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Alberta

“Ontario Can’t do it Alone” – Fairness Alberta Expands with Eastern Canada Campaign

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It has been just over four months since the launch of Fairness Alberta, a non-partisan Proudly Canadian, Fiercely Albertan organization, in May 2020. Fairness Alberta promotes education and discussion to combat biased government policies and regulations that restrict Alberta’s economic growth and prosperity. By highlighting Alberta’s $324 billion net contribution to the Canadian economy from 2000 to 2019, FA’s mandate is to “inform Canadians about the magnitude of the contributions Albertans make to Canada, while educating Canadian’s about the damaging fiscal, trade, energy, procurement, and infrastructure policies that chronically undermine Alberta’s – and Canada’s – potential.”

Dr. Bill Bewick, Director of Fairness Alberta

The public response to the organization throughout Alberta and across Canada has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Bill Bewick, Executive Director of Fairness Alberta. “Our factual approach is agreeable,” he says, “and even people who are skeptical of Alberta demanding more from the country are willing to listen and learn.”
On September 21, Fairness Alberta expanded into eastern Canada with the launch of their Fall 2020 Campaign in Ontario. The two-part billboard series in Toronto and Ottawa is designed to illustrate just how much Albertans have helped Ontarians carry the fiscal load in the federation over the last decade. “Many people are surprised by the fiscal contributions of each province given the size difference,” says Bewick, “people assume Ontario makes the biggest contribution, but that’s just not the case.”
From 2007-2018, Ontario contributed $98 billion net and Alberta contributed $240 billion net to the country, while the remainder of the provinces have received a combined total of $370 billion.

 

As all Canadian provinces face the daunting road to recovery following the destructive economic impacts of COVID-19, the dissemination of accurate information regarding the crucial role of Alberta in the nation’s recovery remains crucial. Arguably even more so since the recent Throne Speech, delivered by Governor General Julie Payette on September 23, has been widely criticized for once again ignoring the contributions and needs of Albertans in favor of new policies that will further restrict productivity in Alberta by targeting natural gas.

Premiere Jason Kenney openly criticized the Throne Speech and the clean-fuel standard, stating, “We got a litany of policies that would strangle investment and jeopardize resource jobs when we most need the industry that generates 20 percent of government revenues in Canada” (1). 

Fairness Alberta has responded similarly to developments from the recent Throne Speech, arguing that Alberta’s role in national recovery cannot be overstated or ignored. “Alberta is an engine in the fragile Canadian economy,” says Bewick, “If that productivity is hindered by the new clean fuel standards, no other province will be able to pick up the slack.” 

The Ontario campaign is set to continue into the month of November, paired with online advertising that draws targeted audiences to their website, and the remainder of 2020 will see an expansion into British Columbia as Fairness Alberta continues to grow and fight for a fair deal for Alberta within Canada.  Bewick believes that “there are millions of fair-minded Canadians out there and showing them the importance of Alberta’s economy is critical right now to ensure the federal government works with Alberta, not against it.” 

For more information on Fairness Alberta, visit fairnessalberta.ca

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

Alberta

Oilpatch woes boost Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rates to record levels

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CALGARY — Vacancies in Calgary’s downtown office towers have risen to record levels and there’s no landlord relief in sight with almost one in three offices sitting empty and sublets accounting for a quarter of available spaces on the market.

The city’s glut of empty office space has previously been linked to overbuilding but two commercial real estate reports released this past week show that downtown vacancy rates in Canada’s oil and gas capital are the highest in the country and growing — despite no major new towers opening in the past two years. 

Vacancies are likely to go even higher, both reports note, driven by short-term factors including layoffs resulting from the takeover of Husky Energy Inc. by Cenovus Energy Inc. and longer-term job losses from cost-cutting and mergers in the oil and gas sector.

In its report released Thursday, real estate firm CBRE says the equivalent of four CFL football fields in downtown office space was emptied in the last quarter of 2020. 

The net reduction of 355,000 square feet (32,000 square metres) took the vacancy rate to a record high of 29.5 per cent compared with 27.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019.

“The negative absorption is due to the oilpatch, not COVID-19,” said Greg Kwong, Calgary-based regional managing director for CBRE. 

“People may not be going back to work because of the lockdowns but these companies still have leases in place and have to pay the rent. It’s not considered vacated space.”

CBRE found that 23.7 per cent of the available downtown office space in Calgary is being sublet by the lease holder.

In a separate report using different calculation methods, Avison Young pegged the downtown office vacancy rate at a record 26.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, up from 24.2 per cent in the year-earlier period.

Under an optimistic scenario, Avison Young predicts the vacancy rate will rise to 28.6 per cent by the end of 2023; in its pessimistic forecast, it foresees a rate of 32.9 per cent.

The merger of Cenovus and Husky offices in 2021 is projected to result in between 36,000 and 54,000 square metres of downtown space being vacated later this year, said Todd Throndson, managing director for Avison Young’s Calgary office. That’s around one per cent of the total inventory of 4.16 million square metres.

“We have a very difficult marketplace and there’s no quick solutions to solving that problem,” he said. “The next 12 to 24 months are going to be a challenging time for there to be any growth in our marketplace.”

Cenovus and Husky have said their merger will result in a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent of the 8,600 combined employees and contractors — potentially more than 2,000 workers.

The two companies have about 300,000 square metres of lease commitments in Calgary, with some of it already being sublet to other tenants, said Cenovus spokesman Reg Curren. More space is expected to be sublet going forward, he said, declining to give specifics.

“Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and we determine our plan to return to the workplace, Brookfield Place will be the head office of the combined company,” he said, referring to the 56-storey glass and steel tower opened in 2017 that Cenovus calls home.

Husky’s head office is a few blocks west in the much older Western Canadian Place. 

It’s not hard to find other Calgary companies reducing staff and their need for office space.

Suncor Energy Inc. announced in October it would reduce total staff by 10 to 15 per cent over 18 months, cutting as many as 1,930 jobs. Those cuts will be offset by the relocation of its Petro-Canada head office and most of its 700 jobs from Ontario to Calgary.

Imperial Oil Ltd. announced in November it would lay off 200 staff.

Meanwhile, office space held by Equinor Canada at Jamieson Place in downtown Calgary is on the sublet market after the Norwegian oil company decided to consolidate its Canadian operations in St. John’s, N.L.

Lower staff counts are also expected with the close of a handful of smaller oil and gas producer corporate mergers announced late last year.

Calgary’s office buildings have lost an overall 13 per cent of value, about $2.3 billion, over the past year due to higher vacancy rates and lower rents, the city said Thursday as it issued its 2021 property assessment notices. 

Declines in recent years have pushed more of the municipal tax burden to residential and other business ratepayers.

Economic Development Calgary is using the city’s abundance of discounted office space as a “huge selling feature” in attracting Calgary employers in new sectors like technology and renewable energy, said CEO Mary Moran, but she concedes those new tenants haven’t replaced the oil and gas losses.

“I think, long-term, we know that the energy industry is not going to be the job creator,” she said. “It’s a jobless recovery in oil and gas.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE, TSX:SU)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Morally and ethically wrong:’ Court to hear challenge to Alberta coal policy removal

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First Nations, ranchers, municipal officials and environmentalists hope to persuade a judge this week to force Alberta to revisit its decision to open one of the province’s most important and best-loved landscapes to open-pit coal mining.

At least nine interveners will seek to join a southern Alberta rancher’s request for a judicial review of the province’s decision to rescind a coal-mining policy that had protected the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains — and the headwaters that flow from them — for almost 45 years.

“You talk about the Alberta identity,” said Ian Urquhart of the Alberta Wilderness Association, one of the parties looking for standing.

“The eastern slopes, the Rocky Mountains and the foothills, are at the heart of what the Alberta identity is. This policy change threatens that.”

The eastern slopes are the source of three major rivers — the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan. Everyone in southern Alberta and many in Saskatchewan depend on those rivers for drinking water, irrigation and industry. The water is heavily allocated. 

Endangered species, including cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, live there. The region’s beauty is universally acknowledged. 

A 1976 policy brought in by Peter Lougheed’s government laid out how and where coal development could go ahead, forbade open-pit mines over a large area and banned any mining at all in the most sensitive spots. It came after years of work and dozens of public consultations, said David Luff, a retired civil servant and consultant who worked on the policy. 

“Albertans overwhelmingly said the eastern slopes should be devoted to watershed protection, recreation and tourism. Lougheed had a very compelling vision based on input he received from extensive public consultation.”

Over the years, the policy informed the Alberta Land Stewardship Act and was written into legally binding land-use plans.

Last spring, the policy was quietly revoked by Energy Minister Sonya Savage with no consultation. It was done on the Friday of the May long weekend, during the height of COVID-19’s first wave, through an information letter on the department’s website. 

“It’s morally and ethically wrong,” said Luff. 

But legally wrong? The province doesn’t think so.

The hearing in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench is to begin Tuesday with Alberta arguing that there was no duty to consult because the coal policy was just that — a policy.

“The 1976 coal policy was not enacted using a legislative tool, so it can be rescinded unilaterally by Alberta Energy at any time,” says a provincial briefing note entered in the court record. 

The province plans to ask the court to rule that the change is a political decision, not a legal matter, and the review request should be dismissed.

Nigel Bankes, chair of natural resources law at the University of Calgary, notes land-use plans and the land stewardship act both promise consultation before major change.

“This is effectively an amendment to the plan and therefore triggers the consultation obligations,” he said.

“There’s certainly case law to suggest that high-level policy changes may trigger the duty to consult.”

As well, Bankes said, First Nations are owed a duty to consult. Three of them — the Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish — are asking to intervene.

He suggests there’s a good chance the court will turn down the provincial request for dismissal. 

Other hopeful interveners include the Municipal District of Ranchland, which is concerned about the impact that coal development could have on municipal services and infrastructure. 

Environmental groups seeking to intervene want to ensure water quality and ecological degradation are taken into account.

One coal company — Cabin Ridge Coal — has asked for standing as well. It says it’s already invested substantial money in exploration leases. 

“Restoration of the coal policy will create uncertainty in circumstances where the (Alberta Energy Regulator) presently has clear standards and processes for considering proposed exploration and development activities in Alberta,” it says in a court filing. 

Alberta officials have said mining will create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of tax dollars at a time when the province really needs them. They say any proposed mines would still be reviewed by the provincial regulator.

Prominent and popular Alberta country musicians Corb Lund and Paul Brandt have publicly opposed the mines. 

A petition to the federal government opposing one development already in the review stage had more than 25,000 signatures as of Friday morning. 

The government has sold leases on about 1.4 million hectares of land for coal exploration since the policy was revoked. At least one provincial recreation area is partly covered by a coal lease and four others are surrounded by them. 

The province has also reopened water allocation agreements.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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