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Environment

Jason Kenney, Rachel Notley begin formal transfer of power in Alberta

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EDMONTON — Premier Rachel Notley and incoming premier Jason Kenney began the formal transfer of power in Alberta on Thursday, with Notley saying Kenney is already getting real-life lessons on the difference between political grandstanding and governing.

The NDP’s Notley said that since the United Conservative leader won Tuesday’s Alberta election, Quebec has rebuffed his public pitch to accept new pipelines and the B.C. government officially endorsed this week a federal bill to formalize a tanker ban off its northern coast.

“What it does demonstrate is it’s not as simple as having press conferences and expressing people’s outrage over and over,” Notley told reporters after meeting with Kenney at Government House.

“This is a complicated country. It involves considered diplomacy and strategic pressure in a thoughtful way.

“We will be keeping a close eye to making sure that he engages in that considered diplomacy/strategic pressure for the benefit of the pipeline — not grandstanding for the benefit of political outcomes.”

Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, won a strong majority in the election on a get-tough policy toward any and all oil and gas opponents. He has long criticized Notley’s government as an enabler of federal policies detrimental to Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

He said the NDP’s passivity was deliberate to gain federal approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, which got the green light in 2016 to ship more Alberta oil to the B.C. coast but, due to legal challenges and reversals in court, has yet to see shovels in the ground.

Kenney has promised to fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in court on multiple fronts, including the federal carbon tax, and has promised to do what he can to get Trudeau defeated in the fall national election.

Notley said she discussed a number of issues with Kenney on Thursday, including Bill 12, which Notley’s government introduced and passed but never proclaimed into law. The bill gives Alberta power to restrict oil shipments to B.C. if that province continues to resist Trans Mountain.

Kenney has said the first act of his government will be to proclaim Bill 12 into law to send a strong message that Alberta will protect its oil and gas. Legal experts say it’s also a move that could give B.C. the opening it needs to successfully challenge the bill’s constitutionality in court.

Notley said Kenney’s promise to lift her government’s cap on Alberta oilsands emissions could also threaten Trans Mountain approval, given the cap was a key reason why Ottawa approved the multibillion-dollar project in the first place.

Kenney has said his approach will be one of cooperation and diplomacy with all political leaders, but that he will leave no doubt about Alberta’s determination to stand up for its bread and butter industry, particularly against those who benefit from it while opposing its growth.

As part of that fight-back plan, Kenney has pledged to create a government communications “war room” to challenge oil and gas opponents and those who spread misinformation about the industry.

It will have an initial budget of $30-million, Kenney said Thursday, and it will be staffed with communications professionals who are creative and, more importantly, nimble and quick to fight rhetorical fire with fire.

“Both the industry and governments of different partisan stripes have not been fast enough to respond to the incoming attacks,” said Kenney.

“I want a unit in the government that will be on that (factual errors and lies) the moment it is published, demanding a correction.”

Kenney and his new government are to be sworn in April 30, with a spring legislature sitting starting a few weeks after that.

Notley is staying on as Opposition Leader, but wouldn’t say Thursday whether this will be short-term while a successor is groomed or if she plans to stay the full four years and lead the NDP into the next election.

“That’s a little bit premature,” she said.

“My intention to lead Alberta’s Official Opposition and to stand up for the things that we fought for in the election.”

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Environment

Trudeau vents frustration that climate change could be a partisan issue

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the fact an organization could be labelled partisan by Elections Canada just for saying that climate change is real underscores the frustration that there are still some politicians who don’t believe climate change is a problem.

Trudeau is reacting after some environment groups were warned to watch what they say about climate change during the upcoming federal campaign because People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier believes climate change is neither an emergency nor caused by people.

The Canada Elections Act, which outlines rules around advertising and activities by third parties, says certain statements that don’t name a specific party or candidate could still be considered partisan if they address an issue a party or candidate has taken a position on.

Speaking at an event in Quebec City, Trudeau says he respects the independence of Elections Canada to decide whether something is partisan under the Act.

But he says climate change is only a subject for debate because some “conservative” politicians will not agree that climate change is real and in need of a government response.

Several environment groups say they are already curtailing some of their normal activities around climate change because of fears they will be subject to a complaint to Elections Canada about partisan behaviour.

 

The Canadian Press

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Environment

Environment groups warned saying climate change is real could be partisan

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OTTAWA — A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Gray says registering as a third party is not only onerous, it could also draw unwanted attention from the Canada Revenue Agency, which prevents charities who want charitable tax status from engaging in partisan activity of any kind.

It is “discouraging” that Environmental Defence and other charities may have to zip their lips about climate change being real during the campaign period “because one party has chosen to deny the existence of this basic fact,” he added.

“Obviously climate change is real,” said Gray. “Almost every credible institution on the planet is telling us to get our act together and do something about it.”

Last fall, the United Nations climate change panel, made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world, said if the world doesn’t act faster to cut global emissions the planet will face irreversible and catastrophic consequences.

Five of the six political parties expected to have any chance of winning a seat in the upcoming campaign agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. Bernier, however, is the one outlier: he believes that if climate change is real, it is a natural cycle of the earth and not an emergency.

“There is no climate change urgency in this country,” Bernier said in a speech in June speech. He also disagrees that carbon dioxide, which experts say is responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse emissions globally, is bad.

“CO2 is not ‘pollution,'” he tweeted. “It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants.”

Because of that, Elections Canada is warning that any third party that advertises information about carbon dioxide as a pollutant or climate change as an emergency could be considered to be indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party. Advertising can be considered partisan by Elections Canada even if it doesn’t mention a candidate or party by name, the agency’s rules say.

An Elections Canada spokesman confirmed “such a recommendation would be something we would give.”

Gray says the impact is stifling the conversation about climate change at a critical time.

“At this point, unless I can get greater clarification, after the writ is dropped we would stop doing anything online that talks about climate change, which is our entire mandate,” he said. “You feel you’re being drawn into this space where you’re being characterized as being a partisan entity for putting up Facebook ads that say climate change is real, which seems ridiculous to me.”

Environment groups in Canada are still on edge after spending much of the last five years fighting against the Canada Revenue Agency accusations and worry that if Elections Canada accuses them of being partisan, it will attract another round of audits for partisan activity. Gray said the two may have different definitions of partisan, but the fear is still having a chilling effect.

“We need to ensure that we’re not saying things that are going to be considered to be illegal by Elections Canada.”

It doesn’t mean Gray is forbidden from giving interviews about climate change during the campaign, he said. Rather, it would affect any kind of activity the group undertakes that costs more than $500, such as a Facebook ad campaign. 

In 2012, the former Conservative government unveiled a $13-million audit program to seek out charities the Conservatives alleged were abusing their tax status with partisan activities. The probes went after two dozen environment, human rights, anti-poverty and religious groups — none of them considered partisan — for going beyond a rule that limited their spending to no more than 10 per cent of their funding on political advocacy work.

The program was launched as the Conservatives called many environment groups “radical” and a “threat” to Canada.

The Liberals promised to end what they called a “witch hunt” against any civil society groups that opposed the government’s policies. It took more than three years, but eventually legislation was changed last year to lift the 10 per cent limitation. The non-partisan rule, however, remains.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, called the Elections Canada warning “shocking.”

“Climate change is a scientific fact,” she said. “It’s not an opinion.”

The situation is “contributing to ongoing confusion” about what environment charities can and cannot do, and will give fuel to pro-oil groups that want to silence their opponents, Abreu added.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version included surveys as an example of possibly partisan activities.



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