Marie Henein’s Take on Kellie Leitch

Last Friday Ms Soapbox attended the 2017 Milvain Lecture at the U of C Law School.

It was given by Marie Henein who recently made headlines by successfully defending CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault charges.

While Ms Soapbox and Ms Henein do not see eye to eye on the Ghomeshi case, they do share the belief that Canadians must push back against populist politicians who want to undermine our democratic institutions.

The politics of fear are alive and well

Ms Henein, like many Canadians, is concerned that election of Donald Trump has implications for those of us who live north of the 49th parallel.

Ms Henein warns that we should not slip into complacency.


Ms Henein

Sure, Canada has enacted good laws like the ones protecting same-sex marriage, a woman’s right to choose, and the right to assisted dying, but the battle is far from over.

We must not forget that less than a year ago Stephen Harper was pushing laws like the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the Truth in Sentencing Act.   Did I miss the memo?  Were we 100% tolerant of barbaric cultural practices and supportive of lies in sentencing before that?

Such laws create fear among the majority and marginalize religious and ethnic minorities.  They sacrifice the democratic principle that extends the same rights to everyone in favour of partisan politics.

We thought we were done with all that when Mr Harper’s Conservatives were defeated.  We were wrong.  Mr Harper simply passed the torch to Kellie Leitch.

The Anti-Canadian Values test

Kellie Leitch is the front runner in the federal Conservative leadership race.

A key plank in her platform is the proposal that visitors and immigrants should be screened for anti-Canadian values.  Ms Leitch says this will protect our “unified Canadian identity” from…well, god knows what.

Not only has Ms Leitch been unable (or unwilling) to articulate what she’s protecting our “unified Canadian identity” from, she’s ducked questions asking how her anti-Canadian values test would deal with people, some Roman Catholics perhaps, who oppose same-sex marriage, LBGTQ rights and a woman’s right to abortion.

In the absence of greater clarity, we’re left with the uncomfortable suspicion that Ms Leitch’s anti-Canadian values test would reject Muslims who, surprise, were the intended targets of Mr Harper’s barbaric cultural practices tip line and anti-niqab legislation.


Are Ms Henein and Ms Soapbox overreacting:  Could the election of a buffoon in the US trigger the rise of populist politicians in Canada?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

Robert Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk conducted research into the health of western democracies and found that the public’s trust in political institutions like parliaments and the courts “has precipitously declined.”  Voters are increasingly endorsing single-issue movements (anti-immigration ranks right up there), voting for populist candidates or supporting parties that exist simply as the opposite of the status quo, rather like the Bizarro subplot in the Superman comics series.

Foa and Mounk conclude that citizens who once considered democracy to be the only legitimate form of government are more open to authoritarian rule.


Ms Leitch

They warn against politicians like Donald Trump who are prepared to tear down the existing political system and promote policies that violate the rights of ethnic and religious minorities (“stop and frisk” and racial profiling come to mind) for their own partisan advantage.

Saving liberal democracy

A liberal democracy is founded on free and open elections and a respect for human rights and the rule of law.  The laws protecting rights and civil liberties must be protected.  Ms Henein says that’s why criminal defense lawyers are so important.  This is their bailiwick.  She’s right.

Populist politicians like Kellie Leitch who justify anti-Canadian values screening because her survey says 70% of Canadians are in favour of it are laying the foundation for an illiberal democracy, one that erodes the checks and balances on power and violates human rights.

Ms Henein’s message to the law students was: use your voice, be an advocate for democracy.

Her message to Canadians after the defeat of Hillary Clinton was: “suffering fools quietly means they can become president…or prime minister.”

Ms Henein mentioned Kellie Leitch at least four times in her speech, sometimes with an eye roll and sometimes by noting that her own grandmother would have failed the anti-Canadian values test because she didn’t speak English and wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what Ms Leitch was talking about.

Ms Henein didn’t say this in so many words but I will:  Kellie Leitch is running for the leadership of the federal Conservative party.  If she wins and the Conservatives come back into power, which they will, Kellie Leitch will be our next prime minister.

It’s time for Canadians to stop suffering fools like Ms Leitch quietly.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

The 2017 List

Last year Ms Soapbox made a list of New Year’s resolutions for Rachel Notley.

Happily, Ms Notley delivered on the list, with the exception of resolution #4 (Ms Soapbox failed to anticipate the arrival of Jason Kenney on the political scene).

Rather than rewrite the whole thing Ms Soapbox decided to create a list of things she’d like to see happen in 2017.

She’d like your input.


Things to strive for in 2017

  1. The end of Trump-style politics                 

Politicians like Jason Kenney say they want to avoid the “nasty, negative, irresponsible populism” of Donald Trump but they never miss an opportunity to inflame Albertans by telling them Alberta is wracked with “despair and recession” and they should put their faith in Mr Kenney to put an end to Alberta’s economic slide.

This is straight out of the Trump play book.

And it works.

When a supporter approached Mr Kenney in a café and said “Go Trump” and that he was “totally fed up with Alberta’s communist” politics, Mr Kenney didn’t bother to explain that Trump was not running in Alberta and Albertans live in a democracy, not a communist state.

Mr Kenney just smiled and shook the fellow’s hand.

If we want to stop the spread of Trump-style politics in Alberta the press and all political leaders, including Brian Jean, must call out politicians who indulge in it.

And the public needs to wise up, which leads me to…

2.  More facts less drivel

Mr Kenney is utterly transparent about his intention to use public despair (his words not mine) to capture the hearts and minds of voters.

He describes the situation in Alberta as “a human tragedy” and admits he overlooked local issues when he was a federal Cabinet minister because he may have viewed Alberta’s economic malaise “too statistically”.

Too statistically?

One of the statistics Mr Kenney is willing to ignore is that Albertans pay $7 billion less in taxes than their closest neighbours even with the NDP’s carbon levy and tax increases. 

Another fact Mr Kenney is downplaying is that Justin Trudeau would not have approved two major pipelines if Rachel Notley had not implemented a Climate Leadership Plan.

Those who don’t like these facts respond with anti-Notley memes like “cavemen walked everywhere and the glaciers still melted”.  What?

Ignoring the facts and posting idiotic memes do not encourage political discourse.

Speaking of social media…

3. Less mass distraction, more public engagement 

Where do you get your news…no wait, do you even get the news?

George Monbiot attributes the election of Donald Trump, in part, to the rise of celebrity culture as played out in our newspapers and on social media.

He refers to a study by Nick Couldry and Tim Markham that found citizens who follow celebrity culture, including reality TV, music and fashion are less likely to be politically engaged than those who stay current on traditional political issues like the economy and the environment.

Celebrity followers are three times less likely to be involved in local organizations and two times less likely to volunteer.  They believe they have no influence over government and it doesn’t matter who is in power.

This is not happy news but it illustrates the challenges we face in getting the public to focus on the issues and critically analyze the Trump-style politics coming at them from Jason Kenney, Kellie Leitch and their ilk.

4. Human dignity

Rather than review all the instances where civil rights and human dignity have been trampled in the political arena under the guise of an attack on political correctness, let’s focus on an issue we’re all familiar with—gender pronouns.

Contrary to popular belief, people who express a preference for a specific gender pronouns are not special snowflakes who have been triggered; they’re human beings entitled to the same level of respect as the rest of us.

We’ve learned how to refer to women as Ms;  it won’t kill us to ask someone what pronouns they prefer and to use them appropriately.

5. Happy Birthday Canada, but…

Canada will be 150 years old this year.

We should pause and enjoy our good fortune, but also remember that now more than ever we need to protect our democratic institutions from the populists, racists and power hungry politicians who would tear them down.


Right, that’s my list…now it’s your turn.

Posted in Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments

A Double Dose of Christmas

This Christmas was unusual…even for the Soapbox family.

Missy* our eldest daughter is a nurse working in Victoria.  She was scheduled to work over Christmas which meant that for the first time ever the Soapbox family was not going to be together on Christmas Day.

No problem we said, we’ll reschedule Christmas.

So, on Dec 10 at 5 pm Mr and Ms Soapbox, Missy, her little sister Mini, Missy’s boyfriend (let’s call him Mario) and Ziggy the dog converged under the Christmas tree to open presents.

Things got off to a shaky start when Ms Soapbox accidently broke the horns off Mario’s Krampus soap.  Krampus is the horned anti-Santa of German legend who kidnaps bad children.  Why he merits his own soap is beyond me.  Mario was gracious about the whole thing saying he’d lather them back on.  Good Mario. 

Ms Soapbox modeled her Nasty Woman T shirt and Mr Soapbox demonstrated the correct way to use wooden cooking implements.

Missy and Mini both received adult colouring books.  Mini’s came with an attaché case jammed with crayons, pastels and paints; Missy will have to make do with a packet of 8 pencil crayons.  Thankfully they’re past the stage where every gift they got had to be exactly the same.

Ziggy was pleased with his bone but thought he looked silly in his red and white Christmas sweater.


Ziggy prefers his Santa hat to his Christmas sweater

We enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve pizza and rounded off the evening with board games and wobbly snippets of Christmas carols curtesy of Mini who thinks O Little Monkey is a real Christmas carol no matter how many times we tell her it’s “donkey” not “monkey”.

Note to self: it’s rude to yell Bingo! when Mini and Mr Soapbox are playing Battleship and Mini sinks Mr Soapbox’s destroyer.

Further note to self:  when playing Scrabble with Missy and Mario ensure Mario’s turn comes after Missy’s turn otherwise he’ll set Missy up for the triple word score every single time.   Bad Mario.

The Soapbox Christmas was over in a heartbeat and we were just settling in for two weeks of post-Christmas relaxation when Missy slipped on the ice.

Within hours she was carted out of the house in a sling by four burley firemen.  (The EMS crew called the fire department when it became obvious they couldn’t get the stretcher down the stairs without tipping Missy out).  An undignified exit but Missy was beyond caring by this point.

The EMS crew rolled us into the stretcher queue at the hospital and we all bonded for a couple of hours waiting for a bed to become available.  The doctors discharged Missy the next morning and she embarked on a series of X-rays and MRIs, doctor’s appointments and physio.

Eventually she hobbled back to Victoria to be examined by her doctor who said (surprise) she was not fit for work.

Which meant she could come home for Christmas.


So, she did and we celebrated Christmas all over again—Christmas Eve with board games and O Little Monkey and Christmas Day with tiny presents and a very large turkey.

And you know what, it was even lovelier the second time around.

From the Soapbox family to you and your family, we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and the very best for 2017!!! 

*Missy, Mini, and Mario are not their real names but suit them to a tee.

Posted in Celebrations, Vacation | Tagged , , | 28 Comments

Lessons From Rex Tillerson*

If Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil and Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, taught a class on pipeline strategy Brian Jean would be stuck at the front of the room wearing a dunce cap and Rachel Notley would be excused because she already knows this stuff.

Conservative rhetoric 

Ever since Donald Trump was elected Mr Jean has been hammering Ms Notley; demanding to know what she’s going to do about Keystone XL.

Mr Jean says Keystone XL will create “a lot of jobs here in Alberta”, remove the “bottleneck” in the oilsands and help Albertans get back on their feet.

Mr McIver echoes Mr Jean’s comments saying the Trump administration offers “new hope” for Keystone XL.

Both conservative leaders want Ms Notley to pledge her support for Keystone and to lobby hard to get it approved.

Ms Notley eyes them patiently, then gives the following response: her government is happy to work with the energy industry to find ways to enhance trade with the US, but the government will focus “on those things over which we have agency,” namely Canadian pipelines seeking access to tidewater from a Canadian port.

Pipeline strategy class

Mr Tillerson recently gave a speech outlining the lessons he’d learned in his 41 years at ExxonMobil.  Ms Soapbox has taken the liberty of condensing these lessons into what she’s calling “Mr Tillerson’s pipeline strategy class”.


Rex Tillerson

Mr Jean and Mr McIver would be well advised to stop horsing around and pay attention.  Ms Notley is excused from class because she understands these lessons, probably because they’re simply common sense.

LESSON ONE:  Make evidence-based decisions

Mr Tillerson says evidence is important—at one time “experts” believed the world was running out of oil, but now the evidence shows that global market supply exceeds demand by one to two million barrels a day.

Mr Jean’s comment that the approval of Keystone XL will remove the “bottleneck” in the oilsands demonstrates he doesn’t understand the evidence at all.

This “bottleneck” doesn’t exist, at least not according to the US State Department which said Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands.”**

Mr Jean argues Keystone XL will create lots of well-paying jobs in Alberta.

This is ridiculous.

The Canadian portion of the Keystone system was completed years ago.  If Keystone XL (the US portion) is approved, the US State Department says it will create 42,000 temporary construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs—all in the US.    

Right…now that Mr Tillerson has their attention, Mr Jean and Mr McIver can focus on four other equally important lessons.

(Ms Notley is free to hang out in the lunch room.  She’s been applying these lessons in the Alberta context since the NDs assumed power in 2015.)

LESSON TWO:  Create a structure that’s viable at the bottom of the cycle as well as at the top

Mr Tillerson says down cycles are a fact of life in a commodity business.

Ms Notley has implemented policies to buffer Albertans from the down cycle as Alberta ricochets from boom to bust.

She’s incenting diversification with tax credits and grants for non-energy sectors including agricultural, petrochemicals and small businesses involved in everything from creating new technologies to entertainment.


Brian Jean

Sadly, Mr Jean doesn’t understand the reality of a boom/bust economy.  If he gets elected he intends to rip up every piece of legislation the ND’s have passed.  Sigh.

LESSON THREE:  Control what you can control

Mr Tillerson says you should focus on what you can control.

Mr Jean doesn’t understand that everything concerning Keystone XL is out of his control.

TCPL, not the government, will decide whether to pursue a fresh application under the Trump administration.  The shippers, not the government, will decide whether they’re prepared to commit production to Keystone XL in addition to the commitments they’ve made to Trans Mountain and perhaps Energy East.

Mr Trump, not the government, will decide how much of TCPL’s profits he will extract in return for approving Keystone XL and then TCPL, not the government, will decide whether Keystone XL is worth the bother.

Mr Jean can flail about all he likes but he no influence whatsoever over TCPL, the shippers or Mr Trump.

Ms Notley knows this and that’s why she refuses to focus all her resources on “a pipeline to tidewater in someone else’s country.”

LESSON FOUR:  Manage the risks

Mr Tillerson says his business, like most, is fraught with geopolitical, financial, technical, environmental and operational risks.

He says the risks of climate change “are serious and warrant thoughtful action” and that the best way to address these risks is by implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax rather than a “hodge-podge” of ineffective regulations.

Ms Notley, like Mr Tillerson, understands risk, particularly the political and environmental risks facing pipelines.  She chose to mitigate these risks by implementing the Climate Leadership Plan.  Her efforts paid off when the prime minister approved two out of three interprovincial pipelines.

Notwithstanding the support the Climate Leadership Plan has received from the energy industry Mr Jean and his conservative friends promise to abolish the carbon tax, thereby destroying the very policy that allowed the prime minister to approve the two pipelines in the first place.


While Mr Jean and Mr McIver are badgering Ms Notley to support Keystone XL, she’s focusing on the work that has real impact and will “deliver outcomes for our industry partners.”

She understands the role of government in pipeline strategy, which is why she’s in the lunchroom talking to her friends and Mr Jean and Mr McIver are stuck in Mr Tillerson’s class.

Here’s the most important lesson of all:  it’s not enough to say you’re standing up for the energy sector.  You actually have to do it—effectively.  

*NOTE: Ms Soapbox is invoking Rex Tillerson not because he’s the best choice for Secretary of State but because he might get through to the Wildrose and PCs.

Sources: Alberta Hansard, Nov 10, 2016, p 1864-1865

**TransCanada 2015 Annual Information Form, p 11 

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Viola Desmond: The Perfect Choice

Viola Desmond is the first Canadian woman to be featured on our bank notes.

We know the outline of her story—Ms Desmond was arrested, jailed and convicted for refusing to leave the whites-only section of a movie theatre.  Her story speaks to the pernicious nature of racism in Canada and how it impacts those who suffer from discrimination.

A movie ticket isn’t just a movie ticket

Ms Desmond and her husband Jack owned a barber shop/beauty salon in Halifax.  Ms Desmond was on a business trip when her car broke down in New Glasgow.  When she found out it wouldn’t be ready until the next day she booked a hotel room and went to the movies.


Viola Desmond

She wanted a seat on the main floor but the cashier refused to sell her one saying “I’m sorry but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.”

It was then that Ms Desmond realized she was being denied seating because she was black.  Ms Desmond told the cashier she didn’t see any signs saying “whites only” anywhere and when the cashier still refused to sell her a main floor ticket, Ms Desmond left extra money for a downstairs ticket with the cashier and took a seat on the main floor close to the screen.

The usher and the theatre manager asked Ms Desmond to leave.  She refused.  The manager called the police who asked Ms Desmond to leave.  She refused.

The manager and the policeman dragged the tiny woman out of the cinema.  She spent the night in jail.

A law isn’t just a law  

Nova Scotia did not have formal racial segregation laws, but like many places it had an unwritten code governing where Blacks could sit in movie theatres and other public places.

Given that it’s impossible to charge someone for breaking an unwritten “code” the powers-that-be got creative—they charged Ms Desmond with tax evasion.

The charge was based on the fact that a 2 cent amusement tax was included in the price of a 30 cent balcony ticket and a 3 cent amusement tax was included in the price of the 40 cent main floor ticket.  Ms Desmond was sitting in a main floor seat with a balcony ticket, therefore she owed the government of Nova Scotia a penny.

Ms Desmond told the police magistrate that she’d offered to buy a 40 cent main floor ticket but the cashier refused to sell her one.  He ignored her explanation and convicted her of tax evasion.  She was fined $20 plus costs.

A loss isn’t always a loss  

Ms Desmond was understandably horrified by her ordeal.  Upon her return to Halifax she decided to appeal her conviction.

She received support from the leaders of the Black community and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but not everyone was enthusiastic about her decision.

Some people worried that the appeal would trigger a racist backlash, while others thought their time would be better spent arguing against discrimination in access to housing and employment instead of seating at a cinema.  A small group wondered whether Ms Desmond brought this misfortune on herself by trying to “pass” as white.


Viola Desmond

Eventually those who supported the appeal won the day and the case for judicial review was brought before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.  It was dismissed on a technicality because it was filed outside the 10 day limitation period.

Notwithstanding the loss, the Desmond case served to mobilize public opinion in the fight against discrimination.

Why Viola Desmond? Why now?

Rebel Media dismisses the Bank of Canada’s selection of Ms Desmond as an act of tokenism.  They say Ms Desmond is “barely a footnote in history” and landed on the $10 bill simply because she’s Black and won the “Oppression Olympics”.

Rebel says its real concern is that in order to put Ms Desmond on the $10 bill and another undeserving lout on the $5 bill John A Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier will move to other bills bumping off Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Rebel argues that “erasing” Borden (a racist) and King (a spiritualist who held séances to converse with his dead mother) is sacrilegious given their contribution to Canadian history.

Historians disagree.

King’s biographer, Allan Levine, says the change reflects “our attitudes today, the world wasn’t only run by white men or politicians. There are other people who are also significant to Canadian history, and Viola Desmond is a good choice.”

In 1946 Viola Desmond was a young black woman stranded miles from home.  She showed tremendous courage by refusing to be cowed into giving up her seat in the “whites-only” section of a cinema.  She showed even more courage by appealing her unjust conviction for tax evasion.

In 1982 Pierre Elliot Trudeau enshrined the right to be free from discrimination in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2016 Justin Trudeau’s Finance Minister selected Ms Desmond, a soft spoken beauty salon owner and civil rights activist to grace our $10 bill.

It’s taken 70 years for Canada to recognize Viola Desmond.

Her time has come and come and anyone who argues a racist and a spiritualist are more deserving isn’t going to take it away from her.

Sources: starting at p 17

Posted in Law | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Two Pipelines Approved: The Opposition Reacts (badly)

Do you have a headache?

Are you an Alberta conservative wondering how to react to Trudeau approving the Trans Mountain and Line 3 pipelines and, horrors, singling out Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan as being vital to getting to yes?

If so, your conservative leadership team has prepared a carefully considered, cogent response.

Here’s what it looks like so far:

Demand denunciations   

Brian Jean, the Leader of the Official Opposition, rose in the Legislature the day after Trudeau approved two pipelines Alberta desperately needs and demanded that Premier Notley denounce everyone—Trudeau for not approving Northern Gateway and for confirming the anti-tanker ban of the west coast, “special-interest groups” who intend to challenge the pipelines in court and “anti-Alberta activists” who are speaking against the pipelines.

That makes no sense.


Brian Jean, Leader of the Opposition

Asking Notley to denounce Trudeau for not approving Northern Gateway after he’s approved Trans Mountain and Line 3 is both churlish and politically naïve.

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman summed it up nicely when she told Mr Jean to stop being a “barrel half-empty” kind of guy and focus on the barrel being “two-thirds full”.

Denouncing “special-interest groups” and “anti-Alberta activists” (who knew you could be “anti” an entire province) demonstrates Mr Jean does not understand the rule of law (Canadians have the legal right to challenge tribunals’ decisions) and the principles of civil disobedience which state a citizen does not have to “resign his conscience” in the face of government legislation.

The PCs picked up where Mr Jean left off.

Predict failure and chaos  

PC MLA Richard Gotfried said Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline would go down the same black hole as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.

Energy Minister McCuaig-Boyd disagreed, pointing to a fundamental difference between the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines.  She said Enbridge had done everything it had been asked to do but the federal Conservative government failed to properly perform its due diligence which led to the Federal Court overturning the approval of Northern Gateway, whereas in the case of Trans Mountain both Kinder Morgan and the government had followed the process correctly.

Undeterred Mr Gotfried pointed to Mayor Robertson’s opposition to Trans Mountain and Elizabeth May’s vow to go to jail if necessary, saying this indicated the NDP’s “magical currency of social licence” failed to bring pipeline opponents on board.

Ms McCuaig-Boyd said while she “respectfully” disagreed with those who opposed the pipeline, she supported their right to do so “all the way to jail if that’s what it takes.”

Mr Gotfried snarked back:  “Always good to have the NDP world view”.

The NDP world view?   

There is no reasonable response to Mr Gotfried’s comment other than to remind him and his fellow conservatives that this is the “world view” of most political parties in the Western hemisphere.

Create a diversion  

The conservatives continue to demand that Notley revoke the Climate Leadership Plan.

Let me rephrase that.

The conservatives want Notley to repeal the very thing that led Trudeau to approve the two pipelines in the first place.

Trudeau was crystal clear that without the Climate Leadership Plan his government would not have approved Trans Mountain or Line 3.  He said the plan had the support of industry and the environmental community.

While some members of the environmental community may be frustrated that the plan being used to justify these pipeline applications, industry support remains solid.

CEOs from Cenovus, CNRL, Suncor, GE Canada, Shell, SNC-Lavalin, Rio Tinto, Tech Resources and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (which includes Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Trans Canada) all support the plan.

So the question becomes:  If the federal government and industry support the Climate Leadership Plan why are the conservatives opposed to it?

The answer became apparent this weekend.

The Rebel Media organized an anti-carbon tax rally at the Legislature.  Speakers included Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, Conservative MP Kerry Diotte and federal Conservative leadership candidates Andrew Saxton and Chris Alexander.

The crowd began to chant “lock her up, lock her up” when Mr Alexander was speaking…

…and the man who hopes to be prime minister one day did not say, “hey guys, I understand your pain, but we’re Canadians, we don’t lock her up.  We vote her out”.  Instead he smiled and gestured and nodded along with the chanters.


Chris Alexander, the wannabe PM

Mr Alexander wasn’t the only conservative leader to enjoy the moment.  None of the conservative leaders at the rally attempted to redirect the crowd’s fear and frustration away from Premier Notley let alone explain how they would force the Liberal government to approve pipeline applications in the absence of a coherent plant to address climate change.

Next up

Premier Notley is going to BC next week to explain her Climate Leadership Plan in greater detail.  She hopes BC-ers will be more receptive to the pipelines when they learn about the 30% carbon tax, the 100 megatonne/year cap on oilsands emissions, the 45% reduction in methane gas emissions by 2025 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

She’s using quiet diplomacy to demonstrate that Alberta is doing its part to address climate change as Alberta transitions to decarbonized and renewable energy.

The conservatives on the other hand are inflaming the “lock her up” crowd in the hope it will carry them into power in 2019.


Sources: Alberta Hansard Nov 30, 2016, 2177 to 2181

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

It’s Electricity Week…and the Opposition Won’t Stand for it

After the events of this week it’s unclear who the Opposition is standing for.

The NDP government announced it was:

  1. settling the PPA dispute over the enforceability of the “Enron clause” with Capital Power, TransCanada and AltaGas, leaving Enmax the sole outlier,
  2. compensating Capital Power, TransAlta and ATCO for the early closure of six coal-fired power plants,
  3. capping electricity at 6.8 cents/kilowatt hour for four years for families and small businesses and
  4. shifting from the “energy-only” electricity market to a “capacity” market.

The Wildrose and PC Opposition are extremely critical of these moves, claiming to stand for everyone, the people, the industry, and investors, in opposition to them.

Do their objections make any sense?

Settling the PPA dispute

After months of debating whether power companies could terminate their power purchase arrangements (PPAs) under a clause the government said was unenforceable the parties decided to settle.

Apparently, the companies will accept responsibility for losses caused by plummeting electricity prices and the government will accept responsibility for losses resulting from its climate plan.  Capital Power agreed to pay $39 million.  The amounts TransCanada and AltaGas will pay are not yet available.

With only Enmax left in the dispute the Opposition’s attempt to stand for industry against a “banana republic” was weakened.

So now it’s standing for Calgarians, arguing that if the government doesn’t leave Enmax alone, Enmax (which is wholly-owned by the City of Calgary) won’t be able to pay a dividend to Calgary and property taxes will rise.


Ric McIver (PC) and Brian Jean (Wildrose) Leaders of the Opposition

The Opposition’s stand would have been more compelling if Enmax hadn’t undercut it in its 2015 Financial Report  (p 81) where it said the outcome of the PPA dispute would not have a “material adverse effect” on its financial position.

In other words, Enmax will issue a dividend to the City of Calgary and if property taxes rise, it won’t be solely because Enmax refuses to join Capital Power, TransCanada and AltaGas in settling this dispute.

Compensation for early closure of coal-fired power plants

The climate plan forces all 22 of Alberta’s coal-fired plants to close by 2030.  Six of these will close prematurely leaving their owners, Capital Power, TransAlta and ATCO, with stranded assets.

The Opposition stood with the unhappy plant owners and the people living in communities like Hanna who rely on the coal-fired plants for their livelihood.

The government responded by negotiating a deal with the plant owners whereby it would pay them $1.3 billion over 14 years from funds collected by the carbon levy imposed on industrial GHG emitters.  In return the plant owners agreed to support the communities impacted by the closures through to 2030.

PC MLA Rick Fraser said it’s  “disgraceful” the government is passing the buck for supporting communities like Hanna to the power companies.

Think about that for a moment.

Who is better positioned to transition the local workforce from coal-fired plants to natural gas fired plants and renewable energy plants than the power companies who will be investing in these plants over the next 14 years, especially when $1.3 billion from the government is riding on it?

Electricity price cap  

The NDP government announced a four-year 6.8 cent/kWh cap on electricity prices for residential and small business consumers.

The Opposition says the cap is too high and it’s unnecessary because prices are low anyway.

True, the 6.8 cents cap is higher than 3.8 cents consumers are paying today, but it’s much lower than the 14.81 cents Calgarians were paying three years ago.  Also it’s a cap not a floor.  If prices stay low Albertans will pay less.

Why this is a problem for the Opposition who is standing for the people is a mystery.

Capacity market

The NDP’s most significant announcement was the shift from the “energy-only” electricity market to a “capacity” market to attract investment and transition to renewable energy.  The government expects 30% of our electricity to come from renewables and 70% to come from natural gas fired plants by 2030.

The Opposition says this is a hare-brained ideologically driven plan to re-regulate the electricity market, it’s flawed because the government didn’t consult industry or the investment community, and it will create investment uncertainty.

It’s standing with everyone–the people, the industry and the investors–on everything.

Let’s take a look at their objections.   

The government accepted the recommendation by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), a non-profit statutory body created by the Progressive Conservative government, to transition to a capacity market.  

It is NOT an “ideologically driven” plan. 

Alberta is one of two jurisdictions (the other is Texas) that has an “energy-only” market.  Most American Republican and Democratic states plus the UK (Tories) have a “capacity” market for electricity.  If it’s good enough for the Republicans and Tories surely it’s good enough for the Wildrose and PCs.

It does NOT “re-regulate” the free market. 

Blake Shaffer, writing for the C.D. Howe Institute, says the government had a choice between four kinds of electricity structures, two are market-based structures (“energy-only” and “capacity markets”) and two are non-market or centrally-planned structures (“long term contracts” and “cost of service regulated rate” models).

Shaffer says Alberta was right to reject the centrally planned model and stick with a marketbased system, namely the capacity market.

Incidentally, the Saskatchewan government run by Brad Wall (the Opposition’s role model) oversees a fully regulated cost of service electricity market; somehow this isn’t an ideological problem for the Opposition.

The government DID consult with the industry and investors.

AESO consulted with experts from The Brattle Group (economic, financial and regulatory), KPMG (tax/audit), Morrison Park (banking) and JCRA (risk management).

It learned that investment in energy-only markets was declining across North America and Alberta had to shift to another market structure in order to bring investment back.

It’s true AESO relied on internal experts to assess the impact of the four types of markets on stakeholders, however TransAlta CEO, Dawn Farrell, hailed the AESO report as “first class” and said from her perspective stakeholders had been listened to.

It will NOT create market uncertainty

Two of the biggest players in the industry, Capital Power and TransAlta confirmed they’d  be very significant investors in Alberta’s electricity industry going forward.

Share prices for TransAlta, ATCO and Capital Power jumped following the announcement.

This is a sign of improving investor confidence, not investor uncertainty.

Bottom line

Albertans will benefit from stable prices, the industry is going to invest in new and re-purposed facilities and investors prefer the capacity market to the energy-only market so who is the Opposition standing for?

The NDP government is standing for Albertans as it works with industry and investors to ensure the future of Alberta’s electricity industry.

The Opposition is standing for no one but themselves.

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