitable.”

Inter Pipeline is, however, fighting off a hostile takeover bid from Brookfield Infrastructure. The only issue Inter Pipeline has with Brookfield’s bid is it’s not high enough. Brookfield says it would consider raising its bid, meanwhile Inter Pipeline expects better bids to come along.

Unlike many of Alberta’s small and medium businesses, neither TC Energy nor Inter Pipeline are suffering as a result of covid or the economic downturn and neither is on the verge of collapse.  

A time for consequences

The question Albertans should be asking themselves is this: why is Kenney throwing billions of dollars at two multi-billion dollar companies when that money would be better spent creating a safety net for small and medium businesses or better yet, protecting the health of Albertans struggling to stay alive in the covid crisis.  

The era of half-measures and baffling expedients is over. The era of consequences has arrived.   

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 77 Comments

Does Mr Kenney Lie Awake at Night?

“With respect to MLAs who have stated their position, in this province we believe in freedom of speech. We believe in democracy.” – Jason Kenney after 16 UCP MLAs challenged his public health measures.  

Does Premier Kenney lie awake at night wondering how he got here?

He should, because “here” is a pretty awful place.

The poll

When it comes to how well Kenney is managing the pandemic a recent Angus Reid survey found 45% of Albertans think his public health rules have gone too far; 42% think they don’t go far enough and 75% think he’s doing a bad job.  

And if that’s not enough, 25% of his caucus publicly disagree with his approach and are telling their constituents they will continue to “fight” his public health restrictions.  

We all knew Kenney was a divisive politician. The big question is: how did he manage to polarize Alberta to this extreme over a matter of science, not ideology.

Mr Kenney Makes a Point

Balance

Kenney says the decision to impose public health restrictions is “based on science, data, and expert advice from the chief medical officer.”*

That’s not entirely correct.

Kenney’s so-called evidence-based decision making is warped by his oft-stated desire to find “balance.”  He’s only prepared to impose public health restrictions that reach the right level of balance between lives and livelihoods.

Think about that for a moment.

How many lives must be lost or impaired before the government takes actions that impact livelihoods? Two? Two hundred? Two thousand? 42% of Albertans think too many lives have been lost or impaired already. And Covid-19 and the variants are not done with us yet.    

Now flip that “balance” around. How much damage to livelihoods is acceptable before the government gives businesses the greenlight to reopen? 45% of Albertans think Kenney has already passed the point of no return.  

Basing a public health policy on the belief that lives and livelihoods can be traded off one against the other is immoral. It’s also politically stupid.   

Throughout the course of the pandemic Kenney told Albertans his government’s public health restrictions infringed their Charter rights and freedoms. He neglected to mention that Section 1 of the Charter gives his government the power to curtail such rights and freedoms under certain circumstances. If a global pandemic ravaging the population isn’t one such a circumstance, I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless many Albertans use Kenney’s words to justify their refusal to follow the rules.

So it’s not surprising that 16 UCP MLAs signed an open letter to Albertans saying they were defending the livelihoods and freedoms of their constituents by asking their “Government colleagues” to reject the Apr 6 restrictions.

Democracy in action?

Kenney, the man who was quick to denounce a Bigfoot cartoon, refuses to publicly reprimand the errant MLAs. He says their comments are nothing more than “democratic debate on a matter of public policy.”

Ummm, no.

The errant MLAs were actively undermining public health orders passed by their own government pursuant to the Public Health Act to protect the lives and health of Albertans in a global pandemic.  

This is like the government issuing an evacuation order to get out of the path of a forest fire and a bunch of MLAs fighting for their constituents’ right to stay at home and fry.

Violating the Public Health Act is serious business; just ask Paster Coates of Grace Life Church who has been charged under the Act and will go to trial in May.   

When Kenney downplays the seriousness of the MLAs’ comments, he emboldens Albertans to defy public health restrictions, which supercharges the spread of virus and increases the strain on our overtaxed healthcare system.  

Politics

But the upshot of the MLAs’ open letter debacle is this: what Kenney said in the Legislature is not what he said in private.

Behind closed doors he did not laud the MLAs for exercising their right to free speech and fighting for the livelihoods and freedoms of their constituents. Instead, he told them that if they lacked confidence in the government, he’d call a snap election.

This was a bluff but it likely caught them by surprise.

Now that they’ve had time to think about it, they probably realize their open letter wasn’t a vote of nonconfidence in the government that would trigger an election but a vote of nonconfidence in the UCP leader which, in normal times, would cause the leader to resign and be replaced by someone else.

Kenney expects things to get back to normal by the summer. That will give the errant MLAs (who have no future whatsoever in Kenney’s UCP) and their constituents plenty of time to work on replacing him or defecting to an incarnation of the Wildrose.

Which brings us back to where we started.

Does Premier Kenney lie awake at night wondering how he got here?

He should because he won’t be here for long.

*All quotes from Hansard, Apr 8, 2021, starting at p 4386

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 67 Comments

Easter in Alberta

Whether you observe Easter, Passover, or the rising of the first full moon after the spring equinox, this is the time of year when we emerge from the gloom of winter with renewed hope for the spring.

Sadly, some of us are crawling out of a pit that is darker and bleaker than in past years as Covid-19 ravages our families and our community. This ordeal has been exacerbated by the Kenney government’s mismanagement of the pandemic on all fronts.

Add to that the onslaught of cruel and misguided UCP government policies including:*

  • curtailing the right to peaceful protest
  • attacking workers’ rights
  • a boondoggle corporate tax cut that failed to create jobs
  • a billion-dollar gamble on Trump and KXL that blew up in our faces
  • a joke of the war room (was Bigfoot only two weeks ago?)
  • the undemocratic not-public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy activities
  • launching and losing a challenge to the federal carbon levy at the highest court in the land
  • surreptitiously green-lighting coal mining in the Eastern Slopes, then pretending to put it on hold when they got caught
  • selling, then not selling, provincial parks
  • sticking the public with additional fees and costs on everything from car insurance to electricity bills
  • downloading costs on municipalities and refusing to live up to funding commitments for capital projects while at the same time undermining municipalities’ ability to provide services by forcing them to give tax breaks to the energy sector    
  • slashing funding for public services including healthcare, K-12 and post-secondary education
  • trying to make an example of the doctors in the recent AMA contract negotiations by unilaterally ripping up their contract and taking away their right to binding arbitration causing additional stress in the middle of the pandemic  
  • signaling to nurses and teachers they’re next on the chopping block
  • pushing a curriculum revamp that is described by educators as “deeply Eurocentric, colonial, religious, ideological, capitalist, American, and ‘othering’” (and yet it’s endorsed by Jordan Peterson, fancy that), and    
  • framing policies as us-versus-them to pit Albertans against each other and against the rest of Canada.  

Some Albertans see nothing but dark gloomy days ahead. There is no light, there is no joy.

Here’s what I see.

Resistance  

I live in a relatively conservative neighbourhood represented by Doug Schweitzer. Our man is a cabinet minister who has held two formidable cabinet posts, first as justice minister and solicitor general, now as the minister of jobs, economy, and innovation. He’s responsible for implementing Alberta’s economic recovery plan.

You’d think we’d be happy, right?

And yet when I walk the dog past these lovely houses I see lawn signs, lots and lots of lawn signs—Defend Alberta Parks, Protect Our Eastern Slopes, Protect Public Health Care. Stop Post Secondary Cuts, etc.   

These are literally signs of resistance.

Mr Kenney’s destructive ideologically driven agenda has achieved something no premier has accomplished. He is uniting Albertans across party lines to throw him and his party out of office.

Hope

Albertans will continue to resist. We will stay on top of issues—the more Kenney throws at us, the greater the resistance becomes (this curriculum review just might be the last straw).

We will write letters to the government and our MLAs and even the odious Postmedia press. We will rally and protest (safely) in support of doctors and nurses and teachers and workers. We will join groups to amplify our voices.

And we will support Rachel Notley and the NDP who are the only credible alternative to Kenney and the UCP.

We take hope from polls that show the NDP’s support is at 39.1% while the UCP’s support is at 29.8% and falling.       

As a friend of mine said this Easter weekend: together we will make a difference.

Happy Easter!

*This is by no means a complete list    

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, Economy, Education, Employment, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 64 Comments

Mr Kenney Responds to the Supreme Court of Canada

“Parliament acted within its jurisdiction.” – Supreme Court of Canada Reference re Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

On Mar 25 Premier Kenney issued a statement followed by a press conference to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) ruling that the federal carbon tax is constitutional.

My first thought was: Did he run his comments by the lawyers?  

Apparently so, they briefed him on the decision that very morning.

My second thought was: Yikes!

Recap

Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan vehemently opposed the Fed’s carbon tax and asked the SCC whether it was constitutional.

The SCC replied: Yes, the Feds have the jurisdiction to enact the carbon tax as a matter of “national concern” under the peace, order and good government (POGG) clause of s 91 of the Constitution.

Mr Kenney reacted the way he always does when things don’t go his way. He spouted righteous indignation sprinkled with misinformation and innuendo.  

Mr Kenney

Did the Supreme Court run amok?  

Kenney said the SCC had “discovered a new federal power that erodes provincial jurisdiction and undermines our constitutional system”. He hoped this unprecedented intervention into provincial jurisdiction by the SCC is “a one-time only carbon pricing exception to the constitutional order.”  

New federal power? Exception to the constitutional order? Wow, them’s fighting words, let’s grab Alberta and hightail it outta here.  

No wait, we don’t have to do that.

What the SCC actually said was the Feds have the jurisdiction to enact this law “as a matter of national concern” under the POGG clause (see above) and that “national concern is a well-established but rarely applied doctrine of Canadian constitutional law” and its application is “strictly limited.”

So no, the SCC didn’t invent something on a whim. It did not rewrite the rules of the Constitution. The national concern doctrine has been around since 1867. The fact it’s rarely used doesn’t mean it’s new.     

Next?  

So what’s Kenney going to do?

Is he going to create a made-in-Alberta carbon tax after spending years telling Albertans the carbon tax kills jobs and punishes people for filling up their gas tanks and heating their homes?

Who knows. All Kenney would say is he’d consult with Albertans and the allied provinces Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick who fought valiantly by Alberta’s side to rid Confederation of this the latest example of federal tyranny (sorry, that was over the top, all this talk of allies puts Ms Soapbox on war footing).

But seriously, it’s not as if we didn’t see this coming. Did no one in the Kenney brain trust put their minds to what they were going to do if the SCC ruled against them?

(Maybe he couldn’t bear the thought that Rachel Notley was right).

 “Ottawa elites”

Kenney stumbled further down the east vs west rabbit hole when he insinuated the SCC would never treat Alberta as generously as it had Quebec because, based on his experience in Ottawa, it was clear to him the “Ottawa elites” were much more sensitive to provincial jurisdictional issues emerging from Quebec than those coming from the West.

Who are these shadowy “Ottawa elites”? Is he referring to the nine judges presiding over the highest court of the land? If so, does it matter that some lived in the west before they moved to Ottawa to take up their positions as SCC judges?

Perhaps he’s referring to “elites” in the Harper sense of the word. In that case would someone remind Kenney that of the nine SCC judges, 3 of the 6 who upheld the Fed’s carbon tax were Harper appointees and 2 of the 3 who dissented were Trudeau appointees.

Tilting at windmills

Kenney took a moment to put the “clever commentators” in their place. Oh sure they said he was tilting at windmills and this lawsuit was just a political ploy, but let’s not forget he won a “decisive” 4 to 1 victory at the Alberta Court of Appeal and a third of the SCC validated his position, and six provinces representing 80% of Canada’s population thought this was a good idea.

So what.

Winning at the Court of Appeal but losing at the SCC is like winning in the semi-finals and losing in the finals—you still lost the championship.

Ditto for picking up 3 out of 9 SCC judges, a minority does not a majority make.

Lastly, the fact that the six “allied” provinces represent 80% of the population is irrelevant.

What matters is how they vote. In 2019 63% of Canadians voted for parties that supported a carbon tax.   

Onward!!  

Predictably Kenney’s press release/conference bristled with “fight” and “defend” language.

He said he’s very concerned that the SCC opened the door to “the potentially unlimited exercise of federal reserve powers over areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction” and he’s not going to back down. He’ll continue to defend our jobs, our economy and our powers under the federation.

I guess that’s Kenney 2023 election slogan—jobs, economy, constitutional authority!

It will keep the lawyers employed if nothing else.

Posted in Climate Change, Crime and Justice, Energy & Natural Resources, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 69 Comments

The Bigfoot Blog

“Here’s a Hollywood production that depicts an oil company … as wanting to murder children to oppose environmental progress…The NDP, that’s who they’re defending…They’ve always been against our largest industry.” – Jason Kenney doubling down on the War Room’s anti-Bigfoot campaign

Sigh.

Here we are, bracing for the third wave of a global pandemic, slogging through an economic slowdown and facing massive job losses…and Jason Kenney is railing on about a kids’ cartoon.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the poor man hasn’t completely lost his mind; let’s put his outburst in the context of a politician who is willing to risk ridicule to defend the War Room for trying to defend the oil and gas sector.

Mr Kenney and the Bigfoot Family

This might have been okay if the War Room delivered results, but it doesn’t.

Kenney created the Canadian Energy Centre, aka the War Room, as part of his promise to deliver “jobs, economy, pipelines” and usher in a new age of prosperity for Albertans.

The War Room’s job is to defend Alberta’s natural resources by promoting energy literacy, research, and rapid response. The anti-Bigfoot campaign is part of its rapid response activities.

War Room CEO Tom Olsen objected to the cartoon’s message saying it is one-sided and polarizing because it “creates no room for conversation.” Remember that statement, we’ll come back to it later.  

Assuming Olsen’s characterization is correction, how effective is calling out a kid’s cartoon at supporting Kenney’s campaign promise to deliver jobs, economy, pipelines.

Short answer: It’s not. Because the loss of jobs and the negative impact on Alberta’s economy are the result of consolidation in the industry in response to changes in the global market, not the negative impact (assuming there is one) of a child’s cartoon in which an oil executive is plotting to blow up an oil field and kill the Bigfoot family and their cute little pets.  

Consolidation and job loss

The energy sector has been in consolidation/restructuring mode for years.

Last year Cenovus announced its takeover of Husky would result in a cut of up to 25% of its workforce (2,150 jobs) and Suncor announced plans to eliminate up to 15% of its workforce (2000 jobs).

This is part of a global pattern. Royal Dutch Shell is cutting up to 9,000 jobs worldwide, BP is cutting up to 10,000.

Consolidation and restructuring results in fewer jobs, but make the companies more profitable, so this trend will continue.   

Kenney’s response to these announcements is we should not be surprised, the oil companies have already “compressed costs.” He implored the companies to do everything they could “to keep the workforce intact” and reminded them that these hardworking employees helped deliver record profits in the good times which, he assured the companies, would return. Then he hammered the Federal government for not doing more to keep the energy companies happy.

It’s unfortunate Kenney didn’t listen when Suncor explained exactly why these cuts were necessary.

Suncor said the unprecedented drop in oil prices, the global pandemic and economic slowdown, and market volatility accelerated its plans to make “permanent structural workforce reductions.”

These permanent structural workforce reductions are possible because the companies are relying more heavily on data and technology than they have in the past. And guess what, they’re not going to return to a less efficient way of working if or when the price of oil goes up.     

A meaningful conversation        

Tom Olsen, the War Room’s CEO, was right about one thing, we need to talk, not about stupid things like Jane Fonda wearing a nylon jacket when she complained about the oilsands or whether North Face was wrong not to sell jackets to an oil company.

Instead, the premier should be talking about how to diversify Alberta’s economy, strengthen its educational institutions, and use its existing infrastructure and workforce to move Alberta’s economy into the 21st century.      

He should not be squawking about a kid’s cartoon or before you know it we’ll be putting taxpayer dollars into campaigns attacking Disney for wicked stepmother movies (in Cinderella her evil stepmother turns her into a scullery maid) and evil hunter movies (in Bambi a hunter called “Man” kills Bambi’s mother and sets the forest on fire).

Really, premier, it’s time to grow up.

Posted in Climate Change, Culture, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 75 Comments

Hey Doc, Ya Wanna Work in Alberta?

“Nice business you got here, be a shame if something happened to it.” – Gangster in a B-grade movie   

Alberta’s doctors are tired. They’ve been fighting covid for over a year while at the same time fighting with the Health Minister, Mr Shandro, who has filled their lives with misery.        

In Feb 2020 Shandro ripped up the original AMA agreement (the AMA launched a lawsuit to protect their charter rights). He created chaos by cancelling programs, screwing up billings codes, bringing in Telus/Babylon to provide virtual doctoring, and shifting administrative responsibilities from the AMA to Alberta Health.

Then he reversed some of these decisions, but still rammed through changes to physician compensation (including reducing Business Cost Program payments, changing Z-codes and eliminating stipends) that caused nothing but heartache.  

Mr Shandro

Now when the doctors are physically and mentally exhausted from battling the worst public health crisis ever, he’s pushing them to ratify a new AMA agreement by the end of the month.  

This is like the gangster who trashes your store and says he’ll keep trashing it until you give him what he wants.   

Sign here…

Many doctors think the new Agreement is a bad deal. They’re understandably fearful, wary, and concerned it will negatively impact them and their patients.

They are not alone.

Albertans are also concerned and suspicious. We’ve seen how Shandro treated our doctors in the past and have no confidence he’ll treat them any better in the future.

So why would any doctors want to ratify this agreement?

Perhaps they take comfort in the language that says Shandro will “consult” and “discuss” matters with the AMA, but the right to consultation and discussion is meaningless given the Health Minister retains the sole discretion to do whatever he likes, including withholding physician payments if expenditures exceed the physician budget.

Would the Health Minister abuse his discretion?

Gosh I don’t know: the Health Minister has a statutory obligation to engage with the AMA in “good faith” and yet Shandro ripped up the original AMA agreement last February when negotiations weren’t going his way.

The AMA took Shandro to court to enforce its right to binding arbitration. The government says it will table legislation by December 31 that will prevent the Health Minister from ripping up this Agreement like the last one, but that doesn’t stop Shandro from ripping up any other agreements he may sign or even this Agreement in the nine months between now and December 31. Meanwhile he insists the AMA drop its lawsuit.

I don’t know about you, but I see this as a Checkpoint Charlie situation. I wouldn’t drop my lawsuit until the government passed (not just tabled) legislation protecting the AMA Agreement and any other agreements Shandro signed with the AMA. The fact Alberta doctors need legislation to enforce the sanctity of their contracts with the UCP government is mind boggling.        

Good faith and trust

Some doctors argue the new Agreement has some good points.

For example, it says the $200 million in covid-related underspending in last year’s budget will be redirected to physician programs and overruns in this year’s budget. It brings a level of certainty to the budget question, it returns the programs that were shunted off to Alberta Health back to the AMA, and it buys time for further negotiation on Z-codes and clinical stipends.   

They also worry that failure to sign the new Agreement will encourage the government to continue its aggressive agenda, keep cutting, shift the $200 million in covid-related spending elsewhere, and take away what little the AMA has gained.  

Yes, this is a risk, but at the end of the day this Agreement is about trust, it is not about making the best of an abusive relationship.  

The real question is this: Do Alberta’s doctors ratify the Agreement and trust Mr Shandro to exercise his discretion compassionately, or do they refuse to ratify the Agreement and trust Albertans to have their backs if and when Mr Shandro decides to escalate his fight with Alberta’s doctors.

Obviously I’m not a doctor, so if I’m missing something important here please let me know and I’ll post your comment below.    

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 81 Comments

Mr Toews Advises the Feds on Economic Recovery

The UCP government is nothing if not brazen.

Having failed to explain how the UCP government was going to set Alberta on the path to economic recovery Mr Toews, Alberta’s finance minister and treasury board president, decided to lecture the federal government what it must do to get the country back on track.  

Yes, the UCP is now preaching to all Canadians, not just the poor souls stuck here in Alberta.   

This is Toews’ four point plan.  

Competitiveness & productivity

Toews said Canada’s economic recovery is entirely dependent on its ability to attract private-sector investment. Entirely!

He failed to explain how Canada can attract such investment but it’s safe to assume his advice to the feds would mirror his advice to Jason Kenney—slash corporate taxes.

Finance Minister Toews

We all know how well that turned out.

Alberta’s corporate tax rate dropped from 12% to 8%, billions of dollars disappeared from the government’s coffers, the deficit got worse…and corporations used the tax break to pay down debt, buy back shares and pay dividends to their shareholders.

The one thing they did not do was invest in the economy.

Get out of the way

Toews said the feds must get out of the way of economic growth (ie deregulate) and points an accusatory finger at Bill C-69 (“no more pipelines”) and Bill C-48 (“west coast tanker ban”) to support his argument.

Bearing in mind that Toews is advising Canada on how to reignite its economy and energy contributes only 10.2% to Canada’s GDP, a less Alberta-centric example would have been appropriate.

Nevertheless, let’s consider how well Toews’ “get out of the way” strategy (also known as cutting red tape) is working in Alberta.

So far it has not delivered the promised economic growth; it has however exposed the province to increased environmental degradation. The most recent example is the government’s spectacularly stupid decision to resurrect the coal industry by revoking (and temporarily reinstating) the Coal Policy thereby allowing Australian coal companies to turn mountains into open-pit mines.

Cut support for unemployed Canadians

Toews admits temporary income support to Canadians during the pandemic was important but says “to move the economy forward, Canadians must have every incentive to return to work.”

Apparently 27% of small firms say some of their laid-off staff have refused to return to work. Instead of quantifying how many employees he’s talking about or why they refuse to return to work, Toews concludes Canada’s employment insurance plan is too generous and needs an overhaul.

Don’t pick winners and losers

Toews said the government must avoid “interventionist programs” and “market-distorting initiatives”—all political-speak for showering tax dollars on one industry participant but not another. He went even further stressing that governments “must use taxpayer dollars as if they are our own—with the greatest care and responsibility.”

Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!  

Give me a moment to catch my breath!

Toews and his boss embarked on a multibillion dollar “interventionist program” when they gave TC Energy $1.5 billion in equity and $6 billion in loan guarantees to support KXL, only to have President Biden cancel its permit.

Toews has absolutely no credibility on this point. None.

A broader perspective

Toews concludes that this is a pivotal time in our history. In that he’s correct, but he’s misguided if he thinks the government’s response should be a single-minded focus on creating “an environment that positions the private sector for growth.”

The pandemic has had a profound social and cultural effect in addition to an economic impact on our society. We’ve learned a lot about our dependence on others and the value of community.

It’s time to acknowledge the importance of robust public services—solid K-12 public school funding, sufficient post-secondary funding to ensure students are prepared for the future and not buried in debt, public healthcare, and government support for seniors and other vulnerable citizens.

If we’re going to come out of this stronger and more resilient we need to learn from past governments that took bold action to recover from major crises like the great depression and WWII.

Why? Because authors like Robert Kuttner have shown that after the great depression and WWII governments that regulated the financial and business sectors, strengthened unions and supplemented good labour income with robust public services were rewarded by economic growth and full employment.*

And political scientists like Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garret have shown economic growth results from a reduction of income inequity.**

This is the time for visionary leadership, not a trite rehash of failed conservative policies.  

*Robert Kuttner, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?  

**Robert Putnam & Shaylyn Romney Garret, The Upswing

Posted in Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 43 Comments

Budget 2021

“…if you don’t mind my sayin’ I can see you’re out of aces. For a taste of your whiskey, I’ll give you some advice”—Kenney Rogers, The Gambler

If there is one thing we should take away from Finance Minister Toews’ budget presentation last Thursday it’s this: the Kenney government has run out of aces and they refuse to let anyone give them any advice because they’re afraid they’ll lose the next election.  

How’s it going so far?

We are halfway through Premier Kenney’s term and despite everything he’s done to create “jobs, economy, pipelines” nothing has worked.  

He slashed corporate taxes, relaxed regulations, flung the doors open to coal companies, cut public services (causing tremendous damage to education and healthcare), reduced support for municipalities, and foisted more costs on to Albertans…and for what? At the end of Kenney’s term Alberta will be stuck with an $8 Billion deficit and a $133 Billion debt.

Minister Toews

Despite the pain, there’s been no gain.

Naturally Albertans want to know what Kenney intends to do about it.

The go-forward plan

The answer is: not much.

The government will spend $3.1 billion next year on various sectors including energy, tech, tourism, pharma and life sciences but details are sketchy and a significant chunk of the money is slated for ongoing projects, not new initiatives. Even the Jobs Now program that Kenny announced with great fanfare is a federal-provincial grant program that’s been around for years.

So what’s new?  

The only part of the Budget document that offers specificity is the bit that gripes about the Feds not doing enough for Alberta and the 5 page discussion of the government’s policy to support ESG.

You remember ESG (environmental, social and governance considerations), the thing Kenney once referred to as the “flavour of the month.”

Well now the Kenny government is going to support the energy sector’s ESG efforts by piggy-backing on to the Feds’ climate change mitigation efforts (assuming Kenney isn’t fighting them in court) and allocating $1 Million to an ESG initiative that will hold entities who view Alberta’s ESG story “unfairly” to account.

Yes, that’s the War Room and the Anti-Alberta Public Inquiry’s job, but hey, what’s another million among friends.

The ESG initiative will be run by the Kenney executive council (ie Cabinet). These folks are responsible for the botched War Room, scrapping the 1976 Coal Policy (and bringing it back temporarily), suspending environmental monitoring during covid, selling off, then not selling off Alberta’s parks, cutting staff and “red tape” in the department of Energy and the Alberta Energy Regulator, etc.

 In other words, the go-forward plan is a zombie version of the existing plan, which Mr Toews readily admits isn’t good enough.   

Oh wait…

Could it be that Alberta can’t balance its budget because its fiscal structure is flawed?

For decades Alberta has relied on oil and gas royalty revenues to balance the budget. Royalty revenues are ridiculously unstable, yo-yoing up and down and wreaking havoc on Alberta’s budgets.

Economists and the Business Council of Alberta say a more stable, reliable revenue source is necessary (sales tax? did someone say sales tax?)

Mr Toews says oh no, not now. The government must wait two to three years when it will have “more economic clarity” at which time it might, maybe, set up a “revenue panel” to review the “efficiency and appropriateness” of Alberta’s revenue structure.  

(Mr Toews graciously avoids saying Mr Kenney could have done this in 2019 when he asked the MacKinnon panel to review Alberta’s fiscal structure but restricted the review to the expenditure side only).

So, let’s talk about Mr Toews’ concern about the lack of “economic clarity.”

Have you read the 2021 Budget document?  It’s chock full of statistics, forecasts, and energy and economic assumptions; assumptions the Kenney government says are prudent and solid enough to support the conclusion that there will be an $8B deficit at the end of Kenney’s first term.

The issue isn’t a lack of clarity but a lack of political will to set up a revenue panel because this would signal to Albertans that that the UCP government’s economic strategy failed and it’s time to consider a sales tax.

Besides there’s always the (tiny) chance Alberta will be blessed with another oil boom which would allow the Kenney government to slip off the hook it created for itself when it wiped out billions in corporate tax revenues, billions in carbon tax revenues, and propped up KXL by gambling Trump would win the US presidential election.

And yes, covid has kicked the stuffing out of Alberta’s economy just as it’s ravaged the economies of the other provinces and territories across Canada, but no, those jurisdictions are not making things worse for themselves by clinging to what the Business Council calls an “outmoded mythology” ie. Alberta hasn’t had a sales tax for 60 years and god damn it it’s not going to have one now.  

The Kenney government is going to play out its hand. Albertans will have a chance in the next election to tell the Kenney government it’s time to fold ‘em and walk away.

Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 65 Comments

It’s been one of those weeks

This has been one of those weeks, full of highs and lows, birthdays (yay) and covid tests (boo). The Soapbox family came through it all just fine, but as a result of the ‘distractions’ there is no blog this week.

Have a safe week everyone and we’ll talk again next Sunday.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Minister Savage on Coal Policy

What did we learn from Energy minister Savage’s press conference announcing the so-called reversal of the government’s unbelievably bone-headed decision to cancel the 1976 Coal Policy?  

Well, Ms Savage has some good speech writers. The “thank you for your passion” and “we made a mistake” bits were nice touches, but her speech did little to dig the government out of the hole it dug for itself.

Old policy?     

When the government cancelled the Coal Policy it imposed a 120-day moratorium on accepting new lease applications for Category 2,3, and 4 lands to give itself time to process pending lease applications. In early 2020 there were 506 leases awaiting approval.*     

Ms Savage made a big deal about issuing a directive to the Regulator not to process any new applications, what she didn’t tell us was how many applications had been processed between the end of the moratorium and Feb 8 when she reinstated the Coal Policy.

Energy Minister Ms Savage

Bottom line: With the exception of the cancellation of 11 leases which account for on 0.2% of Category 2 lands, there has been no roll back as a result of the government reinstating the Coal Policy, furthermore exploration activity for 6 projects in Category 2 lands will continue.   

Mountain top removal

Ms Savage announced there will be no mountain top removal in Alberta.

The operative word here is “will”.

Ms Savage is talking about the future mining activity, not ongoing mining activity. Furthermore, the directive she suggests supports the blanket prohibition on mountain top removal only applies to Category 2 lands, so is mountain top removal for projects like the Grassy Mountain Project on Category 4 lands still okay?

Context

Ms Savage gave us “context” to explain how her government screwed up so badly.

She said the Coal Policy was “outdated” and “obsolete.” It didn’t address climate change. It was cancelled for administrative reasons so the Dept of Energy could issue coal leases the way it issues oil and gas leases. And the government failed to anticipate the “unintended effect of removing the coal categories.”

Whoa. She just went from the Coal Policy was outdated to the government didn’t understand the effect of removing the coal categories.  

First, the policy could have been updated by adding language to address climate change.  

Second, the removal of the land categories wasn’t an administrative change. Coal companies identified coal lease applications in Category 2 as a substantive regulatory risk. They welcomed the government’s decision to make this risk go away.  

Third, the rationale that coal should be managed the same as oil and natural gas is hardly reassuring given the government’s lackadaisical oversight of the oil and gas sector including its decision to cut staff at the Alberta Energy Regulator, suspend reporting requirements due to covid, and its failure to require companies to set aside sufficient funds to reclaim orphan and abandoned wells.  

Bottom line: the context of the decision to cancel the Coal Policy is the government thought they could get away with it by slipping it in over the May long weekend during covid.    

Importance of coal mining

Ms Savage said coal mining has been an important part of Alberta for decades, the world is looking for steel making coal and Alberta businesses can meet the increasing demand for steel and provide good paying jobs.

Some specifics would be helpful here.

The total number of Albertans employed in the energy sector in 2019 was 138,372. At its peak, the coal sector employed a total of 2,985. Today it employs 1,542. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the coal industry’s place in the energy sector hierarchy.

Who are the “Alberta businesses” that would meet the rising demand for steel by producing more coal? Teck, Canada’s leading metallurgical coal producer (headquartered in BC by the way, not Alberta) abandoned its Mackenzie Redcap project in 2019. Who’s left? Australian companies like Atrum and Hong Kong penny stock companies like CST Group?

The only “Alberta businesses” that will “benefit” from digging up Alberta’s coal will be sole purpose subsidiaries formed by foreign companies to shield them from liability when coal mining becomes unprofitable and the cost of reclamation is too high.

As far as meeting the increasing demand for metallurgical coal, Canada accounts for 1% of the world’s coal reserves and 1% of the world’s coal production. 35% of this 1% is produced in Alberta. You do the math, the world will not stop spinning if Alberta does not allow foreign companies to dig coal out of the Eastern Slopes.

Bottom line: expanding the coal industry by allowing more coal mining will not significantly improve Alberta’s economy, but it will make foreign companies and their shareholders richer.

Consultation

Ms Savage said the government wants to hear from Albertans “as we move forward with a modern coal policy”. 

Based on what she said in her press conference at a minimum Albertans should expect to provide input on a proposed policy that:

  • Beefs up the land category restrictions with additional “strength and vigor”
  • Eliminates the exceptions that allowed 4 current projects on Category 2 lands to be approved under the 1976 coal policy
  • Includes climate change mitigation measures
  • Effectively incorporates environmental and other regulations to protect our mountains, headwaters, foothills, parks and recreation areas (which means these regulations will have to be strengthened as well)
  • remedies Alberta’s lack of recourse when a company becomes insolvent and defaults on its reclamation obligations (perhaps a bond similar to the $6 billion loan guarantee Mr Kenney gave to KXL would be in order).  

Or we could simplify the consultation by asking a threshold question: Should Alberta expand coal development or wind it down?  

Over to you Ms Savage.

*For an excellent overview of the Coal Policy and related issues see Nigel Bankes https://ablawg.ca/2021/02/09/what-are-the-implications-of-reinstating-the-1976-coal-development-policy/

Posted in Climate Change, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , | 25 Comments