Game Over for Kenney

Jason’s ace? There was always the federal government to bash. Not anymore.


Cartoon by Greg Perry.

One of the many stories that the pandemic has eclipsed is Jason Kenney. Alberta’s premier is suddenly at risk of going from being one of Canada’s most successful populist politicians into its most outdated leader.

Before COVID-19 turned Times Square into a ghost town, shut down the NHL, and closed Parliament, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Taj Mahal, Kenney was making news directing elbows into Justin Trudeau’s grizzled beard — elbows sharpened by years of political skirmishing. He kept bugging Trudeau to concentrate on the economy. Alberta’s primarily.

It was the familiar harangue: Ottawa was failing the West and the energy sector, and it had to stop or else. Trudeau had other fish to fry, including extravagant promises on fighting climate change — promises he largely broke during his first term, and for which he was punished by voters in 2019.

After crushing Rachel Notley and the NDP in that year’s provincial election, Kenney turned his guns on the feds with a vengeance. His base was suffering from extreme economic angst. Nothing concentrates the mind like being out of work. Alberta’s premier had lots of targets: the hated carbon tax, the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline in 2017, and sluggish progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

With the decision by Teck Resources to drop its $20.6 billion Frontier mine in the tar sands, and Warren Buffett walking away from the $9-billion Quebec LNG project, it was easy for Kenney to twist the narrative and blame Ottawa again. Trudeau was doing for foreign investment what COVID-19 has done for cruise ship bookings.

Dealing with a PM who had just lost his majority government, Kenney’s bully-boy tactics seemed to be working. Trudeau appeared to be back on his heels. Kenney rallied other premiers to his side, and got the hotter heads back home doing the separation two-step.

Kenney stamped his cowboy boots with vigour. Trudeau had to hand over wads of stabilization cash, approve more pipelines, and even help clean up the province’s environmental mess, a legacy of irresponsible oil industry players. According to Kenney, Ottawa should adopt Alberta’s orphan mines. (It just might). Otherwise, national unity would be at stake.

Oil crash fever

In the middle of mugging the feds, Kenney was hit by a double whammy for the ages. COVID-19 took the world by storm, crashing the stock market like a house of cards. And then there was the catastrophic drop in the price of oil after Russia, OPEC, and Saudi Arabia rumbled over the issue of cutting supply to prop up sagging prices.

Russia would not agree. Saudi Arabia then increased its production massively, and slashed its prices in an effort to get Moscow to bow to cuts. Mr. Putin didn’t blink. Welcome to West Texas Intermediate oil hovering around $22 dollars U.S. a barrel — less than a third of the price needed by Teck Resources to make its Frontier project in the tar sands viable.

And welcome to the truth about the tar sands and Jason Kenney. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. It has been for quite some time. This week, oil made from Alberta bitumen was going for just over $7 a barrel, discount and all.

The premier lives in the past, a place where successive Conservative governments relied on what they believed would be ever-increasing oil revenues; where you didn’t have to have a real Sovereign Wealth Fund like Norway’s; you didn’t need a sales tax; climate change didn’t exist; gas would always be cheap; and no one had ever heard of shale fracking.

Jason’s ace?

If things really got sticky in the patch, there was always the federal government to bash. Not anymore.

The real world has suddenly supplanted Kenneyland.

Yesterday’s oil patch

Trudeau can’t be blamed for either COVID-19, or the catastrophic drop in the price of oil. There is only a ticking clock on fossil fuels as they overheat the planet, decades of bad resource management in Alberta, and Jason Kenney’s determination to carry on the tradition. SOURCE

Alberta should leave Canada if ‘absolute necessities’ not met, Brian Jean says

Former Wildrose Party leader advocates for Premier Jason Kenney to take demands to Ottawa

Brian Jean led Alberta’s Opposition as Wildrose Party leader and ran to lead the United Conservative Party when his party merged with the PCs in 2017, losing to now-Premier Jason Kenney.

One of Alberta’s most prominent conservative voices and a former leader of the province’s opposition is calling on Ottawa to acquiesce to a series of demands — or risk separation.

Brian Jean was the former leader of the Wildrose Party before it merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2017 to create the United Conservative Party, losing the leadership race to Jason Kenney.

Jean has stayed largely out of provincial politics since then, denying rumours in 2019 he might soon return.

But the former Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA, in a column posted by the Edmonton Journal Saturday, calls for four “absolute necessities” from Ottawa — and stresses if those demands aren’t met by Canada, then Alberta should leave.

“I believe, right now, that most Albertans believe that Canada is broken,” Jean said in an interview with CBC News. “There are some fundamental problems with our Confederation, with our country, and Albertans, for the most part, want to fix it.”

Brian Jean   @BrianJeanAB

My latest. If Premier Kenney can’t get a deal from Canada Alberta should leave. 

Edmonton Journal @edmontonjournal

Brian Jean: How Kenney can help fix a broken country 

Those necessities, as outlined by Jean, include some familiar echoes to measures currently being studied by Alberta’s “fair deal” panel, which is due to present its recommendations in less than a month.

In all cases, Jean advocates for implementing constitution changes — four “fundamental things” that he feels most Canadians will agree with:

    • Changing Canada’s constitution to “require that every province is being treated fairly and equally.”
    • Requiring the House of Commons or the Senate to have true representation by population.
    • Establishing an amendment that would prohibit the federal government from passing a law that would impact one province without majority consensus of the MPs and senators of that province.
    • Require the constitution to state that no province can prevent any province “to have access to tidewater or trade with the rest of the world.”

While Jean said he is “not a separatist,” he said he believed Albertans have reached a breaking point.

“I think it’s fair to say if you’re in a marriage where one spouse is continually abusive to the other, that you should look for a better place to be if they’re not going to listen to reason,” Jean said. “No one should stay in an abusive relationship. Right now, the majority of Albertans believe it is somewhat of an abusive relationship.

“Certainly, a good portion of them believe it is unfixable.”

Throwing support behind Kenney

The person best suited to bring these demands to Ottawa, Jean said, is Kenney — a notable suggestion considering the checkered history between the two men.

In February 2019, Jean demanded Kenney retract statements that claimed all campaigns operated voting stations, declaring that his team “never cheated.”

Leaked internal UCP documents obtained by CBC News in March 2019 revealed that the leadership campaign of Jason Kenney collaborated with fellow candidate Jeff Callaway’s campaign during the 2017 leadership race, targeting Jean’s campaign.

“Premier Kenney, in my mind, is one of the staunchest Canadian federalists in the scene, and politically, is best positioned to represent us in constitutional discussions right now,” Jean said.

Asked why now he is throwing his support behind Kenney, Jean said he couldn’t think of anyone better positioned for the task.

“He’s been a former federal cabinet minister for 10 years,” he said. “He is very well positioned to know exactly any movement that could be taken by the federal government or other provinces, and I would believe he would be successful in arguing that position.”

When asked whether he would run himself in a scenario where Alberta separated from Canada — or support Kenney or someone like Wexit Leader Peter Downing — Jean said “it’s up to the people.”

“Right now, I have a lot of family responsibilities. But I recognize, living in Fort McMurray and in spending time in other great cities in Alberta, that there are other people very serious about this movement, such as Mr. Downing and others,” he said. “Sooner or later, if it’s not solved … then someone will rise.”

Column is ‘grossly problematic,’ professor says

Melanee Thomas, an associate political science professor at the University of Calgary, said though she recognizes some Albertans are frustrated, that is not the same thing as “federation being broken.”

“I think that this column is grossly problematic … I’ve been candid on the public record that what I’ve been seeing since the middle of the federal election to now are certain political elites in Alberta working really hard to stoke a particular form of angry alienation,” Thomas said. “I think it’s irresponsible because it doesn’t actually match a lot of things that we’re seeing in terms of public opinion.”

Thomas also took issue with Jean referring to Alberta as an “unappreciated colony” in his column.

“When we’re talking about colonialism, we need to be very careful in Canada that we use the correct reference, and the reference in this case would be to Indigenous people,” she said. “There is nothing in Alberta’s experience with federation that merits the use of the term ‘colony.’

“It’s usage in this case is completely racially tone-deaf in terms of what actual colonialism looks like.”

She added that entrenched constitutional law is extremely difficult to change, so Jean’s confrontational approach is unlikely to pay dividends.

“If this is actually about amending the constitution, the audience needs to be other Canadians. I don’t think that these kinds of approaches show Alberta in a productive light, where other Canadians can be confident that we’re actually going to be sensible negotiation partners,” Thomas said.

“I think it’s a reasonable question for Albertans to ask, ‘Why are these political elites working really hard to make us angry at the federal government?'”

Equalization issues

In his column, Jean cites the “more than $20 billion we contribute to equalization annually while [Canada] simultaneously [seeks] to prevent our future prosperity.”

Calgary economist Trevor Tombe said that though Jean references equalization multiple times in his column, each time, “he does so in error.”

“[He] repeats some broadly held but incorrect beliefs about how the program works and who funds it,” Tombe said. “For example, the very opening line of the piece notes that Alberta contributes $20 billion into the equalization program, but that’s simply not the case. The entire national program is only $20.6 billion this year.”

Tombe said Alberta taxpayers pay more in federal revenue than is received in the form of federal spending in the province, but that is a consequence of high income levels that exist in Alberta.

“Alberta pays about 17 per cent of the federal budget in recent years, but its roughly 17 per cent of the Canadian economy for most federal revenue, because it is tied to income through income taxes or sales taxes,” he said. “It naturally results in higher income individuals paying more, and Alberta is home to more higher income individuals than most other provinces.”

It’s undeniable that there is some real frustration in Alberta, Tombe said, but he’s not sure Jean’s column helps that case.

“There are some important policy issues around pipelines in particular, they have raised a lot of concern and is the subject of legitimate debate,” Tombe said. “But if he’s going to invoke misleading and outright false statements around how equalization works or how federal transfers work or who pays the federal budget in general, that’s not helpful.” SOURCE

Oil investments are the new tobacco

The climate crisis and peak oil demand are making expensive projects like Alberta’s Teck Frontier look like bad investments.

Teck mine

Everybody in Canada is pointing fingers about Teck Resources cancelling its giant $20 billion open pit tar sands mine. Alberta’s Premier Kenney blames “urban-green-left zealots” and says it will “further weaken national unity.” Temporary leader of the opposition Andrew Scheer blames the Prime Minister, saying, “Justin Trudeau’s inaction has emboldened radical activists” and “Make no mistake: Justin Trudeau killed Teck Frontier.”

But the fact is that it made no economic sense in a world awash in cheap oil; Teck needed $95 a barrel to break even and Canadian oil is selling for $38. Permian Basin oil sells for $50. And who was going to lend Teck $20 billion, when the people who fund these projects are pulling out of the market?

Many have joined Climate Action 100+, “an investor initiative launched in 2017 to ensure the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change.”

Larry Fink of Black Rock, controlling $7 trillion, recently wrote that “climate change will upend global finance sooner than they might think.” According to Bloomberg, “Mark Carney and Christine Lagarde are once again pushing investors to take the climate crisis seriously and ensure they’re considering the risks from emissions and higher temperatures.”

And now, JPMorgan Chase is warning that climate change is a threat to “human life as we know it.” According to Bloomberg,

“The response to climate change should be motivated not only by central estimates of outcomes but also by the likelihood of extreme events,” bank economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray wrote in a Jan. 14 report to clients. “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened.”

This is from a company that has invested $75 billion in fracking and Arctic oil, and right now is demolishing a perfectly good, recently renovated building, with an upfront carbon load in replacing the square footage of about 63,971 tonnes of CO2. Even they are now talking climate crisis.

According to the JP Morgan report leaked to the Guardian, “The climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.”

Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century… The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

JP Morgan is backtracking a bit, telling the BBC that the report was “wholly independent from the company as a whole, and not a commentary on it,” but it is all part of a trend.

“Fossil fuels are done!”

Take that Mad Money guy, Jim Cramer, who is saying “fossil fuels are done.”

He doesn’t mention climate change, but blames investor attitudes. Quoted by Nick Cunningham in

“We’re starting to see divestment all over the world. We’re starting to see big pension funds say, ‘listen, we’re not going to own them anymore,’” Cramer said on CNBC. “The world’s changed. There’s new managers. They don’t want to hear whether these are good or bad.”

Cunningham notes that companies are not suddenly getting concerned about sustainability, but see peak oil demand coming with the rise of electric vehicles. “It has become both a moral issue and a financial one.”

“We’re in the death knell phase. I know that’s very controversial. But we’re in the death knell phase,” Cramer warned. “The world has turned on them. It’s actually happening kind of quickly. You’re seeing divestiture by a lot of different funds. It’s going to be a parade that says, ‘Look, these are tobacco. And we’re not going to own them’… “[Oil is now] tobacco. I think they’re tobacco. We’re in a new world.”

I am sorry, but you cannot blame Justin Trudeau for that.

If Teck offered lessons, it’s not clear Alberta is learning them

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews insists the federal government is mainly to blame for the cancellation of the Teck Resources oilsands project.

By the time the Frontier mega-mine proposal died a swift and unexpected death last week, the proposal had taken on a national significance that dwarfed even the 29,000 acres of forest and wetland it sought to take over.

To Alberta’s United Conservative government, its approval would indicate whether Prime Minster Justin Trudeau really supported the oilsands. To environmentalists, it was a scourge.

But to Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based company behind it, it was a chance to balance oilsands development with environmental rigour, in a project they believe should have satisfied both sides. But, they argued in their letter to the federal environment minister, Canadian regulations have not caught up.

Global markets are changing fast, Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck, wrote in the letter last weekend.

“Investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change,” he said.

“This does not yet exist here today.”

But if it’s true that oilsands projects are now forever tangled up in the climate change debate, observers say Alberta isn’t learning that lesson.

Mike Holden, the vice-president of policy and chief economist of the Business Council of Alberta, said he was surprised that the provincial budget had lots of plans for what they hope is a coming upswing in the oil industry, but almost nothing to say about climate change.

“I think that there was an opportunity that the province could have taken to spell out a climate strategy that could have helped with investor confidence, that could have helped with sending a message to the federal government that it was serious about working in this area, and it didn’t do that,” he said.

“That’s not to say that it might not at some point down the road, but it was fairly silent.”

The budget has one reference to the global challenge that is climate change, and notes that Alberta’s “global leadership in clean energy and (greenhouse gas reducing) technologies is also key to investment attraction.”

It also includes their TIER, or Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction, program, which places a $30 per tonne tax on large emitters. According to the budget, it will put $969 million into climate technology and emission reduction over 3 years.

Despite Teck’s lengthy letter, Alberta government officials don’t believe that the Teck cited the real reason for cancelling the project.

When asked about Teck’s decision in advance of the budget being tabled Thursday, Finance Minister Travis Toews cast the blame east.

“We have a federal government who didn’t categorically affirm its support for a project that’s gone through in every environmental hurdle put in front of them,” Toews said.

“The fact that the goal posts were seemingly, potentially to be adjusted at the last minute has a profound effect.”

In this, Toews echoed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has put the blame for the cancellation at the feet of rail blockade protesters across the country who have been affecting transportation for nearly three weeks, as well as federal inaction.

On Monday, Kenney said “there is absolutely no doubt” that the blame for the decision lies with the federal government and called for action from Ottawa to restore investor confidence in the province.

But Chris Severson-Baker, the Alberta regional director of the Pembina Institute, says sound climate policy is a major way to attract investors. It’s possible to pursue climate goals while still investing in oil development, he said, but there should be incentives for projects or types of development that are lower in carbon.

He said he was disappointed to see little talk of climate in the new budget, especially as the current federal government plans for Canada to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

He points to the oil industry leaders who have publicly supported a carbon tax. He says that many in the industry realize that many big oil projects now have to prove their green bonafides to get approval.

“Until this is resolved, it’s going to be a barrier to make further investments in Canada and in Alberta,” said Severson-Baker. SOURCE

Digging Inro Oil Sands Divestment

The Canada Letter speaks with a Times reporter who has looked into large investors who have turned away from the oil sands.

Another energy story was somewhat lost this week among turmoil from protests over the natural gas pipeline construction in Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. On Wednesday, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would no longer put money into companies that get revenue from the oil sands in Alberta.

The Syncrude Canada plant north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Credit…Ben Nelms/Bloomberg


My colleague Christopher Flavelle, who follows how people, governments and industries are coping with the effects of global warming, reported on the decision as part of his in-depth look at investors who are divesting oil sands-related holdings.

[Read: Global Financial Giants Swear Off Funding an Especially Dirty Fuel.]

Christopher, by the way, was born and raised in Toronto, obtained a B.A. in political science at McGill University and once worked at The Walrus magazine.

I asked him to expand on some of the points from his article in which the head of a fund at BlackRock describes the oils sands as being “the worst offenders, if you want, from a climate perspective.”

Some of the investors you spoke with said that they are taking their money out of the oil sands for environmental reasons. But is the current oil glut and the prospect of continued low oil prices also influencing their decisions?

I spoke with equity analysts, economists and fund managers for this story, and they all made a version of that point: The recent low rate of return on oil has made it easier for investors to pull out of the oil sands, because it means they’re not sacrificing a lucrative investment. That’s especially true for the oil sands, which have been hurt by the lack of new pipelines that would make it cheaper to get more of that oil to market.

Other people took that argument a step further, predicting that when, or if, oil in general and the oil sands in particular become a more attractive investment, some of the investors who left will come back. And that seems like a valid point: One test of these divestment policies will be whether investors stick to them over time.

Alberta has responded by attempting to embarrass some financial services companies for pulling out of the oil sands and by threatening to no longer do business with them. Has anybody noticed any of that effort outside Alberta or Canada?

The investors and insurance companies that have been the targets of that pressure have certainly noticed. But I couldn’t find evidence that the pressure from Alberta has caused any of those companies to change their policies.

The closest might be HSBC, which seemed to get more attention from Premier Jason Kenney than any other company. HSBC softened the language in its policy statement on the oil sands last year, its spokeswoman told me, removing what she called “the suggestion that our exposure to the oil sands industry would diminish.” But it didn’t shift its pledge to stop funding new oil sands projects.

The bigger question that came up during my reporting is whether lenders that might otherwise want to invest in oil sands projects will decide not to as a result of the Alberta government’s willingness to publicly criticize foreign investors it disagrees with. That’s a much harder question to answer.

Have some oil sands companies made significant progress on reducing carbon emissions, as Alberta’s government has said?

It depends how you define ‘significant.’ Joule Bergerson, a professor in the chemical and petroleum engineering department at the University of Calgary, told me that she’s seen reductions in carbon intensity — the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of energy extracted — in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent.

The companies themselves report having made significant reductions. Cenovus told me in a statement that its greenhouse gas intensity had fallen 30 percent in 15 years. Suncor said in a statement that emissions intensity at its oil sands base plant was down more than 60 percent since 1990.

But Dr. Bergerson added that reductions on the scale we’ve seen so far aren’t necessarily going to change investors’ minds about quitting the oil sands because they still leave most of those projects well above the global average for carbon intensity. As she put it, those companies “are really trying, and putting their money where their mouth is in terms of developing new technologies.” Still, she said, it remains unclear whether they’ll be able to cut emissions enough to persuade other investors not to leave.

How willing were people in the industry and the Canadian financial community to speak with you?

I was surprised by how difficult it was to get Canadian investors and oil sands companies to talk to me. Aside from the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, none of the large pension funds agreed to my requests for interviews. The biggest oil sands companies likewise declined my requests for interviews, though some agreed to respond to written questions.

When I mentioned that to the people I spoke with, many of whom asked not to be identified, the explanation was that nobody wants to be the next one to get targeted by the premier’s office. I would have asked Mr. Kenney about that, but his office declined my request for an interview. SOURCE


OPINION | What’s really holding back the oilsands? It’s not the bill of goods you’re being sold

‘Get out of the way of our province’: Alberta urges Teck oilsands mine approval, rejects federal aid idea

Any economic assistance for Alberta is ‘separate and distinct’ from the Teck decision, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a rejection of Teck Resource’s oilsands project would send the wrong message to foreign investors.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a rejection of Teck Resource’s oilsands project would send the wrong message to foreign investors.Jim Wells/Postmedia files

OTTAWA — Officials from the energy-rich province of Alberta on Friday insisted the federal government approve a massive oilsands project, rejecting the idea that aid from Ottawa would soften the blow if it were to be quashed.

Reuters reported on Thursday that Canada is preparing a financial package that would help dull the pain if it blocks Teck Resources Ltd.’s plan to build the $20.6 billion (US$15.7 billion) Frontier mine that has raised climate and wildlife concerns.

“We’re not looking for a handout from the federal government, we’re looking for the federal government to get out of the way of our province,” Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon told reporters in Calgary.

Any economic assistance for Alberta is “separate and distinct” from the Teck decision, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters in Ottawa.

Alberta strongly backs the project on the grounds it would create 7,000 jobs and help revive a struggling provincial energy industry. The federal cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must make a decision by the end of this month.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Teck had spent close to $1 billion over a decade as it cleared a series of regulatory hurdles. A rejection now would show global capital markets that major projects could obey all the rules and still fall afoul of what he called an arbitrary political decision, he said.

“I think that would be a devastating message to send in terms of investor confidence at a time when we are struggling to attract foreign direct investment to the Canadian economy,” Kenney told a business audience in Washington, D.C.

Alberta sits on the world’s third-largest proven reserves of crude, most of it in the form of thick bitumen-like deposits that require intensive use of energy to exploit.

But the industry has struggled recently due to low oil prices and a lack of pipeline capacity.

Unhappiness with the government’s energy and pipeline policy cost Trudeau’s Liberals all their Alberta seats in October 2019 elections.

Kenney said it would be “hard to overstate” the reaction of Albertans from a rejection of the project.

Teck President and Chief Executive Don Lindsay recently questioned whether the mine would ever be built, in part because oil prices were not high enough.

Several proposed Alberta oil extraction sites have been approved but are not going forward.

“The Teck mine proposal would just join the twenty other oilsands projects sitting on the shelf because they don’t make economic sense in a world moving away from oil,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada. SOURCE


The Silly, Scary Truth about Alberta’s New Ministry of Truth

Ridiculed for their lies and bumbling, Jason Kenney’s propagandists soldier on.


One critic called Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s energy ‘war room’ an ‘expensive joke.’ That made his war room brain trust upset. Photo by Greg Fulmes, the Canadian Press.

Jason Kenney is learning that it’s not easy to set up a state-run propaganda agency.

Right off the bat, the Alberta premier’s “war room” swore, as every propaganda outfit does, that it would “reject what is false and promote what is true.”

The agency, officially named the Canadian Energy Centre and launched earlier this month with an annual budget of $30 million, picked one of its first battles with the Medicine Hat News.

That newspaper’s crime was to publish an opinion piece by Jeremy Appel that lambasted the agency’s motives: “Its entire premise is based on the notion that anyone who opposes oilsands expansion is a liar with ulterior motives.”

Appel called the war room “an expensive joke” and “a grave threat to our right to dissent.”

And he criticized Kenney for arguing, just like the extremist Ezra Levant, that the province needed a propaganda agency because Canadian oil is more ethical than Saudi or Russian oil.

“Are Albertans supposed to pat themselves on the back because they don’t jail and execute dissidents, but merely dedicate public resources to their vilification and harassment without a shred of transparency?”

Appel’s column proved something that George Orwell once wrote: that “if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

And so, the CEC immediately swung into action. Grady Semmens, a CEC agent and former Trans Canada PR guy, sent the paper a note saying it wanted to respond to the “comments and inaccuracies” in Appel’s column. (For the record, Semmens describes himself as “a purpose-driven public affairs professional.”)

The subsequent “guest column” makes no mention of any “inaccuracies” but swears the propaganda outfit will be “informative, positive and educational.”

But how can a group staffed largely by conservative partisans or hydrocarbon fundamentalists be anything but ideological, political and false?

It starts at the top. Tom Olsen, CEC’s managing director, used to serve as the press secretary for Tory premier Ed Stelmach and was a failed United Conservative Party candidate in the last election. (Count Olsen as at least one Albertan put back to work by Kenney.)

Pumping a deflated ‘enemy’

Olsen and his indoctrinators, employing the Orwellian technique of inventing an enemy, pretend to be fighting a war against a foreign-funded, anti-oilsands campaign that largely ended four years ago. As Olsen blared, his agency “is a direct response to the domestic and foreign-funded campaigns against Canada’s oil and gas industry that have divided Canadians and devastated the Alberta economy as energy production in the United States and elsewhere has ramped up.”

Apparently Olsen has no knowledge of the 2014 oil price collapse, or other well-documented factors hurting his province’s petro-prospects.

And he apparently also forgot that years ago, four oilsands executives sat down with five environmental groups involved in the anti-tarsands campaign led by Tzeporah Berman. In backrooms, they all agreed to a half-assed plan to limit emissions as opposed to production, which, rightly or wrongly, largely derailed the campaign.

The NDP government later joined in the climate policy agreement, leading to a splashy announcement in November 2015.

Still, no good propagandist discards a deflated enemy when falsely pumping one up better serves his purpose. Fighting a battle that has largely ended is surely good work if you can get it. MORE


‘Fair deal’ panel town hall fails to stoke support for Wexit

The "fair deal" panel in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Image: David Climenhaga

The visit of Premier Jason Kenney’s “fair deal” panel to Fort Saskatchewan, an industrial oil town just northeast of Edmonton, may have been intended to be a separatist open-mike night when it was added as a stop on the travel itinerary by the UCP’s brain trust.

Whatever they expected when they ginned up their maximum-pressure campaign on the federal Liberals, though, that’s not what they got yesterday evening when about 100 souls braved temperatures creeping close to minus 30 to go to the town’s recreation centre and offer their two cents about Alberta’s role in Confederation.

Some of the folks who showed up, of course, may have just wanted to get a peek at Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian right and the panel’s most prominent member. Alas for the curious, Manning took a powder, as he did the night before in Fort McMurray too.

But despite the panel’s baked-in assumption that Alberta’s getting a raw deal from the rest of Canada and its apparent effort to lead witnesses to the conclusions the government wants, plenty of people got up on their hind legs, proclaimed their love of Canada and advised the panel members they thought the province needs to start trying to work with our fellow citizens instead of just yelling at them.

“We need policies that build bridges, not walls,” as one speaker put it.

That thought even seemed to have occurred to a number of speakers at the two-hour, town-hall style meeting who said they felt Alberta isn’t getting a fair deal but were pretty sure making threats and throwing tantrums wasn’t going to make things better.

That isn’t what I was expecting when I drove to Fort Saskatchewan, and nor was the surprising number of town-hall participants who advised the panel the time has come for Alberta to join the grownups of Confederation and adopt a sales tax like every other jurisdiction in the country.

“The ‘Alberta Advantage’ may be a luxury we can no longer afford,” said one man before calling for implementation of a sales tax.

But if any message came through with crystal clarity for MLA panel members Tany Yao, Miranda Rosin and Drew Barnes to take back to their UCP caucus-mates, it was this: “Leave our pension funds alone.”

Or, more to the point, as several speakers put it, keep your hands off our Canada Pension Plan! And (one also said) we don’t trust the Alberta Investment Management Corporation either.

Well, you’ve got to love an Edmonton crowd, where progressivism runs deep even in a small-town on the periphery where the demographics lean hard toward grey hair and pale skin.

But panel staff indicated the idea that Kenney should keep his paws off the CPP comes up everywhere. So keep that in mind when you read the panel’s final report in March. If it suggests otherwise, that should set off your instinctive baloney detector.

Another thing that must come up a lot is the depredations of the UCP budget. Otherwise, why would panel chair Oryssia Lennie, a former senior civil servant, warn participants: “This is not the time to talk about the budget”?

“If you wish to speak about matters pertaining to the budget,” she advised the crowd, “please contact your MLA.”

More than one speaker pleaded for the environment. One reminded her neighbours that separation would mean you’ll need a passport to go to Kelowna. A couple of municipal politicians scored the UCP for trying to keep them from taking federal money without getting provincial permission — talk about adding red tape! And one young man astonished everyone with his passionate plea to decriminalize sex work. (Just think of all the tax revenue, he observed.)

And, yes, there was a little hard-core group of Wexiters who applauded each other’s remarks noisily and asserted, for example, that “the climate change agenda scam is being used to push socialism, which inevitably turns to communism.” Or, “the most ardent federalists seem to be taking talking points out of a union manual.”

One such fellow even advised telling the rest of Canada: “It’s a nice country you have here. Too bad if something happened to it. By the way, we’re bringing the pension back.” (You really can’t make this stuff up!)

But of the 27 folks who registered to speak — one guy previously observed by your blogger assisting George Clark of #Kudatah fame at another event spoke twice — I counted 16 who defended Canada as it is, 10 who thought constitutional reform is needed (about half of whom had drunk the Wexit Kool-Aid), and the sex-work guy.

Every defence of the CPP got a round of spontaneous applause.

The UCP grievance campaign, as one man summarized it, is just so 2003. “Albertans do not want to leave the country, they don’t want their own pension plan, and they don’t want to lose the RCMP,” he said. “We’re in the best country in the world and it shouldn’t be messed with!”

Jason Kenney, take note!

Like Manning, panel member Jason Goodstriker was also missing. The session was attended, though, by the remaining members of the panel, Stephen Lougheed, Donna Kennedy-Glans and Moin Yahya.


From zero to $60: Edmonton parents brace for increases to school bus fees

Extracurricular activities, family’s budget will be impacted, says one mom

Last week’s decision to increase bus fees will impact the families of around 11,000 Edmonton Public School students. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With school bus fees set to rise by hundreds of dollars in the new year, Tia McAdam says her Edmonton family has some difficult decisions to make.

She has already cut back on her twin daughters’ choir and dance lessons in light of rising school fees. But McAdam says all extracurricular activities could be kiboshed to help pay for a three-fold hike in bus fees, approved last week by Edmonton Public School Board trustees.

“That’s what’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“I hate the fact that they’re doing nothing but homework and housework when they come from school. But, you know, I guess that’s just the political climate right now.”

On Feb. 1, the cost to bus her daughters to Riverbend Junior High on a subsidized Edmonton Transit Service pass will increase from $19 to $60 a month. It takes about an hour for the Grade 7 students to make the seven-kilometre trip on transit.

Trustees approved the increase last Tuesday, in reaction to the Alberta government’s decision to eliminate the School Fee Reduction grant. That program was introduced by the NDP government to help offset the costs of 2017 legislation that prohibited school boards from charging bus fees to families living more than 2.4 kilometres from their designated school.

In February, the monthly cost of a yellow bus for students from kindergarten up to Grade 6 will rise from zero to $33 a month for families living further than 2.4 kilometres. For older students, the monthly fee rises from zero to $60.

Similar fees, also going into effect Feb. 1, were approved Tuesday by the Edmonton Catholic School Division. Under its cost recovery program, the monthly cost of passes for students from kindergarten to grade 6 will be $33.50 per month. The cost for older students will be $56.50 per month.  MORE


Jason Kenney’s Year Of Attack

Meet the young Indigenous organizers working to bring together ceremony and activism in Alberta


Veronica Fuentes, a 20-year-old organizer with the Beaver Hills Warriors, says it’s important for Indigenous activists to “recenter the narrative and take hold of the narrative” when it comes to advocacy on land and climate issues. Photo: Abdul Malik / The Narwhal

For Indigenous activists in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), a change in government doesn’t necessarily mean a change in tactics.

When Alberta premier Jason Kenney was elected in April, many local activists kicked into high gear.

A public inquiry into the funding of environmental groups, a war room, scrapping the carbon tax — all of these policies seemed to many activists to be an onslaught of worrying government policies.

But for Edmonton organizer Veronica Fuentes, it seemed a bit like more of the same.

Fuentes, whose father is Salvadoran and whose mother is from the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan and a survivor of the sixties scoop, is an organizer in early her early twenties who is part of an Edmonton group called the Beaver Hills Warriors.

The colonial violence inflicted on her family members by past governments is part of the reason, she tells me, that she doesn’t feel all that different under Jason Kenney.

“That’s the difference when it’s Indigenous-led organizing,” she says. “The faith you have in your government is already skewed.”

When I meet Fuentes, she’s just handed in her last assignment for her second year in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

In addition to her studies, she works a number of jobs and spends as much time as she can organizing with the Beaver Hills Warriors, an Indigenous youth collective that advocates for Indigenous rights.

She focuses her energy on Indigenous-led activism — for her, that’s activism that centres ceremony, self-care and community building.

She also believes engaging in electoral politics has its place. “We’re all well aware of it, we follow it, we all just sit in our seats just, like, facepalming,” she says. She believes centring Indigenous ceremony and building relationships among Indigenous people is also powerful — if not more so.

“That’s not to say we don’t understand the significance of engaging in electoral politics, but a lot of us don’t feel safe in those spaces,” she tells me.

“The reality for my community in El Salvador and in Saskatchewan — [my family is] from the Yellow Quill First Nation — is very, very different from the reality that’s centred in white climate justice,” Fuentes, who identifies as Anishinaabekwe tied to Treaty 4, says.

“A group of Indigenous folk took note of that and wanted to recenter the narrative and take hold of the narrative.”

The Beaver Hills Warriors was born out of this Indigenous-led movement in activism and community organizing.

‘It’s all interconnected’

Nigel Robinson, another member of the Beaver Hills Warriors, was 24 when he first took out a weathered copy of “The Fourth World: An Indian Reality,” by George Manuel from the Edmonton Public Library. “I read the first 70 pages of that and it blew my mind,” he says.

For Robinson, those pages put words to feelings he had not seen in print before. He remembers reading about how “the common perception that Indigenous people are inherently inferior … and that the colonizer uplifted us,” and it struck him that there must be a persistent belief in inferiority in order for a society to dispossess Indigenous people of their land.

Indigenous activism Alberta climate justice

Nigel Robinson is a member of the Łuéchogh Túé First Nation near what is now called Cold Lake, Alta. In his lifetime, he’s already seen changes in the lake, which has been part of his motivation to advocate for climate justice. Photo: Abdul Malik / The Narwhal

Robinson had been thinking a lot about the larger forces at play in society since his father’s death in 2010, at the age of 48, when Robinson was still a teenager. He says he heard terrible sentiments at the time, with people saying, “he’s just an Indian.”

Robinson says that was when he “started to think critically” about some of the issues he saw in his community. He began to realize they were “methods of dispossession.” He says residential schools and “imposed alcoholism,” both at play in his father’s death, were tools of colonialism.

“It’s all interconnected,” he says.

Robinson’s family has a history of advocacy. He says his uncle was of particular inspiration to him, and was a mentor until his death earlier this year.

He’s been asked to present to local high school classes and prefers to steer presentations away from what he calls “tokenizing” performances, toward discussions about modern, nuanced Indigenous life.

When we meet, he’s on contract with the Blue Quills language program, and is passionate about the importance of Indigenous languages. He’s working toward fluency in Dene and Cree. “Indigenous languages are the first languages the land has given us,” he says.

And he’s a mainstay at Beaver Hills Warriors events.

Indigenous activism Alberta Greta Thunberg

Nigel Robinson on the megaphone at an October climate rally in Edmonton — in which Indigenous activists led the march — joined by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Sharon J. Riley / The Narwhal

‘Life-sustaining nature to our worldviews’

Robinson is a member of the Łuéchogh Túé First Nation near what is now called Cold Lake, Alta.

He never drank the water from Cold Lake, but his grandparents did. He grew up swimming in the waters, but that’s now discouraged too.

“The lake is easily impacted,” Robinson says, and his own observations of its changes were part of what led him to his work advocating for climate action. (Robinson recently attended the climate summit in Madrid.)

Robinson has been very involved in the group’s recent actions to push for the federal government to reject proposals for Teck Resource’s Frontier Mine project —  a massive new oilsands mine proposed in northern Alberta.

Indigenous climate justice Madrid

Robinson (centre) at a Reject Teck rally at the climate summit in Madrid. Photo: Allan Lissner / Indigenous Climate Action.

climate justice Indigenous Madric Frontier mine

Indigenous activists have called on the federal government to reject Teck Resources’ Frontier oilsands mine project in Northern Alberta. Photo: Allan Lissner / Indigenous Climate Action.

There’s a “life sustaining nature to our worldviews,” Fuentes says. “And I think that’s something we can teach the Western world something about.”

This is something Fuentes is conscious of — and conscious of who is centring the narrative.

“Energy solutions without free, prior, informed consent of Indigenous communities — this replicates colonialism, which I think is something that we that we have to be constantly pushing [back against],” she says.

That’s part of why the “Reject Teck” campaign has been conscious of amplifying Indigenous voices.

Indigenous activism Alberta climate change

There’s a “life sustaining nature to our worldviews,” Fuentes says. “And I think that’s something we can teach the Western world something about.” Photo: Abdul Malik / The Narwhal

Indigenous activism Alberta justice colonization

Robinson first read George Manuel when he was 24. He remembers how it struck him that there must be a persistent belief in inferiority in order for a society to dispossess Indigenous people of their land. Photo: Abdul Malik / The Narwhal


‘Unfairly paints us as militant natives’

Fuentes is concerned with the way Indigenous activism is often portrayed in the media. “It unfairly paints us as militant natives,” she says. “And that’s exactly what makes us unsafe.”

One of the first actions Fuentes remembers with the Beaver Hills Warriors was anything but militant.

“We occupied 104th and Jasper [in downtown Edmonton] for about 45 minutes with a round dance,” she remembers. The action was in “solidarity with the Gidimt’en check point raid and the Wet’suwet’en at Unist’ot’en Camp.”

“We’d like to move f