Albertans must not let our government push a polarized partisan narrative

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. AMBER BRACKEN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Monday isn’t the first time Alberta has elected mostly Conservative MPs. What does seem different, though, is the anger. Premier Jason Kenney described the idea of a Liberal minority government as a “Frankenstein” scenario, in which non-Conservatives pose an existential threat to Alberta.

We Albertans should ask ourselves how far we are prepared to let our provincial government push this polarized partisan narrative in our name. Other Canadians, too, should ask how much they’re prepared to accommodate this belligerent approach.

A few things work together to produce such a charged environment. While relatively few Albertans work directly in oil and gas (6.1 per cent in 2017), the idea that Alberta’s prosperity is tied to oil and gas is pervasive. My own research shows that about 70 per cent of Albertans report that oil and gas is very important for Alberta’s prosperity, compared with only about 24 per cent when that prosperity connection is made to their personal finances. This may be why it is so easy for some to conflate “energy” almost exclusively with oil and gas in Alberta.

So why are Albertans so angry? Certainly, some simply strongly connect only oil and gas to the province’s prosperity. While many Albertans may not say it explicitly, there’s appetite for conversations about energy transition and the environment; politicians across all parties and levels of government ignore this at their peril.

But another factor – partisanship – helps explain the anger. If partisanship is seen as a social identity, then it is ripe for polarization. Polarized partisans see competition between other parties as zero-sum, and then these partisans feel threatened, they will fight to maintain the position and status of their group. Importantly, polarized partisans also feel emotions on behalf of their party, so they are more euphoric when they win, and more angered when they lose.

To this, another factor must be considered. While many Albertans are not polarized partisans, they all feel at least a degree of Western alienation and have long expressed aggravation at the idea that our resources are used to enrich elites in Central Canada. This explains why the bellicose posturing of both Alberta’s Premier Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe after Monday’s election references equalization and getting a “fair deal” from the rest of Canada. Again, while this sentiment is not new, it helps reinforce this “us versus them” narrative made explosive by partisan polarization.

This is not the first time that Canadians will be confronted with a region or province that is not satisfied; what is worth considering now is what actions the federal government should take that would satisfy discontented folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would also be seen as acceptable, or even positive, by other Canadians. While I doubt polarized partisans will ever be satisfied, I also doubt we can have this conversation without addressing equalization.

The difficulty is that few Canadians can accurately report much, if anything, about equalization. In speaking to Albertans, I’ve found that many agree with the fundamental principles of the program: Canadians should be able to access comparable levels of services regardless of where they live, and provinces should have autonomy in determining how they provide those services. Where Albertans are easily led astray, though, is about what equalization is meant to, well, equalize. It’s about fiscal capacity – that is, a province’s ability to generate revenue.

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. It’s estimated that if Alberta imposed taxes at the same level as British Columbia, where the economy has consistently outperformed Alberta’s in recent years, we would generate $11.2-billion a year more in revenue. But there appears to be little appetite to reconsider this. This leaves Alberta open to criticism, justifiably, for asking the federal government to help pay its bills when it’s unwilling to put in the same effort as other provinces to raise revenue.

I can see why the current pugnacious strategy is favoured by Premiers Kenney and Moe. It’s reasonable to assume that most Westerners are easily angered, albeit in ignorance, about equalization. Add partisan polarization into the mix, and it becomes especially easy to shift blame for things Westerners don’t like to the federal government.

Given that it’s already too easy to blame the feds for things that are exclusively the choice of Alberta’s government (i.e. our systematic under-use of our own fiscal capacity), I anticipate that, sometime soon, blame for harsh budget cuts meted out by Mr. Kenney’s government will be presented as Justin Trudeau’s fault. This strategy is certainly as partisanly effective as it is devoid of principled and ethical leadership.

Taken together, this is why a national conversation about the politics of equalization and the Canadian federation, while arguably needed, likely won’t get very far. It’s hard to escape the impression that, at least for some Albertans, the anger is the goal.  SOURCE


A letter to the West: Let’s put aside the climate change thing for a bit and focus on some realities

Alta Devices to Provide Solar Cells for New, High Performance, Long Endurance UAVs

SUNNYVALE, CA & AJDOVSCINA, Slovenia –(eSolarEnergyNews)--C-Astral Aerospace and Alta Devices today announced that Alta’s world-record-breaking solar technology will be used to significantly extend the endurance for the most sophisticated of C-Astral’s next generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Details of the agreement are not being disclosed.

C-Astral’s latest system, called the Bramor ppX-LRS (long range solar), can fly at least two hours longer with the addition of Alta’s solar technology. This new Bramor enables highly efficient and precise global surveying and sensing capabilities in remote and urban areas. One example application is mapping and surveying of long stretches of road from the sky — finishing the project in only a few days without disrupting traffic; if done from the ground, this kind of work would take two to three months of road closures. The beyond-line-of-sight capability of the UAV, together with its advanced gas detection and SWIR (short wave infrared) sensors, is also suited for pipeline monitoring, replacing manned aircraft systems and helicopters at a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, these aircraft can dramatically accelerate and reduce the cost of surveying major railway lines and power line infrastructure.

“From the time of our founding, we have known that solar technology is useful for extending flight times and have continuously pursued it,” said Marko Peljhan, C-Astral co-founder. “Alta’s solar technology is the only mature option on the market that allows us to achieve extended flight times without compromising our high performance aircraft design.”

“C-Astral has an incredible track record of innovation,” said Rich Kapusta, Chief Marketing Officer at Alta Devices. “There are very few companies with the deep expertise required to develop this type of aircraft, and we are extremely proud to be working with them on this endeavor.”

Alta Devices designs and manufactures the most efficient, thinnest, and flexible solar technology in the world and is revolutionizing the endurance of unmanned systems. MORE

Rickford’s climbdown on climate change fuels skepticism from critics

Energy Minister Greg Rickford, shown during question period in the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 21, 2019.

Under fire for citing a website that casts doubt on climate change, Energy Minister Greg Rickford now says he believes it’s the result of human activity — but the way he did it is fuelling doubts on whether he believes his own words, critics charge.

Rickford was asked three times by New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns in the legislature’s daily question period Thursday whether he believes the phenomenon is caused by humans and repeatedly evaded the question, allowing only that “climate change is real.”

Minutes later, he emerged to take questions for the media for the first time since Tuesday. “I believe in climate change and I believe it’s as a consequence of human activity,” he stated tersely before retreating into a nearby government office.

Tabuns said it appeared to be a “tantrum” from Rickford, who has defended his use of the online site Climate Change Dispatch to justify a decision by Premier Doug Ford’s government to cancel more than 750 green energy projects at a cost of $231 million to taxpayers.

“Somebody figured out that this was damaging the Ford government and they pushed him out in front of the cameras so that he can make a statement to make some amends,” Tabuns added.

“He has made a total mess of this … he was forced to make a statement that he doesn’t believe in.”

Rickford says the cancellations will save electricity ratepayers $790 million as the government works to keep a promise to reduce hydro rates another 12 per cent.

His behaviour before the TV cameras overshadowed the government’s appointment of an advisory panel on climate change by Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, who on Wednesday took steps to distance himself from Rickford’s reliance on Climate Change Dispatch, which denies the scientific consensus on climate change. SOURCE

Why We Strike Again

After more than a year of grim scientific projections and growing activism, world leaders and the public alike are increasingly recognizing the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And yet nothing has been done.

thunberg1_EMMANUEL DUNANDAFP via Getty Images_climateprotestkidsEmmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

MADRID – For more than a year, children and young people from around the world have been striking for the climate. We launched a movement that defied all expectations, with millions of people lending their voices – and their bodies – to the cause. We did this not because it was our dream, but because we didn’t see anyone else taking action to secure our future. And despite the vocal support we have received from many adults – including some of the world’s most powerful leaders – we still don’t.

Politicians and fossil-fuel companies have known about climate change for decades. And yet the politicians let the profiteers continue to exploit our planet’s resources and destroy its ecosystems in a quest for quick cash that threatens our very existence.

Don’t take our word for it: scientists are sounding the alarm. They warn that we have never been less likely to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the threshold beyond which the most destructive effects of climate change would be triggered.

Worse, recent research shows that we are on track to produce 120% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5°C limit.The concentration of climate-heating greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has reached a record high, with no sign of a slowdown. Even if countries fulfill their current emissions-reduction pledges, we are headed for a 3.2°C increase.

Young people like us bear the brunt of our leaders’ failures. Research shows that pollution from burning fossil fuels is the world’s most significant threat to children’s health. Just this month, five million masks were handed out at schools in New Delhi, India’s capital, owing to toxic smog. Fossil fuels are literally choking the life from us.

The science is crying out for urgent action, and still our leaders dare to ignore it. So we continue to fight.

After a year of strikes, our voices are being heard. We are being invited to speak in the corridors of power. At the UN, we addressed a room filled with world leaders. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, we met with prime ministers, presidents, and even the pope. We have spent hundreds of hours participating in panels and speaking with journalists and filmmakers. We have been offered awards for our activism.

Our efforts have helped to shift the wider conversation on climate change. People now increasingly discuss the crisis we face, not in whispers or as an afterthought, but publicly and with a sense of urgency. Polls confirm changing perceptions. One recent survey showed that, in seven of the eight countries included, climate breakdown is considered to be the most important issue facing the world. Another confirmed that schoolchildren have led the way in raising awareness.

With public opinion shifting, world leaders, too, say that they have heard us. They say that they agree with our demand for urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. But they do nothing. As they head to Madrid for the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we call out this hypocrisy.

On the next two Fridays, we will again take to the streets: worldwide on November 29, and in Madrid, Santiago, and many other places on December 6 during the UN climate conference. Schoolchildren, young people, and adults all over the world will stand together, demanding that our leaders take action – not because we want them to, but because the science demands it.

That action must be powerful and wide-ranging. After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all. Our political leaders can no longer shirk their responsibilities.

Some say that the Madrid conference is not very important; the big decisions will be made at COP26 in Glasgow next year. We disagree. As the science makes clear, we don’t have a single day to lose.

We have learned that, if we do not step up, nobody will. So we will keep up a steady drumbeat of strikes, protests, and other actions. We will become louder and louder. We will do whatever it takes to persuade our leaders to unite behind science so clear that even children understand it.

Collective action works; we have proved that. But to change everything, we need everyone. Each and every one of us must participate in the climate resistance movement. We cannot just say we care; we must show it.

Join us. Participate in our upcoming climate strikes in Madrid or in your hometown. Show your community, the fossil-fuel industry, and your political leaders that you will not tolerate inaction on climate change anymore. With numbers on our side, we have a chance.

And to the leaders who are headed to Madrid, our message is simple: the eyes of all future generations are upon you. Act accordingly.

Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Angela Valenzuala
This commentary was also signed by Evan Meneses (Australia) and Hilda Flavia Nakabuye (Fridays for Future Uganda).



Climate Change Will Make Us Sicker and Lose Work Hours

Experts have given the United States a warning: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or suffer the consequences of lower productivity and a sicker population for generations to come.


Climate change has medical experts worried about our health, according to a recent report from the Lancet Countdown, an interdisciplinary group of 34 academic institutions and United Nations agencies. Authors include climate scientists, doctors, economists, and other experts.

Heat and air pollution are some of the worst offenders, according to the report. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be the only way to lower health risks in the long run.

The report issued results for countries across the world, and it gives the United States a dismal diagnosis: People will face higher exposure risk to Zika virus from longer mosquito seasons and a widening habitat; they’ll have an elevated risk of diarrheal illnesses and water contamination from worsening floods, and they’ll witness disasters that could cause anxiety and post-traumatic stress. These are just a few examples of the wide-ranging consequences to health from climate change.

Here are four major takeaways from the report for public health in the United States:

1. Worker productivity is dropping because of soaring temperatures. Hotter days are only growing more frequent: Since the turn of the century, we’ve experienced 18 of 19 of the hottest years on record. Scorching temperatures are now limiting the number of hours people can work outside in agriculture and industry. Last year alone, the United States lost 64.7 million potential labor hours from extreme heat. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are some of the U.S. states most at risk of losing productivity hours and have some of the highest rates of poverty.

2. Older adults are more and more at risk from heat waves. By 2030, all members of the baby boomer generation will be over the age of 65. This aging population will be more at risk of falling sick or dying from increased temperatures because they may lack the ability to seek shelter from the heat or have preexisting health issues that heat could exacerbate. Heat zaps our ability to think, leads to dehydration and complications for people on certain medications, and in the most severe cases can cause heatstroke and heart failure. Heat wave exposures have been increasing in recent years and—like many other health effects from climate change—hurt communities that are already vulnerable.

3. Soot and small particles from burning coal and oil are killing people. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is causing thousands of premature deaths in the United States every year. Burning fossil fuels releases fine particles (smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) that can lead to a whole host of health problems, including asthma and birth complications. Black and Latinx people are hit harder by air pollution compared with the general population, despite contributing the least to the problem. In 2016, 64,200 people died prematurely in the United States from air pollution.

4. Children will face a lifetime of health risks from climate change. Children born today will face far greater negative impacts on their health than those of earlier generations, and children of color will be the most affected. From birth complications in the womb to heat-related illness in infancy and young adulthood, children will face health impacts at each stage of development that can affect their entire lives. As the authors write in the report, “without significant intervention, this new era [of climate change] will come to define the health of an entire generation.”

Paths Forward

Limiting carbon emissions will be crucial to curtailing inequality and reducing future health care costs. Cutting emissions can be cost-effective: In the Rust Belt, health care cost savings from addressing carbon emissions would override the costs of switching to renewable energy by 34%.

The United States has a way to go to meet emissions cutbacks. Last year, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by more than 3%. But some states have already begun to take action: Ten states and the District of Columbia rolled out plans for 100% clean or renewable electricity, and even more have enacted low-emissions standards for vehicles.

The report was published last week.

Canada should enforce its own labour standards

President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a signing ceremony for the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In fact, the Americans – with the quiet backing of Canada’s Liberal government – want only Mexico, the third country in the deal, to toughen its labour standards. They are quite happy with the status quo in their own countries.

They shouldn’t be. Workers in both Canada and the U.S. face serious barriers in their efforts to make a decent living.

True, Mexico’s low labour standards and wages pose a real problem for other North American workers. Manufacturers from Canada and the U.S. have moved their operations to Mexico to take advantage of its bargain-basement wage structure.

But that was the whole point of NAFTA. It was designed, in large part, to reduce wage growth in Canada and the U.S. It did so by putting highly paid workers in those countries in direct competition with Mexicans.

Mexican auto workers, for instance, make less than $4 an hour – a fraction of what their Canadian and American counterparts earn.

Still, it’s a bit rich for House Democrats to worry about this now. They had a chance to kill NAFTA at birth 26 years ago. So did Canada’s Liberals. Neither availed themselves of the opportunity.

What’s really galling, however, is the hypocrisy. Yes, Mexican labour standards are worse than those of its northern neighbours. But Canada and the U.S.

In various U.S. states, so called right-to-work laws have made it near impossible to unionize employees.

Canada is more subtle. With the notable exception of Ontario’s ban on organizing farm workers, Canadian provinces don’t usually bother with blatant anti-union laws. Instead, they achieve much the same end through complex regulations that simply make union organization more difficult.

Provinces like Ontario let employers avoid labour standards, such as the right to vacation pay, by pretending that their workers are self-employed, independent contractors.

Provinces like Ontario have also deliberately not kept their labour laws in sync with the requirements of the new economy – one characterized by franchising, digital employment and part-time work.

More to the point, provinces like Ontario don’t enforce the labour standards that do exist. Citing budget constraints and an aversion to red tape, they cut back workplace inspections and respond inadequately to real com

As my colleague Sara Mojtehedzadeh reported recently, Ontario workers can’t be assured of getting the wages they are owed even when the province’s labour ministry rules in their favour.

None of this is meant to suggest that Mexican wage rates and labour standards are adequate. As Mexican workers themselves know, they are not.

And as long as Canada remains in NAFTA, it is in our interest to side with the U.S. House Democrats in their efforts to raise Mexican labour standards.

But before Canada’s Liberal government gets too self-righteous, it might want to reflect on the problems with work, wages and labour standards in this country. We too have a long way to go. SOURCE


Trudeau: Stop the ratification of CUSMA (the new NAFTA)

Unifor will not attend Alberta government’s sham “consultation”

November 28, 2019 – 12:00 AM

EDMONTON –Unifor will not participate in a meeting hosted by Alberta’s deputy labour minster tomorrow, calling it a disingenuous attempt at consultation.

“If Jason Kenney thinks Unifor will legitimize this sham process, he is out of touch. His intentions are clear and we will not stand for any attempt to silence the independent voice of workers,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

The invitation, made on short notice, is the first step in realizing a United Conservative Party (UCP) platform commitment to reduce the influence of the province’s unions. The invitation claims the UCP wants to bring ‘balance’ back to labour legislation.

“Silencing unions while giving employers and corporations a free pass will not bring ‘balance.’ This is a one-sided attack on the democratic voice of working people,” said Dias.

Unifor believes this is not a genuine attempt at meaningful consultation, but rather an attempt to interfere with the democratic decisions that union members make about how they spend dues.

Canada’s workers have the right to freely associate as members of a union, and those rights extend to the union’s freedom of expression. The rights of unions to bargain and advocate for their members, including engaging on politics, has long been recognized in Canadian law.

Unifor has written to Deputy Minister of Labour and Immigration Shawn McLeod, explaining that there is no justification for legislation to control the way that unions spend their money, and such legislation would be a radical departure from Canadian law.

“Amendments to labour laws require thoughtful study, not a one-hour meeting. Unifor will fight any attempt by this government to gag unions or stop us from speaking out for workers’ rights,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Western Regional Director. SOURCE

Unions told thousands more job cuts coming to Alberta public service

Letters to unions from Alberta government released late Friday in advance of collective bargaining

Government letters to Alberta’s public-service unions in advance of collective bargaining warn thousands of public-sector workers could be laid off as the UCP government tries to cut costs. (David Bajer/CBC)

Nearly 6,000 Alberta public-sector jobs could be eliminated as the UCP government tries to cut costs and find efficiencies, the provincial government signalled to Alberta’s largest union in letters released late Friday afternoon.

The union received the letters in advance of bargaining for 2020 collective agreements. The letters are not formal notices of layoffs, but as required under the collective bargaining process, outline cuts the provincial government might make.

The potential cuts would impact 2,500 Government of Alberta positions across several ministries, as well as the following positions at Alberta Health Services:

  • 1,000 to 2,000 housekeepers;
  • 350 administrative support and medical transcription employees;
  • 250 general support staff, such as maintenance employees;
  • 235 laundry and linen operations staff;
  • 200 auxiliary nursing employees, such as licensed practical nurses and health-care aides;
  • 200 home care services staff;
  • 165 foodservice employees.

“The [Government of Alberta] will continue to guarantee employment security until March 30, 2020, for permanent bargaining unit employees using attrition, vacancy management and redeployment to meet employer needs,” states a Thursday letter to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees from Alberta Public Service Commissioner Tim Grant.

But the letter continues that as of April 1 of next year, the government “will use all options available under the collective agreement to ensure government is on track to implement key priorities and support the government’s path to balance by 2020-23.”

Grant said several government cost-cutting initiatives could impact “approximately 2,500 positions” through to the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The letter does not go into much detail about what those initiatives are, but several government ministries are specifically mentioned: Health, Service Alberta, Community and Social Services, Agriculture and Forestry, Seniors and Housing, and Transportation.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the potential cuts “cruel and heartless,” and said they represent a betrayal of what Premier Jason Kenney promised during his election campaign this spring.

“Jason Kenney repeatedly claimed that he was going to protect front-line services,” Notley said. “He does not have a mandate for this because this is the exact opposite of what he told Albertans he would do.”

AUPE president Guy Smith was not available for an interview Friday evening.

In a statement earlier Friday about the collective bargaining process, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the status quo “is not a sustainable option” and said Alberta spends more per capita on services than other large provinces, with often worse results.

“We were also clear about the need for an ongoing review of government programs to ensure they are efficient and effective, and that this could result in changes to the public service,” he said.

Plans to contract out services

A Friday letter to the union from Dennis Holliday, the head of negotiations and labour relations for Alberta Health Services (AHS), details thousands of positions at the health authority that could be at risk.

In October’s provincial budget, the UCP increased health-care spending by $201 million to a total of $20.6 billion, a smaller increase than in previous years under the former NDP government. At the time, Toews told reporters, “It’s hard to talk about fiscal responsibility without talking about health care.”

Holliday’s letter to AUPE said that, while the AHS budget has remained stable, “Alberta’s growing and aging population means we need to be more efficient and focused in terms of healthcare spending.

“This places increased demand on our healthcare services and it means we have to do things differently in order to provide safe, effective, and high-quality care for Albertans.”

Holliday said contracting out AHS housekeeper positions would affect between 1,000 and 2,000 full-time equivalent positions. Doing the same to remaining laundry and linen operations and retail food services would affect 235 and 165 positions, respectively.

“If further contracting out initiatives are to be considered in future, we will advise as required,” the letter states.

“AHS will continue to consider all options available to meet our organizational needs including changes to staff mix, service redesign, including changes and repurposing of sites, relocating services, reducing or ceasing the provision of services,” it says.

Notley said it is clear the UCP government intends to further privatize public services.

“Albertans will pay the price for this. And again, it’s entirely unnecessary. This has gone from prudent fiscal management to an extreme ideological vendetta.” 

More potential cuts for nurses announced

On Friday, the United Nurses of Alberta learned that a further 750 front-line nurses could lose their jobs under a “massive downsizing” at AHS.

The nurses’ union said it learned of the planned cuts Friday morning after the lead negotiator for AHS, Raelene Fitz, called a meeting unexpectedly to inform the union that it plans to eliminate 500 full-time-equivalent (FTE) nursing positions over a three-year period beginning April 1, 2020.

Cutting 500 full-time-equivalent positions would mean layoffs for more than 750 front-line registered nurses because many nurses work part-time hours, the union said.

The plans were disclosed “in advance of bargaining for UNA’s 2020 provincial collective agreement so that the union would have time to absorb the information and respond accordingly,” the union said in a news release.

Decisions are still being made, but AHS was required to disclose the measures as part of the collective bargaining process, the health authority said in a statement.

Kenney was at a business conference in Lake Louise on Friday. When reporters asked him about the potential nursing cuts, he said this is in line with the UCP government’s agenda.

“We’ve always been clear that getting our province’s finances back in order will require some reduction in the size of the overall public service, and that we hope to achieve that primarily through attrition,” Kenney said. “My understanding is that’s the goal of AHS management.”

Notley, however, said she is “very, very worried for Albertans of all walks of life because this is going to seriously destabilize the quality of health care that Albertans across this province need to rely on.” SOURCE