Questions I’ll be asking #abvote candidates

What will determine my vote on April 23rd? I suppose it will surprise no one that I will vote based on the energy and environmental policies of the parties.  My key issue list includes 5 categories: 1) Savings, transparency, and accountability; 2) Market access; 3) Local environmental management; 4) Global environmental credibility; and 5) Getting the most value for our resources. Here are some of the questions I’ll ask the candidates who visit my house during the campaign, and some context for why I’m asking them. How does your party line up?

How will your party make the proceeds of resource sales more transparent, and to what degree will you save those proceeds for the future?

Alberta’s energy resources are, for the most part, Crown-owned.  That means they are owned by the people of Alberta and managed, on our behalf, by the Government.  Since we entrust the government with a capital asset worth billions if not trillions of dollars, we should ask and expect transparency in how that asset is managed.  The first step in doing so, in my view, is to deposit all non-renewable resource revenues (land sales and royalties) into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund (HSTF).  That way, the proceeds from the sale of one capital asset, the oil, are transferred into another capital asset, the Fund.  From that point, you can spend the money in the Fund, but it will be accounted for as it should be – as a withdrawal from savings. Would you consider such a policy?

What proportion of the proceeds from the sale of these assets should be re-invested in other Crown assets, including but not limited to an investment fund?

 

How will your party make sure that the resources we sell command a competitive price?

Market access will determine the value of our energy assets – if we can’t sell resources for the prices they could otherwise command in the global economy, or if we have to spend more in transportation to get them to market, our resources are worth less and/or someone else is collecting the rents.

How do your party’s policies mitigate a potential Alberta Discount?

 

How will your party make sure that our environmental performance will not be used as a lever to capture and/or reduce the value of our resources?

The oilsands industry has become a target for global environmentalists, and is now symbolic of unsustainable energy production for many people in the world, not to mention Canada.  As a result, from the EU to California, we’ve seen policies evolve which discriminate against Alberta’s oilsands relative to other sources of oil.  How will your party’s policies change this?

 

Will your party commit to having reclamation liabilities accounted for in the province’s budget and to legislation to ensure that the province no longer underwrites environmental liabilities?

Alberta takes great pride in claiming to be debt-free, but I am not sure that is accurate.  The current unfunded reclamation liability in the oilsands is likely well into the 10s of billions of dollars, and this attracts the lion’s share of attention, but we must also remember that many, smaller reclamation liabilities exist in the form of orphan wells and pipeline sites. How will your party change this?

 

What changes would your party make to our GHG and water policies? 

I’d like to see a commitment to nationally- and globally-credible policies applied and/or maintained on water pollution and GHGs.  Please, no platitudes or unattainable targets – tell me about the stringency of the policies you would propose and why.

 

Will your party restrict the export of raw bitumen, and how do you plan to manage bitumen received through the BRIK program?

First, a quick question – Will your party restrict the export of non-royalty bitumen?

Second, how will your party manage the bitumen collected through the bitumen royalty in kind (BRIK) program?

Under BRIK, producers turn over a percentage of their bitumen rather than cash to the government in order to meet their royalty obligations.  By 2030, the Alberta government expects to receive over 500,000 barrels of bitumen per day in kind from producers, and these volumes could increase if prices stay high and cost inflation is kept under control (because of the sliding-scale, net revenue royalty regime). At today’s prices, that’s about $7 billion worth of bitumen per year – not small change.

Will your party choose to provide BRIK bitumen at a discount to those willing to upgrade it here in Alberta?  Will your party pay a commercial upgrader to process BRIK bitumen and require that this commercial processor be located in Alberta? In Canada? Or will your party open the market for processing and/or commit to sell BRIK bitumen for the highest available price, regardless of where that market may be?

Thanks for visiting my house!

The platforms of the various parties on each of these dimensions will, more than anything else, determine who gets my vote in 2 weeks.  I hope you’ll think about some of these issues when deciding on your vote as well. I welcome responses from any of the parties to this post, including links to relevant policy documents.

 

Conflict of Interest Disclosure: As you can read here, I am not nor have I ever been a volunteer for or member or employee of any political party nationally or in any Canadian province.

8 responses to “Questions I’ll be asking #abvote candidates”

  1. azawalli

    This is an excellent set of questions! Is there any chance you can get the political parties to make a response (especially the Wild Rose and PCs, as they seem to be the front-runners)?

    In a future post, would you be willing to offer your opinions on these issues?

  2. Don Kitson

    Thanks, I’ll be asking candidates the same ones because without answering these how will we ever afford $300/person worth of Danielle bucks or a 100 new Redford schools.

  3. James A. Best

    Hi Andrew,

    I am an Alberta Party volunteer, and in consultation with the Communications Committee, we’ve come up with this response to your 5 questions, based on our full policies which can be found on our website.

    Q1: How will your party make the proceeds of resource sales more transparent, and to what degree will you save those proceeds for the future?

    From our Economic Policy (http://www.albertaparty.ca/economy):

    The Alberta Party would make non-confidential government data easily available to Albertans through an “open data” framework and move towards a five-year budget cycle in order to facilitate effective long term planning and decision making. The intent is for budgets, of which resource proceeds are an important part, to be an open and transparent process.
    However, the Alberta Party will treat our resource revenues with special regard. Recognizing that the revenues we see from them is one-time in nature and recognizing that a changing global landscape will one day cause our oilsands to be uneconomical to extract. We recognize that a more diversified economy with money in the bank will be more capable of handling the transition away from a resource based economy. A move away from using non-renewable resource revenues to pay for daily operations of government will allow us to manage boom and bust cycles more efficiently. It will also create a budget hole that needs to be addressed.

    Q2: How will your party make sure that the resources we sell command a competitive price?

    From our Energy and Environment Policy (http://www.albertaparty.ca/energy):

    All Albertans benefit when the energy sector produces a higher-value product for export to more markets. It produces more skilled jobs and more prosperity. An Alberta Party government will:
    - Undertake a strategic assessment to determine an appropriate level of secondary production for our non-renewable resources that acknowledges market realities and environmental impacts.
    - Seek trade, export, and growth opportunities in secondary manufacturing and processing in the petrochemical sector as well as in products sourced from oil and natural gas feedstocks.
    - Pursue access to international markets for our oil and gas production by supporting development of a pipeline corridor and a west coast liquid and natural gas facility, while ensuring that the social and environmental issues associated with the project are appropriately addressed.

    Q3: Will your party commit to having reclamation liabilities accounted for in the province’s budget and to legislation to ensure that the province no longer underwrites environmental liabilities?

    From our Energy and Environment Policy (http://www.albertaparty.ca/energy):

    Land use planning is important for responsible development of Alberta’s land and resources. If done well, it provides protection to areas that require conservation; creates stronger communities; ensures that completed projects are priorly reclaimed; and helps foster resource development in a more sustainable way. The Alberta Party believes significant improvements must be made to the environmental aspects of land use planning in our province. An Alberta Party government will:
    - Ensure planning for reclamation is ongoing during the life of a project. This includes working with stakeholders to create a more streamlined and transparent reclamation certification process, and increased financial bonding – deposits of money – to ensure that the scale of trust is appropriate to the level of reclamation liability.
    - Address the growing backlog of industrial sites in need of reclamation by introducing regulated timelines for the abandonment and reclamation of oil and gas wells with the flexibility to grant extensions in exceptional cases where the licensee can provide economic or technical justification
    - Establish a system in which operators register a caveat on the title for lands that contain oil and gas facilities to ensure that potential buyers are aware of the presence of these facilities before purchasing their home or land

    Q4: What changes would your party make to our GHG and water policies? 

    From our Energy and Environment Policy (http://www.albertaparty.ca/energy):

    Albertans want to be leaders in energy production and GHG emissions management. As we strive to become a leader in energy development, we must recognize and accept that growth brings challenges. Ensuring GHG emissions decrease, even in Alberta’s often booming ecumenic climate, will require ambitious planning and cooperation with many stakeholders. The Alberta Party is committed to strengthening GHG emissions policies by employing evidence-based, cost-effective methods, such as:
    - Ensuring that coal-fire electricity generation emission standards match those of natural gas or other viable electricity sources
    - Recognize that there is no single “silver bullet” technology and that in the future we will allow the carbon price to provide the signals necessary to advance solutions
    - Encourage and support the shift of our electrical generation stock to smaller decentralized solar, wind, natural gas, distributed generation, and co-generation facilities
    - Implement a regulatory framework and incentives that reduce per capita electrical consumption
    - Work with stakeholders to implement a strategy that requires electrical generation in the province to meet GHG emissions targets in line with international obligations by or before 2025
    - Work with stakeholders to incorporate a gradually increasing price on carbon that better reflects its environmental costs
    - Reduce GHG reporting thresholds so that more major emitters are covered, and increase openness and transparency of all GHG reporting under provincial legislation
    - Work to identify and protect green spaces, the natural carbon sinks within Alberta

    The Alberta Party recognizes water as the most important resource we possess in the province, and believe that its intrinsic value should be emphasized. We also recognize that water resources are complex, as they are deeply integrated with their surrounding environments. Good governance of our water resources requires a shared governance model that science, public participation in decision-making, a predictable regulatory environment, effective management tools, and incentives for conservation. An Alberta government will:
    - Strive to identify, establish and improve the inventory of wetlands to ensure that highly valuable wetlands are protected. This will include purchasing or using conservation easements and other regulated mechanisms – with compensation where necessary – to protect the most significant wetlands.
    - Establish a “Net Growth of Wetlands” or a “No Net Loss” mandate that recognizes ecological and regional differences in wetlands
    - Develop legislated Conservation Objectives that will offer protection for water sources, and Watershed Management Plans for all major major watersheds. We will promote and encourage groundwater management plans.
    - Develop a Water Risk Management Framework that will guide planning and implementation of water management decisions, and will craft strategies to respond to droughts, floods, and disasters
    - Develop a water management system that suppers the growth of Alberta’s economy; encourages conservation and efficiency, and ensures that conserved water benefits the environment. We see water as a public good and not as a marketable commodity
    - Create incentives for industry and households to sustainably reduce water consumption. We will build stronger partnerships between landowners, industry and land users to protect source water and upstream catch basins
    - Work with industry to reduce the industrial use of water and promote water conservation solutions that address the use of brackish water; eliminate tailings ponds; and promote treatment and recycling
    - Work with municipalities to develop opportunities to use grey water – wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing – as part of the water conservation solution in the households of Albertans

    Q5: Will your party restrict the export of raw bitumen, and how do you plan to manage bitumen received through the BRIK program?

    The Alberta Party has no plans to restrict the export of raw bitumen. Encouraging upgrading in the province where economically viable would certainly be a focus of Alberta Party MLA’s.

  4. rdb

    The Alberta Party proposals make a lot of sense. I hope the other parties’ responses are as full and frank.

    We have a good Liberal MLA seeking re-election in my riding, but AP would be tempting if they appeared viable here. (Ideally AP should just replace the Liberals as the centrist alternative — get rid of that L word and undeserved baggage. Maybe after the election.) At the moment I think the best possible result provincially this time is a chastened PC minority, or very slim majority. In that case, even a small number of centre-progressive MLAs could make a big difference in the direction of the next government.

    Looking forward to the April 12 debate and hopefully to all parties’ responses to Andrew’s questions on this key issue. Anyone know of a blog or blogs doing similar quality of analysis on other key issues such as health care, education, transportation, infrastructure etc? Thus far our “mainstream media” leave a lot to be desired on all these.

    Hoping for the best in our most crucial election since 1971.

  5. Ronalie

    It’s very revealing that the only 2 parties to answer these tough excellent questions are the Alberta Party and NDP. The PCs and Wildrose are too tied to pleasing industry to worry about the environment. That explains why they do not answer serious questions.

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