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Environment

Alberta premier Jason Kenney says provincial carbon tax will die May 30

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EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta’s carbon tax has about two weeks to live.
Kenney says the Carbon Tax Repeal Act is to be introduced during next week’s legislature sitting and will have a proviso to end the tax by t…


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  • EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta’s carbon tax has about two weeks to live.

    Kenney says the Carbon Tax Repeal Act is to be introduced during next week’s legislature sitting and will have a proviso to end the tax by the end of the month.

    “By May 30th there will no longer be an Alberta carbon tax,” Kenney said Monday at a news conference outlining some of the legislation coming from his new United Conservative government.

    An end to the tax brought in by the former NDP government will put an estimated $1.4 billion a year back in the pockets of taxpayers, he said.

    The levy is charged on home heating using fossil fuels and on gasoline at the pumps.

    Ending the tax would open the door to the federal government imposing its tax, as it has done with four other provinces that wouldn’t bring in their own carbon pricing: Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Edmonton last Friday, wouldn’t say if his government would immediately charge the federal tax if Alberta ditched its own, but stressed that no province will be exempt.

    Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the repeal “sets the stage for a made-in-Ottawa, a made-by-Justin-Trudeau carbon plan to be imposed on Albertans.

    “I don’t think it’s wise,” the NDP leader said. “And we will certainly make the case vigorously that it’s not wise.”

    Getting rid of the carbon tax was a central policy pillar in Kenney’s successful campaign last month to win the election. He defeated Notley’s party, achieving a strong majority.

    Kenney ridiculed the NDP carbon fee as a thinly veiled tax grab that penalizes consumers while having no effect on greenhouse gas emissions. He also held the levy up as a symbol of what he has said was an interventionist NDP government that was stifling economic recovery by imposing additional fees and red tape.

    On the campaign trail, Kenney promised to file an immediate court challenge on the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax if he won the election.

    He promised to file the court papers by April 30; however, his cabinet was not sworn in until that day. In the two weeks since, no challenge has been filed.

    Kenney said Monday the lawsuit has been delayed and may not be filed at all.

    He said his government wants to review court decisions in Saskatchewan and Ontario before it decides if it will challenge the federal tax in court.

    The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently ruled in a split decision that the federal tax imposed on provinces without a carbon price of their own is constitutional.

    The Ontario government is waiting for a decision on its court challenge.

    “The right thing for us to do is wait and see what the Ontario Appeal court decides,” said Kenney.

    “We can take both of those decisions into account as to whether or not to launch our own separate challenge or whether just to support (the) Saskatchewan and Ontario governments in what will be inevitable appeals to the Supreme Court.”

    Kenney’s platform promised he would create jobs and move Alberta’s oil- and gas-based economy forward by reducing regulations and cutting taxes.

    On Monday he said a bill to cut corporate income tax by one-third will also be rolled out next week.

    It is likely to follow Kenney’s plan to reduce the 12 per cent corporate tax by one percentage point on July 1, and then cut it again by one  point in the first days of 2020, 2021 and 2022, to ultimately bring it to eight per cent.

    His government also aims to bring in a bill to reduce the current $15 an hour minimum wage for workers 17 and younger.

    Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press



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    Environment

    Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

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    HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — A northern Alberta town and a nearby First Nation are being evacuated due to the threat of an encroaching wildfire.
    Thousands of people are being told to leave High Level, as well as the Bushe River Reserve, via Highway 58…


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  • HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — A northern Alberta town and a nearby First Nation are being evacuated due to the threat of an encroaching wildfire.

    Thousands of people are being told to leave High Level, as well as the Bushe River Reserve, via Highway 58 east of the communities since highways south and west have already been closed due to the blaze.

    The Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several days, but grew substantially from Sunday, when it covered about 25,000 hectares, to an estimated 69,000 hectares on Monday.

    At the time the evacuations were ordered, the flames were only about three kilometres from High Level.

    “The winds are pushing the smoke away from the Town of High Level. It looks very scary on the horizon, but in the Town of High Level the skies are blue and sunny and windy,” Mayor Crystal McAteer told a telephone news conference on Monday afternoon.

    Reception centres for evacuees have been set up in High Prairie and Slave Lake, and officials are arranging transportation for residents who can’t get out on their own.

    McAteer said the evacuation is being co-ordinated in zones. People should expect to be away for 72 hours.

    She said about 4,000 people from High Level were affected by the order, and another 750 from Bushe River.

    Earlier in the day, the town warned on its website that people should fill up their vehicles and collect important documents in case they were ordered to leave at short notice. Power has also been knocked out because of the fire, but was expected to be restored Monday evening.

    Mandatory evacuation orders for residents south and southeast of the town, and south of Bushe River, were issued early Monday.

    Provincial officials said the evacuation of High Level would take a maximum of eight hours, but since some people had already left, they said it could be completed sooner.

    Alberta Health Services said it had evacuated 20 patients from the Northwest Health Centre in High Level and relocated them to other communities.

    Scott Elliot, an incident commander with Alberta Wildfire, told the news conference that the wildfire was mostly headed away from High Level, but that city officials decided it was best for everyone to leave since the flames were so close.

    “If there was a subtle shift in the wind direction, that would increase the likelihood of rapid fire spread towards the community,” Elliot said.

    Crews are using sprinklers on structures on the edge of the town closest to the fire.

    McAteer said people were complying with the evacuation order.

    “People are of course afraid because they remember the wildfires of Fort McMurray, but we talked to a lot of the residents and reaffirmed that we were being proactive,” she said.

    A 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., destroyed one-tenth of the city and some 88,000 people were forced from their homes.

    Slave Lake, where a reception centre has been set up for residents of High Level, was also evacuated because of a wildfire in 2011 that destroyed parts of the community.

    The Alberta government issued a fire ban and restricted off-highway vehicle use for numerous parts of the province late last week due to forecasts that called for little precipitation and strong winds.

    Highway 16, a major thoroughfare between Edmonton and Prince George B.C., was forced to close in both direction Sunday when a wildfire crossed the roadway west of Edson, Alta., but was reopened early Monday.

    —By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    ‘Rope-a-dope’: Environmentalists say Alberta war room threat won’t distract them

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    EDMONTON — Environmental groups targeted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are shrugging off the new government’s promised $30-million “war room” to fight criticisms of the province’s energy industry.
    “The war room makes for good theatre, but the people …


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  • EDMONTON — Environmental groups targeted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are shrugging off the new government’s promised $30-million “war room” to fight criticisms of the province’s energy industry.

    “The war room makes for good theatre, but the people who follow this closely are going to look at this as amateur hour,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

    “Chasing environmentalists might play well politically, but it’s not actually relevant to the discussion that Alberta and Canada need to be having,” added Simon Dyer of the clean-energy think tank Pembina Institute.

    Both groups have been singled out by Kenney as examples of ones distorting the truth about the impact of the oilsands. The premier has said government staff will be tasked with responding quickly to what he calls myths and lies.

    Kenney has also promised to fund lawsuits against offending environmentalists and to call a public inquiry into the role of money from U.S. foundations.

    “Stay tuned,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Tuesday. “We’ll have something to talk about next week.”

    Environmental groups have already been discussing informally what the United Conservative government might have in mind and how they should react.

    “We’ve been contacted,” said Devon Page of Ecojustice, an environmental law firm. “We’ve been saying to the groups, ‘We’re here. We’ll respond and represent you as we have in the past.’

    “What we’re trying hard not to do is to do what I think the Kenney government wants, which is to get distracted.”

    Dyer and Stewart said their groups are about 85 per cent funded by Canadians. The Pembina Institute was founded in Drayton Valley, Alta., and its headquarters remain in Calgary.

    Both called the war room political posturing aimed at the party’s base.

    “A lot of the rhetoric around our work and our contribution to Alberta has been based on complete misinformation,” said Dyer, who pointed out Pembina has worked with virtually every major energy company in the province.

    Stewart called the threats a rerun of the 2012 campaign against environmental groups fuelled by the right-wing The Rebel media group and led by Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives.

    “We learned to play rope-a-dope,” said Stewart. “Stephen Harper was our best recruiter.

    “We had people contacting us saying, ‘How do I lie down in front of a bulldozer?’ We don’t usually get a lot of those calls but we were getting a lot of those calls.”

    Each group is confident in the accuracy of the facts it cites. Dyer said Pembina research has been used by investors, academics and governments.

    Stewart said the issue isn’t facts, but how they are understood. 

    “Often what it is is a disagreement over which fact is important. Industry will say, ‘We’re reducing emissions per barrel.’ We’ll say, ‘Emissions are going up.’ Both statements are true and it depends which you think is more important.”

    Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the Kenney government must tread carefully. It’s OK to defend your position, but not to threaten, she said.

    “If we’re talking about initiating lawsuits against individuals or organizations on the basis of speaking out on issues of public importance, then that raises serious problems,” she said. “Then we have a much more obvious impact and potential violation on freedom of expression.”

    The province could possibly expose itself to legal action if its statements harm a group or individual — say, by putting them at the centre of a Twitter firestorm, said an Edmonton lawyer.

    “There’s certainly some kind of moral responsibility in terms of understanding that kind of highly charged rhetoric,” said Sean Ward, who practises media law. “You have to understand the consequences that are likely to follow.”

    Ward said any cases the government funds would also be tough to win. 

    “There are a lot of available defences. It’s difficult to see that this sort of general debate they’re going to be able to shut down with defamation law.”

    Environmentalists say their response will be to avoid distraction and carry on.

    “The vast majority active in this place don’t want to go back to a high conflict, polarizing environment,” Dyer said. “We’re not interested in polarizing this debate.”

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press




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