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TERRAZZANO: Alberta needs recall legislation now

“Recall rules would be a big step towards reaffirming the role of citizens as boss. It’s time for Kenney to make good on his promise and pass recall legislation during the upcoming fall legislative session.”

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When most of us stink at our jobs, we get sent packing. That standard doesn’t apply to politicians, who don’t need to worry about impressing their boss, taxpayers, outside of an election every four years. 

Fortunately, Premier Jason Kenney promised to change that by introducing recall legislation. 

“Albertans want their MLAs to be accountable to them. That’s why a United Conservative government would introduce a Recall Act allowing voters to fire their MLA in between elections if they have lost the public’s trust,” Kenney said while on the campaign trail ahead of the 2019 provincial election.

“Empowering citizens to hold their MLAs to account will strengthen Alberta democracy.”

The most obvious benefit of recall legislation is allowing voters to hold misbehaving politicians accountable more than once every four years. Recall legislation in British Columbia helped citizens give former MLA Paul Reitsma the bootwhen he got caught sending fake letters to the editor. 

There are several examples where recall could have been used by Alberta voters. 

Take the case of former premier Allison Redford. It took months of mounting political pressure over expense scandals, including the infamous $45,000 South Africa trip, for internal political machinery to finally force her to step down. Or consider former Lethbridge coun. Darlene Heatherington, who refused to step down after being charged with fabricating a story about a stalker. In both cases, recall could have been a handy accountability tool for voters, who should be the ones making these decisions.  

The on-going scandal over Calgary’s Coun. Joe Magliocca’s expenses is another example where citizens should have the ability to hand out a pink slip through the recall process. 

Ensuring citizens can hold their elected officials accountable is crucial, but just as important is the role that recall rules could play in discouraging politicians from messing up in the first place. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to understand that a politician will think twice before blowing tax dollars on steaks and martinis if there’s a chance they could have to face the voters immediately rather than in four years.

Alberta’s recall rules must be extended to the local level, so voters have the same ability to hold local councillors and mayors accountable as they will with MLAs. Fortunately, the government’s last throne speech promised exactly that. 

“To further make life better for Albertans, my government will undertake significant reforms to strengthen democracy in Alberta, including the tabling of … a recall act, allowing constituents to remove their MLAs, municipal councillors, mayors,  and school board trustees from office between elections,” reads the speech.  

When designing recall legislation, Kenney must make sure the requirements to force a by-election aren’t too onerous. Beyond the Reitsma example, there hasn’t been any successful recall campaigns in B.C. This is partly because of B.C.’s onerous requirement to collect signatures for more than 40 per cent of eligible voters in that district in 60 days. 

This threshold puts B.C. at the upper limit when compared to American states, where the most common requirement is to have 25 per cent of votes cast in the last election to sign the petition to trigger a byelection. A 25 per cent threshold would be a good starting point for Alberta’s recall rules to balance political stability with accountability, and is what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommended in our presentation to the Alberta government’s Democratic Accountability Committee. The most important thing to remember when thinking about signature thresholds, however, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Albertans need recall now, and politicians can always tinker with the requirements down the road to make improvements. 

Recall rules would be a big step towards reaffirming the role of citizens as boss. It’s time for Kenney to make good on his promise and pass recall legislation during the upcoming fall legislative session. 

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This column is an abbreviated version of the presentation he made for the Alberta government’s Democratic Accountability Committee.

Franco Terrazzano is a guest columnist and the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Opinion

GARYK: The activists are coming for Arctic oil shipping next

Garyk writes that below the radar, anti-oil activists are ramping up for their next big fight: arctic shipping

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Canada’s oil and gas industry has taken a beating over the last six years. A federal government that’s hostile to development spurred on by anti-development activists has resulted in the blockage of new energy infrastructure projects and protests to shut down those already in operation.

All of this has not stopped the resilient, innovative, tenacious Western Canadian energy sector from doing what it needs to get business done.

Two groups are actively working on creating an energy corridor to Hudson Bay.

With the assistance of the Saskatchewan government providing funding of $500,000, the Peacemaker Project, led by the First Peoples Pipeline, is actively pursuing a project to the Port of Churchill, Manitoba.

The second is the ambitious NeeStaNan Utility Corridor Project that will be led by First Nations and will connect Western Canadian oil to new international markets from Port Nelson, Manitoba. Its vision also includes connecting hydroelectric power from Manitoba to the oil sands in Alberta by building a new transmission system, and building a rail line through the utility corridor that will connect Canada’s agricultural products and minerals to international markets.

Unfortunately, there are those with an agenda to stop development and curtail shipping in the Arctic, which would impact the Port of Churchill or Port Nelson.

In December 2016, Canada issued a joint statement with the United States to limit development in the Arctic. Identified in the United States-Canada Joint Arctic Leaders’ Statement is a group called the Arctic Funders Collaborative, consisting of a number of well-known, domestic and internationally-based Environmental Non-governmental Organizations (ENGO), along with smaller groups. The Arctic Funders Collaborative is leading the push for Arctic protection by working closely with the governments of Canada and the United States.

In 2020, members included: MakeWay (Formerly Tides Canada), Alaska Conservation Foundation, Windrose Fund, Pathy Family Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Foundation, Oak Foundation, NoVo Foundation 5, Trust for Mutual Understanding, 444S Foundation, Metcalf Foundation, Tamalpais Trust, Lush, and Climate Justice Resilience Fund.

While not a member of the Arctic Funders Collaborative, the World Wildlife Fund is also actively involved in Arctic initiatives, in part through funding from the Collaborative.

The Switzerland-based Oak Foundation gave the World Wildlife Fund – the organization where Gerald Butts held the position of President and CEO before becoming political advisor and staffer to Prime Minister Trudeau – US$881,000 with the purpose “to protect Arctic coastal and ocean ecosystems and the Indigenous peoples and wildlife that rely on them by empowering Indigenous rights holders. This will be done by: implementing a network of marine protected areas to protect critical habitats; developing regulations that constrain the cumulative impacts of shipping within sustainable limits; and establishing small-scale fishing opportunities that support sustainable livelihoods.”

The goal of these groups is to prevent development, and disrupt and constrain shipping in the Arctic by implementing legislation and regulations, such as Marine Protected Areas, marine refuges, Culturally Significant Marine Areas, or low-impact shipping corridors. Additionally, a ban on heavy fuel oil in Arctic shipping is being proposed and is being considered by the Government of Canada.

There may be an attempt to implement another tanker ban similar to Bill C-48 that could impact egress out of the Port of Churchill or Port Nelson, rendering the need to create a new energy corridor futile.

The Liberal government has proven their cavalier attitude toward policies that are destructive to Canada’s resource sectors when they implemented Bills C-48, the West Cost tanker ban, and Bill C-69, the National Energy Board modernization and impact assessment bill, despite significant opposition.

It’s imperative the energy industry become aware of how the activist groups are influencing all levels of government to ensure that adequate representation is at the table every time there’s a meeting. Not acting in a timely manner or hoping that our governments will make sound policy decisions hasn’t worked so far. It’s time to take the anti-development activists seriously and oppose the continued destruction of Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Deirdra Garyk is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

CLEMENT: O’Toole’s carbon tax is a bureaucratic mess

“It’s puzzling why O’Toole is reinventing the wheel, when Michael Chong’s proposal of using the revenue to reduce income taxes would be appreciated from taxpayers. If we are going to have a carbon tax from Conservatives, should it at least not be a conservative one?”

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It’s official: the Conservative Party of Canada would implement its own version of Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax. The announcement was met with praise and condemnation from both sides of the political aisle. There is a lot to unpack in CPC Leader Erin O’Toole’s plan, but at face value, there isn’t much to celebrate. That is, unless you love taxes, and have a problem with personal choice. 

Optics wise, having a progressive climate plan is a no-brainer. The CPC was plagued by developments at its recent policy convention over a vote on the reality of climate change. For outsiders to the party, such a vote left many scratching their heads (as I was). Climate change is real, and it is something that needs to be addressed, so a vote on “if climate change is real” felt like it was a policy vote from decades ago and not from 2021.

That said, optics aren’t enough when evaluating the efficacy of a policy. Any good climate plan has to both produce better environmental outcomes, while at the same time not destroying the livelihoods of Canadians. The policy that delegates votes on included some odd (for conservatives) language about some rather ambiguous language about what to do about the issue (like subsidies, and a carbon tax). 

But the question remains, is O’Toole’s plan viable and worth pursuing?

In O’Toole’s plan, the CPC would implement a carbon tax of $20/mt on greenhouse emissions. In comparison to the Liberal carbon tax – which is currently at $40/mt – there is some temporary financial relief for Canadians. $20/mt is considerably lower than the current tax, which does mean that Canadians would ultimately have more money in their pockets, in the short term. 

But O’Toole plans to raise his carbon tax to $50/mt by 2022. It gets to where Trudeau currently is, just slower. 

That said, $20/tonne, or $40/tonne for that matter, seems more like the “mushy middle” than an attempt to seriously reduce emissions, not to mention keep his promise to repeal the carbon tax entirely. Many on the left – and some on the centre-right (like Michael Chong or Andrew Coyne) – have noted that serious reductions in emissions require a substantially higher carbon tax in order to shift consumer behavior to the point where we have better carbon reduction outcomes. Given that O’Toole’s proposal would have a cap at $50/tonne, it is likely that this policy will ultimately end up irritating everyone involved, both inflating prices for consumers while at the same time barely tinkering at the margins on emissions.

Another difference – beyond the carbon tax rate – between O’Toole’s plan and the current Trudeau plan is where the tax money will go. O’Toole stated that “Not a cent goes to Ottawa”. Sort of.

Right now, carbon tax revenues are redistributed to Canadians in the form of a rebate, but O’Toole’s plan would pivot from that approach and instead deposit the funds into a “low carbon personal savings account”, which could be used on government approved ‘green’ purchases like energy efficient appliances. From a consumer standpoint, I don’t think that restrictions on where the rebate can be spent is a worthwhile endeavor, and it is a system that is certainly ripe for abuse and cronyism. As flawed as the Trudeau carbon tax and rebate may be, O’Toole’s is much more bureaucratic. 

What counts as a green purchase? Who decides what is green and what isn’t? And why should it be the role of Ottawa to make that call? It certainly is appreciated that federal coffers won’t benefit from O’Toole’s carbon tax, but any benefit from that is immediately offset by Ottawa inserting itself into your decisions as a consumer. It’s one thing to put a tax on carbon, but its another to create a conservative version of the nanny state telling you what to do. At the end of the day, we should trust Canadians to make that call for themselves, without any intrusions from Ottawa. 

On top of that, it is puzzling why O’Toole is reinventing the wheel, when Michael Chong’s proposal of using the revenue to reduce personal income taxes would be appreciated from taxpayers coast to coast. If we are going to have a carbon tax from Conservatives, should it at least not be a conservative one? 

Lastly, the ugliest part of the CPC’s climate tax plan is its embrace of “carbon adjustments”, otherwise known as carbon tariffs, aimed at punishing “bad actors” and protecting Canadian jobs. As explained in The Financial Post, carbon tariffs attempt to punish foreign exporters for failing to meet Canadian environmental standards. The issue with this approach is that it isn’t foreign exporters who pay the tariffs; its Canadian consumers who pay for it. That means that incredibly important industrial imports like steel, fertilizer, cement and even finished goods from the developed world would become exponentially more expensive via inflated prices.

We saw this first hand when Trump’s tariffs on imported washing machines caused a 12 per cent increase in prices, around $88/unit, which created $1.56 billion in extra costs for consumers. Supporters of tariffs would argue – as O’Toole is – that inflated prices are worth it to expand domestic industry and create jobs. Trump’s tariffs did create manufacturing jobs in the United States — approximately 1800 new positions. The problem is that those jobs came at an enormous cost to U.S. consumers: $811,000 per job created, which comes nowhere near passing a cost-benefit analysis.

Tackling the issue of climate change is something that the Conservatives need to do, but the proposal put forward seems like it is the worst of both worlds. For consumers, we get drastically inflated prices, and Ottawa inserting itself into our purchasing decisions, while at the same time barely moving the needle on emissions. 

David Clement is a columnist for The Western Standard. He is also the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center

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Opinion

HARDING: As Kenney fights a caucus revolt, will Moe face a similar uprising?

“Unlike Kenney, who has been wearied in endless battles (some worth fighting), Moe rests easier as a less polarizing figure in a less polarized province. Call it the Saskatchewan Advantage.” – Lee Harding

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has an anti-lockdown caucus revolt on his hands, so how long before Premier Scott Moe has one in Saskatchewan?

Ever since the Saskatchewan Party took power from the NDP in 2007, the culture of the province has become more like Alberta’s, only milder. The eastern neighbour (always a strange-sounding reference point for someone living on the flatlands) has a lot of oil drilling, only less. Saskatchewan has cowboys too, only less. It seems Saskatchewan is Alberta-lite.

An Angus Reid poll in 2019 showed just how similar the two provinces are provinces are. First of all, both Alberta and Saskatchewan people felt the friendliest towards each other (77% and 75%, respectively) – even more so than Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (71% and 57%).

Both Alberta and Saskatchewan felt Quebec didn’t like them, but Saskatchewan less so (81% and 74%). Both provinces felt Quebec got an extra advantage, but Saskatchewan not quite as much (83% and 73%). And both provinces felt they got a raw deal from Ottawa, but Saskatchewan a little less so (76% and 57%).

That ameliorating difference may not seem like much, but it is. There is also a substantial difference in the political DNA of the provinces. Saskatchewan is the birthplace of Canadian socialism, an historic reality that sent the oil business to Alberta and made it what it is today. Because Alberta has wandered in the post-Klein era and Brad Wall shifted Saskatchewan away from socialism, the two provinces find themselves closer than they’ve been in decades.

What Saskatchewan has never had – and Alberta has had many times through the decades – is a fragmentation of political allegiances on the right. In Alberta, Ernest Manning’s social credit era gave way to Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative era. The Wildrose Party bloomed and faded as it cross-pollenated with the PCs. And so soon after its creation, the United Conservative Party is no longer united at all.

The Saskatchewan Party emerged as the union of Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs, a move that cast both former parties to irrelevance. It represents an approach somewhat more pragmatic than principled, sensible but not strident. Whereas Kenney’s Alberta has had a Fair Deal Commission, with (a weak version of) MLA recall legislation, Saskatchewan has made no such moves. Whereas Alberta has pondered firewalls, Saskatchewan lacks neither the clout nor the desire to go in such directions.

That moderation and sensibility is why Moe is in less trouble than Kenney. Arguably, Saskatchewan has had the lightest lockdowns of any province. They’re bad, but relatively speaking, they’re at least not so bad. Nor have Saskatchewan people loved freedom enough to defy the government’s limitations in the large numbers seen with its western neighbour. So far, there is no Pastor Coates in Saskatchewan forcing Moe to either back down or build a fence around a church. There aren’t dozens of restaurants refusing to close down again.

Nor is there a major political force to challenge Moe and the Saskatchewan Party. In rural areas, they are miles ahead of the NDP. They also have a decisive edge in Saskatoon and Regina, though it’s a fairer fight. If someone did want to break ranks with the Sask Party, the risk of the rival NDP regaining power is distant enough to be disregarded.

The Buffalo Party – barely a year old – is a rising force, but is a great distance away from unseating the NDP as official opposition. One would think these realities would make it easier to defy Moe over nonsensically locking down healthy people.

The thing is, Moe’s lockdowns are less nonsensical. And if an MLA broke ranks, some people would appreciate them, but would likely find their former colleagues too indifferent to join them. Maybe Moe has listened to those kinds of voices already by having a more relaxed response, and thus prevented the kind of revolt Kenney is facing. Recent polls put the new party at between 6% and 10%, even without any MLAs or elected leader. The kindling is there for a spark to light.

And while the Buffalo Party represents a distant, potential threat to the Sask Party in the long-term, the reborn Wildrose Independence Party presents a much more immediate, threat to Kenney’s UCP.

Moe has another advantage that Kenney does not, and that is that he was an organic creature of the party, rising through the ranks; unlike Kenney, who parachuted in to lead a new political entity that until recently, was made up of two warring camps. Although Moe beat some other candidates by small margins, the leadership debates were non-events. The prospective leaders responded to questions with short speeches and little clash, minimizing potential party division.

If Moe does not seem like a slick political operative, it’s because he’s not. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t savvy. He presents himself with an everyday man’s wisdom and approachability – and a rural one at that.

Although Kenney and Moe see eye-to-eye on many things, Moe’s political reality is completely different. Unlike Kenney, who has been wearied in endless battles (some worth fighting), Moe rests easier as a less polarizing figure in a less polarized province. Call it the Saskatchewan Advantage.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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