With about 55% of the popular vote and 63 out of 87 seats in the next Alberta legislature, Premier-Designate Jason Kenney used his victory speech Tuesday evening to amp up the rhetoric on the perceived mistreatment of his province’s fossil sector and lay down a warning to environmental groups.
“There is a deep frustration in this province, a sense that we have contributed massively to the rest of Canada, but that everywhere we turn we are being blocked in and pinned down,” Kenney said. But “today with this election, we begin to stand up for ourselves, for our jobs and for our future,” he added. “Today we begin to fight back.”
Departing Premier Rachel Notley said she would continue to serve as opposition leader, and at last count, NDP Environment Minister Shannon Phillips was on track to win re-election in her riding of Lethbridge-West. Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd was defeated in the northern riding of Central Peace-Notley.
Kenney hinted at some of the contentious times ahead, after a campaign in which he promised to roll back the province’s carbon levy and spend lavishly on a “war room” to counter perceived slights from climate and anti-pipeline campaigners. “Early on in his speech, the premier-designate delivered a warning to environmentalists, accusing them of being funded by foreign interests who are trying to shut down the Alberta oil and gas industry,” National Observer reports. “He pledged to launch a public inquiry into their activities, singling out several charitable organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation and the Tides Foundation.”
Days before the vote, Kenney threatened to make Vancouver carbon-free by 2020, vowing to “turn off the taps” of gasoline from Alberta to British Columbia “within an hour” of being sworn in as premier, Global News reported. “The NDP mayor of Vancouver said he wants a carbon-free Vancouver by 2040,” he told a campaign rally in Edmonton Friday night. “Well, if the B.C. New Democrats continue to block our energy, we’ll happily give them a carbon-free Vancouver by 2020.”
British Columbia is currently in court, seeking a ruling on whether it has the right to regulate the environmental impact of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The authority for Kenney’s extreme action would come from legislation that was passed but never enacted by the Notley government last spring.
“It does sound like pretty reckless rhetoric, ‘turning off the taps,’” said Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry. “We have the largest port in Canada. We’re the Pacific gateway. We’re not about to play tit for tat with that.”
Kenney has promised to cut Alberta’s tax rate for large corporations by one-third, from 12 to 8%, at a cost of C$1.76 billion per year, or $1,000 per family—a measure that would mostly benefit company owners and shareholders outside the province, while triggering job losses in the public sector, writes Toby Sanger, executive director of the non-partisan Canadians for Tax Fairness. He apparently plans to continue a carbon levy on large industrial emitters first introduced by Premier Ed Stelmach in 2007, but ratchet it down to $20 per tonne from the $30 threshold set by Notley in 2018.
Kenney told fossil industry reporters last week he would favour a levy “that is sensitive to carbon intensity [and] incentivizes investment in technology that reduces CO2 output,” but maintained that “we obviously have to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
He also said he would expand on the $2.6 billion in subsidies Notley had already extended to petrochemical projects.
“I do understand that in addition to [Alberta’s] cheap gas feedstock, which is a significant competitive advantage in attracting petrochemical projects, we do have to compete with jurisdictions like Louisiana and Texas,” he said. “We think we could really sweeten the pot to incentivize more capital investment in petrochemicals by amending the Municipal Government Act to allow municipalities to offer the same kind of property tax holidays that our American friends do,” while setting up “pre-approved industrial zones” to make it easier to get new projects of the ground.
Despite Kenney’s convincing election win, and his apparent affinity for the tar sands/oil sands (when he isn’t trashing that industry’s senior executives), not everyone in the oilpatch was looking forward to him becoming premier. “In the dying days of the Alberta election campaign, we think it’s urgent that voters know what we know as front-line oil sands workers,” wrote Suncor lab technician Kim Conway, chair of Unifor’s National Energy Council, in a post last week for The Tyee. “In particular, we think Albertans deserve to know that many people within Alberta’s biggest oil sands companies—including top executives—are worried that United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney represents a threat to the future of our industry.”
She called on industry leaders to “share with voters what they’ve been saying to their employees and investors: namely that the province’s oil sands industry would be better off with Rachel Notley’s energy policies.”
The big tar sands/oil sands companies actively supported Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan “not because they’re a bunch of wild-eyed socialists or tree-huggers, but because they understand that the industry must decarbonize to survive in a changing world,” Conway explained. With the industry desperate for overseas markets, and both China and India introducing “tough new carbon pricing systems”, she said she dreaded to see Kenney reintroduce past provincial policies that “would have the effect of rewarding environmental laggards and punishing the top performers.”
While fossil CEOs try to make their industry “carbon competitive”, Conway said “Kenney’s approach of ignoring what our potential customers really want is a recipe for being left behind, in terms of both investment and jobs. To put it bluntly: Jason Kenney just doesn’t get it. And we’ll all pay the price for his ignorance.”
For his part, Kenney has spent a lot of time denouncing the CEOs for supporting the provincial carbon tax. At a conference last October, “he outlined how he would get all those CEOs in line with his energy strategy,” CBC reports.
“I will call into the premier’s office the heads of our major energy companies and invite them to discuss a new approach to social licence,” Kenney said. “If they want social licence to develop the resources that belong to Albertans, we will expect them to actively defend those resources and the people who work in those companies.”
He later told CBC’s Power & Politics show that, “to be blunt, I’m not going to take lessons from, I’m not going to let a billionaire president of major oil companies dictate to people how they live their lives. You have to fill up your tank, you have to heat your home. It’s wrong to punish people for simply living normal lives.”