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Government of Alberta word logo as heading for provincial statements

Rebranding the carbon tax won’t fix a failure

Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz issued the following joint statement on the rebranding of the federal carbon tax:

“The federal government, in its flawed environmental activism, imposed a punitive carbon tax that did not reduce emissions, but instead, raised the cost of everything.

“Now, five years later, the federal carbon tax is universally known as a resounding failure. The carbon tax has punished Canadians while failing to reduce emissions.

“Canadians are struggling to pay a carbon tax on top of the federal government’s self-inflicted inflation crisis. We know that the carbon tax is costing Alberta families hundreds of dollars each year.

“In an act of desperation, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have the audacity to try and ‘rebrand’ the carbon tax – a cynical and desperate ploy that will fail.

“No ‘rebrand’ will save the federal government from its dwindling poll numbers. No speeches or sound bites will make a difference.

“Canadians will see it for what it is: a tax on the fuel they use to drive their kids to school, a tax on the food they buy, a tax on the businesses that they run, a tax on everything.

“Alberta’s government has a plan to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. We are confident this can be done without a consumer carbon tax, and we’ll continue to call on Minister Guilbeault to end his relentless pursuit of a more expensive Canada and to work with us instead.”

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

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Is accessibility legislation coming to Alberta?

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities remains on the government’s radar, but confirmation hasn’t come yet that the United Conservatives will introduce legislation in 2024 to align Alberta with much of the rest of Canada.

Marie Renaud, the NDP critic for community and social services, told her legislature colleagues last month that accessibility legislation is long overdue in her province. “Alberta is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada without accessibility legislation, which means we have not even begun our journey to barrier-free,” she said Dec. 4. “That needs to change. We need accessibility legislation right now.”

A provincial spokesperson said the government is working on accessibility. “Alberta’s government is committed to working with the disability community to make sure we are providing appropriate supports to help Albertans with disabilities live healthy, successful lives,” said Heather Barlow, press secretary for Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon, the member for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. In an email statement, Barlow said that the minister hosted roundtables across Alberta last fall to discuss accessibility with disability stakeholders.

Renaud, the third-term member for St. Albert, said others are blazing the trail with the help of clear national guidance. “The feds have laid a path and established benchmarks.”

 

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In 1978 Quebec became the first province in Canada to enact accessibility legislation. Six other provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador—have since passed their own versions. The most recent of those is Saskatchewan, which enacted legislation in December.

“Accessibility cannot be an afterthought. We have to plan for it, invest in it, protect it by enshrining it in law,” Renaud said.

About a quarter of Canadians live with at least some level of disability, but definitions vary of what constitutes a disability in the first place. Canada’s Employment Equity Act classifies a person with a disability as “any person who has a long-term or reoccurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or learning impairment and who considers themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment.”

The Canadian Human Rights Act says “any previous or existing mental or physical disability” qualifies, adding that disability includes “disfigurement and previous or existing dependence” on alcohol or drugs.

Person with a disability “refers to a person whose daily activities are limited as a result of an impairment or difficulty with particular tasks,” says the Statistics Canada website.

In 2022 Statistics Canada found that about eight million Canadians, or 27 per cent of the population 15 or older, reported having at least one disability. That’s about twice the percentage reported 10 years earlier. In 2022, the province said that the percentage for Alberta was more than 21 per cent.

 

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Through the Accessible Canada Act of 2019, the federal government is pushing for a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Part of the process is removing and preventing barriers to access in areas under federal authority.

The law covers the federal government’s own services, facilities and responsibilities, such as federal buildings, banking, air travel, and television, radio and telecommunications. If Alberta follows the example of other provinces, its legislation will drill down to provincial, municipal and educational properties and services, along with the other organizations and businesses it regulates.

Legislation of this type typically paves the way for further actions over time, like the creation of standards and regulations, planning and strategic documents, reporting and monitoring structures, and even new bodies.

Saskatchewan’s law calls for the creation of the Saskatchewan Accessibility Office, which will be responsible for education, public awareness, and monitoring compliance and enforcement of the act’s requirement. In B.C. the law requires that 750 public-sector organizations establish an accessibility committee and plan, and a tool to receive public feedback on accessibility.

In Alberta the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities has been researching what accessibility legislation could look like here, including what other federal and provincial jurisdictions have done, said the ministry spokesperson. The advocate has “engaged with persons with disabilities, disability groups, and the general public to hear their views on the state of accessibility in the province,” Barlow said.

 

 

The advocate office, created by Rachel Notley’s NDP government in 2018, is operating under a strategic plan that says a priority is to “champion and mobilize stakeholder outreach work toward accessibility legislation.”

The advocate strives to “champion and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Alberta’s social and economic fabric,” the strategic plan says. It also seeks to “represent the rights, interests and viewpoints of persons with disabilities” and “provide information and advice to government to address the challenges and opportunities to enhance the lives and well-being of Albertans with disabilities.”

Advocate staff build partnerships with community groups, other advocacy organizations and people with disabilities “to better understand issues and changes in disability supports in Alberta,” says the Alberta government website. “Ongoing input from the public is used to provide information and advice to the government with respect to the rights, interests and well-being of persons with disabilities.”

Creation of the advocate position followed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN adopted in 2006 and Canada ratified in 2010. Among the convention’s principles are full and effective participation and inclusion in society for persons with disabilities. The document calls for respect, acceptance and equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities, saying they should be recognized as representative of human diversity.

 

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Renaud said the province needs better information to work from. “The government of Alberta does not collect data on accessibility in a meaningful way; nor does it collect and share data on the accessibility of employment, communication, transportation, technology, and so much more.”

The ministry did not address data collection in its response to an email inquiry. Data in the most recent annual report of the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities centres mostly on its public interactions and cases.

The advocate heard from 1,038 individuals in 2021-2022, and their contact generated 1,360 cases. Of those cases, 89 per cent related to individuals seeking support for themselves or someone close to them for specific challenges. The number of cases was up 7.5 per cent over the year before and 26 per cent over 2019-2020.

Individuals and governments around the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta, however, does not host a formal event in its rotunda to recognize the day, Renaud pointed out.

On the positive side, the legislature does provide American Sign Language during Question Period. Renaud said she’s thankful for that but wants to see ASL extended to other proceedings.

 

 

Filipino curriculum, halal financing remain unresolved in 2024

Holdover issues from last year have leaders in Alberta’s Filipino and Muslim communities keeping a hopeful eye on the provincial government in 2024.

Rural Filipinos want to see the resumption of a project to develop a curriculum dedicated to their ethnicity. The UCP halted the project after the party formed the government in April 2019.

The previous NDP government announced the cultural and language curriculum earlier in 2019, saying the program for students in kindergarten to Grade 12 would launch in participating schools at the start of the 2020-21 year.

Many of Alberta’s Muslims, meanwhile, want the province to make good on a UCP election promise to reduce barriers to borrowing by creating halal financing options. Halal loans tie money earned by the lender to the profits or losses of the investments they enable. Interest charges in the usual sense are not allowed.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Curriculum Called ‘Vital Work’

Filipino curriculum development for Alberta schools is “vital work” that the government should resume, Irfan Sabir told his elected colleagues during Question Period Dec. 4.

Sabir, deputy house leader for the Opposition, noted that Alberta is home to the second-largest Filipino community in Canada and its people deserve more government attention.

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, who represents Calgary-Bow, wouldn’t commit to bringing the curriculum back. But he did say he was open to meeting with members of the Filipino community to talk about it.

Nicolaides pointed out that the government is in the process of updating Alberta’s curriculum. “Of course, with that redevelopment and redesign there are unique opportunities to make sure we are improving the curriculum we’re delivering to our children,” he said.

About a week earlier Sabir addressed a convention of rural Alberta Filipinos in Calgary. Attendees of the Nov. 26 and 27 gathering spoke of the lost curriculum project, and also voiced concerns about conditions for health care workers and the future of Canada Pension Plan benefits, Sabir said.

Members of the Filipino community “work tirelessly as nurses and in other critical jobs in our hospitals and clinics each and every day,” said Sabir, the representative of Calgary-Bhullar-McCall. “Like every worker in health care for the past four years, they are exhausted, overwhelmed and short-staffed, and don’t see an end in sight for the chaos the UCP government has caused in our health care system.”

 

 

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, Red Deer-North, said the government signed a memorandum of understanding to get more nurses from the Philippines working in Alberta. “We’re concerned about every health care worker that is out there,” she said. That’s why Alberta is refocusing a health care system that “has let many of our health care workers down.”

The previous UCP government, under then-premier Jason Kenney, announced the memorandum of understanding with the Philippines in October 2022. Under the MOU, the province said it would provide financial, licensing and educational assistance to smooth the transition of Filipino nurses into the Alberta workforce.

On the possible creation of an Alberta pension plan, the Alberta government awaits information from the Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada. The message for all communities is the same, said Finance Minister Nate Horner,: an “ongoing, active conversation” is underway about “an admittedly complicated scenario.”

Horner, the representative for Drumheller-Stettler, added: “If the information changes, so will our conversation with Albertans, but I think it’s important that everyone has the most up-to-date information about the potential and promise this could have for the province, Alberta families and Alberta businesses. And if that changes, so will the engagement style, but for right now we’re just having the conversation in the most honest way.”

According to StatsCan, Filipinos in Alberta numbered 203,960 people in 2021. That’s more than 21 per cent of all the people in Canada of Filipino extraction. About four in five Canadians with Filipino roots are immigrants.

About 2.5 per cent of Alberta’s population in 2021 named Tagalog as their first language. A standardized form of Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines, but the country also counts English as an official language.

 

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‘Systemic Barriers’ Persist in Financing

A lack of halal financing options in Alberta means many Muslims face “systemic barriers” when seeking mortgages, Sharif Haji, Edmonton-Decore, told the legislature Dec. 4. Muslims have been seeking halal financing for years, and Premier Danielle Smith has committed the province to introducing it, the NDP member said during Question Period.

Finance Minister Nate Horner said a task force is working with lenders to “build this product,” but he could not say when it would come to fruition. “It’s obviously complicated. If we could make it faster, we would, but I think it’s important that you get it right before you consider bringing it forward in legislation, so we’re trying to do that.”

He said complexities exists within what different segments of the Muslim community need. The government is working with various Muslim groups “to make sure we have something that works for everyone.”

Statistics Canada put the number of Muslim Albertans at 202,535 in 2021, a more than sixfold increase in three decades. Muslims made up 4.8 per cent of the provincial population in 2021, compared with 1.2 per cent in 1993.

Christians comprised about 48 per cent of the Alberta population in 2021. After Islam, the next largest groups by religion are Sikhism at 2.5 per cent, Hinduism 1.9 per cent, Buddhism 1.0 per cent, traditional Indigenous spirituality 0.5 per cent and Judaism 0.3 per cent.

The current session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly reconvenes Feb. 28.

 

 

When a pause is not a pause: submissions still accepted in Alberta’s pension plan consultations

A deadline approaches for Albertans to again have their say on leaving the Canada Pension Plan, this time by completing and submitting the Your Pension, Your Choice workbook.

A public engagement panel struck by the government is accepting submissions of the 18-page workbook until Feb. 28, the same day the legislature resumes after breaking for Christmas.

The NDP opposition, meanwhile, continues to hold in-person town halls, something the engagement panel has so far not done. Your Pension is Yours town halls are slated for eight communities.

The panel announced in early December that it was putting consultations on hold, pending the receipt of financial information from the Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada. The actuary is arriving at its own calculation of what an Alberta withdrawal amount would be.

 

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Earlier, a provincial government-commissioned report from the firm LifeWorks estimated Alberta would be entitled to $334 billion or 53 per cent of base Canada Pension Plan assets. The calculation is disputed as too high by the Alberta opposition, by elected officials from outside Alberta and by the CPP Investment Board. The investment board estimated that CPP would owe Alberta about 16 per cent of the fund.

Despite the public engagement pause, press secretary Savannah Johannsen of Alberta Treasury Board and Finance confirmed that the panel is still collecting comments and opinions from Albertans, via the workbook. Those who complete the workbook can submit theirs electronically by using a fillable online form or emailing them, by posting them, or by dropping then off at any MLA office.

Find the workbook and submission details at www.albertapensionplan.ca.

Federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre of the Conservative Party of Canada entered the Alberta pension plan fray late last year. In a statement urging Albertans to stay in the national plan, he said that as prime minister he would “protect and secure the CPP for Albertans and all Canadians.”

 

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No province or territory has withdrawn from the CPP since the federal government established it in 1965. Quebec operates its own plan and never opted in.

The opposition house leader characterized consultations by the engagement panel as a meandering and crewless ghost ship. Christina Gray, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, said the panel’s consultation has been “drifting, aimless and seemingly abandoned by this government.”

In a member statement to the legislature, she called on the provincial government to “leave the CPP alone.”

The engagement panel has held no in-person town halls so far. Telephone town halls heard from 150 pre-screened Albertans, said Gray, “and now silence.”

But supporters of continuing to investigate a provincial plan called it a way to keep money in the province at no cost to Albertans.

Jason Stephan, the UCP MLA for Red Deer-South, said workers could save $1,000 or more each year under an Alberta pension plan. “That can be a very big deal for Albertans,” said Stephan, who like Gray sits on the legislature’s standing committee on Alberta’s economic future.

 

 

The legislature rejected an NDP motion to compel the government to abide by results of a pension referendum on the idea. But the legislature passed the Alberta Pension Protection Act without the amendment, and it came into force before Christmas.

The government’s online overview of the act says it does what the opposition asked for: “The Alberta Pension Protection Act guarantees the government won’t launch an Alberta Pension Plan unless Albertans vote in favour of it in a referendum.”

But the act itself doesn’t say that. A lieutenant governor’s order calling for the referendum would detail whether results are binding, the act says.

The online overview continues: “The act also guarantees that Albertans would pay the same or lower contribution rates and receive the same or better benefits as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It also ensures the assets transferred to Alberta from the CPP would only be used to set up a pension plan and operate it in the best interests of Albertans.”

Consultations so far through the engagement panel comprise an online survey, telephone town halls and the workbook. More than 760,000 Albertans participated telephone town halls, says the province’s website. About 94,000 Albertans completed an online survey, but critics said it lacked objectivity and failed to ask whether respondents favour an Alberta pension plan.

In the workbook, an option exists for respondents to select one of a range of answers from “definitely not” to “definitely” when asked whether they support moving to an Alberta pension plan.

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

NDP Town Halls

The NDP is accepting registrations now for eight more town halls. They are:

Central Edmonton, Jan. 30, 6 p.m.

Lethbridge, Jan. 30, 6 p.m.

Medicine Hat, Jan. 31, 6 p.m.

High River, Feb. 1, 6 p.m.

Edmonton South, Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m.

Drumheller, Feb. 9, 6 p.m.

Calgary South, Feb. 11, 2 p.m.

Calgary North Central, Feb. 24, 11 a.m.

Interested Albertans can register for any of the NDP town halls at www.albertasfuture.ca. Also on the site is a survey that asks: “Should Alberta leave the Canada Pension Plan?” Options are yes, no and unsure. Those who select yes or no are given space to expand.

 

 

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told the legislature before Christmas that two NDP-organized town halls had 85 and 90 per cent of attendees against Alberta withdrawing from the CPP, based on shows of hands. At the Red Deer-South event, UCP MLA Jason Stephan attended—“I’ll give credit where credit is due,” said Notley.

But she noted during Question Period that Finance Minister Nate Horner has not attended NDP town halls and that she finds it unusual that he gets second-hand information about them.

Horner said, “There is no endgame here other than having a conversation with Albertans about something that the federal government has made clear to me. .. is totally the right of a province to consider. Knowing that, we’ll continue with our engagement.

“The first round is complete. I look forward to meeting with the panel to talk about next steps. This is a complicated idea, admittedly, brought to us by the Fair Deal Panel. It has great potential and promise for Albertans. We look forward to having the conversation.”

The Fair Deal Panel made its final report to the province in May 2020, recommending ways to strengthen Alberta’s voice in Confederation. One idea was the exploration of an Alberta pension plan.

 

 

Your Pension, Your Choice Workbook

As its name suggests, the Your Pension, Your Choice workbook encourages Albertans to do some homework, primarily by reviewing the LifeWorks report and the workbook’s discussion notes. It’s also made up of nine questions or requests for comments, plus three demographic questions.

Included in the workbook are explanations of how CPP works and the advantages and risks if Alberta leaves it. It describes the mechanics, costs and potential savings of leaving and instituting a replacement plan, Alberta’s place in CPP, and how government oversight of public pension plans works.

Most of the questions are open-ended and require written responses, like: “Does the size of Alberta’s asset share matter to you and, if so, why?” and “If Alberta exited the CPP and started an APP, how would you want the pensions assets managed?”

 

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Federal environmental policies threaten otherwise strong economic news in Alberta, MLA statements suggest

A pretty Alberta employment picture bodes well for 2024—rose-coloured glasses not necessary. That’s the scene painted late last year by UCP MLA Myles McDougall for his legislature colleagues.

One of those colleagues, however, produced a less optimistic scene: middle-class families in Canada pushed out of their homes by federal environmental policies. Chantelle de Jonge, UCP MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore, said the federal government shifted “yet another set of their climate goalposts” with the announcement after COP 28 of a stringent methane reduction target. The announcement hits hard, she said, because Alberta had just nailed an earlier target—three years ahead of schedule.

McDougall, a first-time MLA elected last May to represent Calgary-Fish Creek, made his case by pointing to November job creation and labour force numbers. A surge that month saw nearly 8,900 primarily full-time jobs created and 14,400 workers added to the labour force. Employment increased by 4.1 per cent in one year, “far outstripping the national average of 2.5 per cent.”

The results stem from “our government’s unwavering commitment to fostering an investment-friendly economy,” he said in a Dec. 4 member statement to the legislature.

 

Pump bottles of colourful, natural soaps on ad for Lynden House Market in Pincher Creek

 

McDougall continued: “The economic trajectory of our province is nothing short of exciting and promising. Alberta continues to generate a multitude of high-quality jobs while attracting substantial investments, solidifying its position as a hub of economic growth and opportunity.”

A former executive assistant to the provincial treasurer, McDougall identified the recent Dow Chemical launch of its Path2Zero project as a “shining example” of good economic news. The $11.6-billion project—with $400-million in federal support under two tax credit programs and a 12 per cent, $1.8-billion provincial grant—expands ethylene and polyethylene capacity at the company’s Fort Saskatchewan site while retrofitting existing assets for net-zero carbon emissions.

McDougall concluded: “Let us remain resolute in our commitment to nurture and expand this prosperity, ensuring that Alberta remains a beacon of opportunity and growth to all.”

But remarks made by de Jong were less enthusiastic about the economy, in the wake of the COP 28 climate summit in Dubai, federal government actions and energy industry layoffs.

 

 

The methane target announcement from the feds came “just weeks after painful layoffs at major energy companies,” she said in a Dec. 4 member statement. “While Canadians have grown used to attacks against productive, job-creating industries from the NDP-Liberal alliance in Ottawa, their pocketbooks have not,” she said. “As all the ideological and environmental targets and programs do out of Ottawa, this will fall back on Canadians, who are already in the midst of an affordability crisis.”

de Jonge pointed to the federal carbon tax, the “unconstitutional clean electricity regulation” and the greening of building codes as further examples of federal actions she says punish Canadians. “All of these things are threatening to pile up and put middle-class families on the street.”

The federal government wants to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by at least 75 per cent of 2012 levels by 2030. Alberta claims it reduced emissions by 45 per cent from 2014 levels in 2022, even though the target year was 2025.

Earlier media reports quote a Carleton University study that casts doubt on Alberta’s measurements. The study said Alberta may have underestimated methane emissions by nearly 50 per cent. But the Alberta Energy Regulator said Alberta used the best available data.

Methane makes up about a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions but has a disproportionate effect on climate. It is about 28 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The current session of the 31st Alberta Legislature reconvenes Feb. 28.

 

Wedding banquet view of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.