Canada election puts spotlight on the oil-climate divide

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On the eve of Canada’s federal elections, Conservatives and Liberals are neck-and-neck in the polls. But in the prairie province of Saskatchewan support for the Tories is steadfast, centered around the fate of the oil and gas industry.

Though Saskatchewan isn’t the country’s top oil-producing province — it accounts for roughly 12 percent of Canadian oil output, compared to neighboring Alberta’s nearly 80 percent — the industry is crucial to the region’s economy.

And many voters here feel the last four years of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, with the stricter environmental policies it has rolled out, has hurt them.

“I’d like to see the oil and gas back up, because Trudeau’s trying to shut it all down,” said 71-year-old Sarah Wall. “He’s tearing our country apart; West and East are fighting against each other.”

Wall, a retired cleaner, lives in the electoral district of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, in the provincial capital of Regina.

Her neighbors, Peter and Daisy Popkie, were also quick to name oil as a top reason they support Scheer and the Conservatives.

“It just seems like he’s more geared to the oil industry out west here,” said Peter Popkie.

Their son is studying geology as he prepares for a career in the petroleum industry, a future the Popkies said they are “hoping will look better” under a new government.

“We want him to have a job when he’s done,” said Daisy Popkie. “Living out west, this is a big push we need: jobs for our people.”

Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (L) and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer faced off...Heated climate debate: Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (L) and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer faced off during a debate in Gatineau, Quebec, on October 10, 2019; the two differ sharply on questions of energy and the environment Adrian Wyld, POOL/AFP/File


Andrew Spagrud, who says he “didn’t really get involved in politics” in his student days, is now 33 and the CEO of Villanova Energy. When it comes to the elections, he says the choice is “obvious.”

“We’ve been in a four-year cycle of getting beat up — like the industry’s just in a state of disrepair,” said Spagrud. “Regulatory issues are just causing our industry to really suffer versus our peer countries.”

Canada’s economy is relatively strong and the jobless rate is near a historic low, but its oil patch has been hit by a global oil price slump and a flight of foreign investment.

In April, Trudeau’s government rolled out a starting carbon tax of Can$20 ($15 US) per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted, affecting four provinces that had not fallen in line with the prime minister’s emissions reduction strategy.

That tax is scheduled to increase incrementally to Can$50 over the coming years to discourage the use of large amounts of fossil fuels.

Six other provinces were initially exempt because each had come up with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system to help Canada meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing CO2 emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna seen here at a July 18 2019 event in Montreal has...

Security for one official.  Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, seen here at a July 18, 2019 event in Montreal, has been disparaged by critics as “Climate Barbie” and had to be assigned a security detail Sebastien St-Jean, AFP/File


The ideological divide over the tax is playing out in courtrooms and legislatures across the country — with Saskatchewan taking the lead in fighting it to the Supreme Court — and it figures, unsurprisingly, in election party platforms.

Scheer has said that as prime minister he would repeal the carbon tax and other environmental protections.

In the leadup to the election, oil industry proponents have waged angry protests. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna — disparaged by critics as “Climate Barbie” and an enemy of the people — was assigned a security detail.

And former foreign minister Maxime Bernier, who split from the Tories to form his own party, went so far as to call the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg “clearly mentally unstable,” before walking back his comments.

In contrast, Trudeau last month marched with Thunberg at a massive rally in Montreal, and on Friday she led a protest in Edmonton, Alberta, where she was met by a counter-demonstration featuring big rigs honking their horns.

“It’s very difficult for us to have conversations with people on the other side of the spectrum, because things are so personal, because it’s impacting our way of life, it’s impacting our finances really, our economies out here, and obviously that’s a big deal,” said Spagrud.

“When I go to bed at night, I think about providing for my family, what things are going to look like in one year, five years, 15 years, and right now all of that, it looks kind of scary.”

Jim Farney, who heads the political science department at the University of Regina, noted that the Conservatives “have put a great deal of emphasis this election on opposing the carbon tax, and while they’re not a greenhouse-gas-denying, climate-change-denying party, they’re also not in a hurry to do much about it.

“So that’s a big part of their appeal.” SOURCE

Ottawa Election day: Where the parties stand on public services and Phoenix

Peace Tower, Ottawa

Of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s 200,000 members, more than 140,000 work directly for the federal government and have the opportunity to elect their next employer on October 21. Canada’s new government will have a tremendous impact on the future of the federal public service and the work we do for Canadians.

That’s why it’s imperative to vote for candidates that respect public service workers, pledge to compensate victims of the Phoenix pay fiasco, and stand up for the rights of all workers.

We’ve reviewed all of the party platforms and broken down their visions on four key issues – Phoenix, federal public services, contracting-out and a single tax system in Quebec – that will have the greatest impact on PSAC members.

Public services

The NDP, the Liberals and the Green Party have all made overtures to federal public service workers to create a stronger, more representative public service. Meanwhile, the Conservatives plan to slash government operations and cut government regulations, which will impact the services Canadians receive and result in significant job losses.

The NDP promises to help close the wage gap of racialized workers in the public service and strengthen labour laws to ensure equitable hiring practices. The Liberals pledge to promote more qualified, diverse Canadians to senior positions within the public service, while the Greens will fully implement federal pay equity rules and establish an impartial federal ombudsman to review cases of harassment in the public service.

Both the NDP and the Liberals will implement a $15 federal minimum wage that will cover over 900,000 workers. The Liberals also plan to reduce the time it takes to hire new public servants, with the goal of cutting the time in half from 10 to five months.

The Tories want to institute a freeze on the number of full-time public servants and cut $14.4 billion from the government’s operations budget. They also plan to reduce the size of federally-used office space by 30 per cent.

The Bloc Québecois plan to introduce a bill that prohibits receiving or providing public services with a face covering, including voting. PSAC condemns this proposal as it does not address any actual problems and will stoke an increase in anti-immigrant, racist, and sexist sentiments as well as incidents, both in the workplace and outside of it.


The New Democrats and the Green Party have both promised to make amends for the hardships federal public service workers have endured under Phoenix, while the Liberals plan to eliminate the current backlog of Phoenix pay issues. The Conservatives, while responsible for implementing the disastrous pay system, make no mention whatsoever of Phoenix in their platform.

The NDP plans to bring compensation advisors back into departments, provide fair compensation to workers impacted by Phoenix and replace the ailing pay system.

The Greens say they’ll work with PSAC and all political parties to provide immediate compensation to Phoenix victims, while ensuring public servants get support from their departments to correct their pay files and can get salary advances directly from their department.

Privatization and precarious work

Canada’s robust public services are under threat from privatization and precarious work that reduce the quality of public services and leaves workers vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to elect a government that fights to eliminate precarious work and outsourcing.

The NDP will put in place rules requiring part-time and contract workers to be compensated the same as full-time workers. They’ll also ban unpaid internships outside of education programs and update the Labour Code to ban the use of replacement workers in labour disputes.

While the Liberals plan to grant greater labour protections for people who work through digital platforms, they continue to double down on the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which encourages private, for-profit companies to take over public services. PSAC has been clear; privatization wastes public funds and reduces the quality of public services.

The Conservatives are planning to eliminate the Canada Infrastructure Bank and instead create fund managed completely by the private sector – which would also harm the quality of public services and create more precarious work.

The Greens will reject back-to-work legislation as a bargaining tool and protect workers whose jobs will be disrupted by AI and the transition away from fossil fuels.

Quebec single tax

The Bloc Québecois is proposing that Revenu Québec should administer both the federal and provincial income tax. Quebec is the only province in Canada where personal income taxes are collected separately by Ottawa and the provincial government, meaning those living in the province must file two separate tax claims.

The NDP and the Liberals have both spoken out against a single tax form in Quebec, while the Greens haven’t taken a position for or against.

The Conservatives have said they will negotiate with the government of Quebec to introduce a single tax return administered by the provincial government.

PSAC rejects this proposal for two key reasons. Nearly 5,500 Canada Revenue Agency workers in Quebec – and hundreds more across the country – would lose their jobs under a single tax system. And more importantly, there are other avenues to explore that would allow Quebeckers to file a single claim, including having both the federal and provincial taxes collected by the federal government. SOURCE

Bird populations have crashed. Here’s what you can do to help.

The type of trees and shrubs you choose can also make a big difference to birds. Shown is a cedar waxwing eating a chokeberry. (Jane Gamble)
The type of trees and shrubs you choose can also make a big difference to birds. Shown is a cedar waxwing eating a chokeberry. (Jane Gamble)

The arrival finally of some crisp fall weather has gardeners thinking about the winter, a period of retreat in the garden but not of death.

The plants’ withdrawal from the cold invites close examination of the leafless world. But if you need something beyond the display of holly berries, the smooth silver bark and latent buds of the magnolia, or the black silhouette of an old walnut tree, there is another, more vivid reminder that life goes on outdoors. We have the birds.

Or do we?

A study by ornithologists and other scientists released last month told us bird populations have crashed. Since 1970, the United States and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion, close to 30 percent fewer individuals. The losses are across habitats and species, though hardest hit are birds that inhabit the grasslands from Texas north into the Canadian prairie. The suspected causes? Habitat loss, more intensive agriculture and greater use of pesticides that kill the insects birds eat.

A clutch of blue-gray gnat catchers await a meal of insects. (Jane Gamble)
A clutch of blue-gray gnat catchers await a meal of insects. (Jane Gamble) 

For those of us who see the garden not just as a living expression of beauty but a place where we embrace nature, the news is a reminder that we have some power to mitigate this distressing loss. First and foremost, keep the cat indoors. Ask your neighbor to do the same. Cat predation is a major cause of bird mortality, according to the American Bird Conservancy. This is not just from pets but all the alley cats out there, themselves the product of people throwing unwanted, unsterilized felines to the four winds. The cats are the instrument of bird death, but we are the cause.

Songbirds also die in large numbers by flying into windows. If this is a problem where you live, you can attach decals to your glazing. Another tactic is not to use pesticides, even sprays against mosquitoes, a pest best countered by removing sources of standing water, especially in the spring.

A Carolina wren sits on a redbud tree at Mount Vernon; redbuds support numerous insect species. (Jane Gamble)
A Carolina wren sits on a redbud tree at Mount Vernon; redbuds support numerous insect species. (Jane Gamble)

You might think the greatest step you can take for the birds is to feed them. This is, after all, the time of year our thoughts turn to nourishing birds through the chillier months ahead.



The Problematic Legal Tools Party Leaders Would Use To Build Pipelines

Declaratory powers, constitutional powers and rule of law can be used to push projects through in the national interest.

Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Kamloops,...
Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Kamloops, B.C. on May 29, 2018.  DENNIS OWEN / REUTERS

Many Canadians can recall the $4.5-billion Trans Mountain pipeline that Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau’s government purchased in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to save the expansion project from B.C. opposition. What those living outside Alberta may forget is that Trudeau’s government also cancelled the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline at an expense of nearly $15 million.

It was this Northern Gateway Pipeline, that would have stretched across the northern part of the Alberta-British Columbia border, that Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer invoked during the first MacLean’s/CityTV leadership debate. When the debate focused on Conservative senators’ attempts to kill C-262, which opposition view as giving Indigenous communities the final say on resource projects, Scheer said, “We cannot create a system in this country where one group of individuals, one Indigenous community, can hold hostage large projects that employ so many Indigenous Canadians.”

It’s telling that the “one group” Scheer singles out are Indigenous communities opposing pipeline projects. These conversations about energy and pipelines, and who decides how, when and where they get built, highlight the need for clarity about the federal government’s constitutional powers to push projects through.

Constitutional powers and rule of law

You’ll often see terms like “declaratory powers,” “constitutional powers” or “rule of law” thrown around by politicians like Trudeau, Scheer and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Confusing at best, all three fall under the heading of constitutional law, but look or operate differently. They are legal tools that could potentially allow federal or provincial governments alike to rely on the vague concept of the public interest (sometimes a purely economic test) when companies seek approval for projects.

In the context of resource projects, the outcome is that the rights of groups directly impacted by the thousands of kilometres of pipelines running or planned across our country are ignored as politicians seek to assert their jurisdiction over an issue. This jurisdiction that political leaders refer to is found in Canada’s Constitution, section 92(10).

Justin Trudeau  @JustinTrudeau

Canada is a country of the rule of law, and the federal government will act in the national interest. Access to world markets for Canadian resources is a core national interest. The Trans Mountain expansion will be built. 

Jim Carr @jimcarr_wpg

See my statement regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion. 

Relying on their declaratory powers, the federal government may use legislation to declare specific works as being to the general advantage of Canada — particularly when there is uncertainty over infrastructure or networks, or the interprovincial works have an international component or connection. Canada’s constitution provides that Parliament can exercise its declaratory power over works, like pipelines, that extend beyond a province’s boundaries or connect with another province. This can prevent a province declaring its jurisdiction over a pipeline, possibly providing some certainty over the project.

Indigenous groups and others demonstrate against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project...
Indigenous groups and others demonstrate against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Burnaby, B.C. on March 10, 2018. JASON REDMOND VIA GETTY IMAGES

While the federal government is free to declare a pipeline such as the Trans Mountain expansion under its declaratory powers, the remainder of the Constitution does not fade away. Other sections in the Constitution include Canada’s duty to consult and accommodate, or Section 35. To non-Indigenous Canadians and politicians, the duty to consult and accommodate may be seen as a barrier to completing projects. In theory, this shouldn’t be the case if relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, including companies, are built meaningfully before projects are granted approval from their respective regulators.

The federal government is using declaratory power to sidestep its duty to consult.

The federal government might desire jurisdiction over a pipeline, relying on its declaratory powers, because there is some international component with some integral element involving an interprovincial work. This would be similar to the Trans Mountain Pipeline connecting Canada’s products to an international market, together with the pipeline’s interprovincial infrastructure. Yet, the rule of law says that no one is above the law. One power seems to operate at the bidding of another.

Sometimes, declaratory powers are confused with the rule of law, chiefly when talking about pipelines. Political leaders may cite the rule of law to say that no group, like those Scheer refers to, is above the law — opposing groups must fall in line with the federal government’s objective to complete a work. At the same time, the federal government is using declaratory power to sidestep its duty to consult, a law which applies to everyone.

Indigenous consent is nuanced and necessary

Indigenous peoples and communities are best suited for understanding their communities’ needs, but often left out when it comes to resource projects. They want a seat at the table. Consent is key. MORE


Ethics watchdog pushes for ‘collusion’ probe of Conservatives, oil lobby

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to reporters after the English-language leaders’ debate on Oct. 7, 2019 in Ottawa. Photo by Andrew Meade

The Conservative Party and Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group stand accused of possibly “colluding” in violation of the country’s elections law, according to a complaint made to a federal commissioner.

Ethics watchdog Democracy Watch said Thursday it was calling on Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté to investigate whether the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Tories broke the Canada Elections Act.

The complaint centres on the fact the lobby group and the Conservatives have both done business with an advertising firm co-founded by Hamish Marshall, who is Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign manager.

These connections, along with revelations about three events this past spring involving Scheer and oil industry executives, “point to a relationship of collaboration and support” that would give Côté “reasonable grounds to investigate,” the complaint reads.

“Don’t just call them up and say, ‘Hey, are you guys colluding?’” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher urged the commissioner in an Oct. 10 interview.

“There’s enough there, I think, for (Côté) to go to court and try to get a subpoena.”

As part of its evidence to the commissioner, Democracy Watch cited a National Observer story that a member of the CAPP board of governors lobbied Scheer during a gala dinner event sponsored by one of CAPP’s member companies, Imperial Oil….

Recent changes to the Canada Elections Act ban third parties and political parties acting “in collusion with each other,” including through information-sharing, in order to “influence” the third party in its partisan campaign activities, ads or election surveys. MORE