Tension in Alberta: Teck Frontier, Coastal GasLink Pipeline, and COVID-19

Government of Alberta Announcements

The Alberta Legislature has its first constituency week following a busy first few weeks of the second session of the 30th legislature. Top of mind has been the escalating tensions regarding energy projects in Canada. Wet’suwet’en chiefs and provincial and federal ministers have reached a tentative agreement on a path to proceed for the Coastal GasLink pipeline project. The outlook is not as positive for the Teck Frontier project, with the news that the major mine project will not proceed.

Teck decided to withdraw its application for approval of the Frontier project days before the federal cabinet was set to decide whether to approve it. In a statement, Premier Kenney directly tied the decision to events of the last few weeks and that the timing of the decision is not a coincidence saying that “weeks of federal indecision on the regulatory approval process and inaction in the face of illegal blockades have created more uncertainty for investors looking at Canada”. The decision is sure to only strengthen Premier Kenney’s resolve to see other pipeline and energy projects get approved, built and fully operational including the Trans Mountain Expansion. The TMX project received good news Thursday with the Supreme Court of Canada declining to hear five challenges to the pipeline. Energy Minister Sonya Savage released a statement on the subject.

Finance Minister Travis Toews has tabled his second budget since the UCP formed government. The budget focuses on a path to balance while maintaining key government programs, finding cost efficiencies and creating jobs in the province. You can read New West’s full analysis of Budget 2020 here.

Below you’ll find a recap of government legislation tabled and the rest of the government announcements since our last edition.

Government Announcements

  • A new funding formula was announced by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange that will change funding from being tied to one year enrollment counts, and instead will be based on a rolling three year average. The new formula also seeks to reduce funds going to administrative functions rather than classrooms and introduces accountability measures for school boards.Specific details on the formula will be introduced in the budget, and will take effect for the 2020-21 school year.
  • A new physician funding framework is being implemented by the GoA following a breakdown in mediation with the Alberta Medical Association. The framework will maintain funding at $5.4 billion and will make changes proposed during negotiations to prevent cost overruns, align benefit programs and administrative fees with those of comparable provinces, and improve services for patients.
  • Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, one of the province’s premier cultural institutions, will be modernized for future generations with up to $40 million in provincial infrastructure funding.
  • The GoA is extending a loan of up to $100 million to the Orphan Well Association to assist in reclamation efforts and create up to 500 direct or indirect jobs in the oil services sector.
  • Changes are being made to Alberta’s parks model to find efficiencies and have under-utilized recreation areas become vacant public land.
  • A report on the impact of Alberta’s supervised consumption sites was released Thursday by the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee. The government will now consider changes to supervised consumption services and other addiction treatment and recovery resources, on a city-by-city basis.
  • The Alberta Court of Appeal issued a 4-1 ruling that the federal carbon tax is unconstitutional, a favourable ruling as compared to in Saskatchewan and Ontario that will appeal their rulings on the issue at the Supreme Court of Canada in March.
  • The Fair Deal Panel has launched an online survey on how best to define and secure a fair deal for the province. The survey is available until March 15.
  • $100 million has been committed in Budget 2020 to begin the expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
  • Regulations for the commercial trucking industry are being reviewed with a focus on reducing red tape and regulatory burden in the industry. The online survey is available from February 18 to March 18.
  • Another survey has opened to gather feedback from Albertans on reforms to the auto insurance industry in the province as part of the larger review launched by the government in fall 2019, and is open until March 6.

  • $137 million in capital funding has been allocated for expanding the ER and mental health units at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital.
  • Suncor’s Meadow Creek West project has received approval from the Kenney government to proceed to the next stage of development, including making a final investment decision and applying for other environmental licences and local area development permits.
  • Effective April 1, there are changes to non-urgent out-of-country health coverage for Albertans to bring the province in line with other jurisdictions in Canada with a cost savings of approximately $1 million annually. As a result, Albertans will no longer be covered for elective, non-urgent health services and routine lab tests.
  • Three new members, Ann-Marie Osinski, Aaron Engen and Karl Johannson, have been appointed to three-year terms on the Alberta Electric System Operator board filling vacant positions.
  • A new funding model for child advocacy centres will replace the previous system of annual grants with a three-year funding cycle. From 2020-2023 the government will provide $3.4 million annually to the six child advocacy centres across the province.
  • Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides has announced that there will be a review of post-secondary in the province that will guide long-term strategy. An RFP will be posted to find a vendor to conduct a system review and develop Alberta 2030: Transforming Post-Secondary Education. The RFP will be posted by mid-March. The final strategy will be presented to government at the end of 2020, with implementation beginning in 2021.
  • Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Shulz announced that effective April 1, the GoA will no longer administer a child care accreditation system parallel to licensing.
  • There are now new ways to watch Question Period in the Legislature with proceedings  being streamed on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Of course, COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines in Alberta and around the world. With the first presumptive case reported in Alberta on Thursday, the chief medical officer of health has issued a statement. Don’t forget to wash your hands!

Government Legislation Recap

Bill 1: Critical Infrastructure Defence Act

Stage: Second Reading adjourned March 2

Notes: In light of the rail blockades that have gripped Canada due to Coastal GasLink protests, Bill 1, if passed, would protect Alberta’s critical infrastructure from blockades, protests and illegal activities. The legislation includes fines for individuals as well as corporations found to be aiding in an offence.

Bill 2: Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act, 2020

Stage: First Reading passed February 26

Notes: Bill 2 removes unnecessary restrictions on liquor sales, promotes responsible drinking in parks and cuts unnecessary red tape.

Bill 3: Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Amendment Act, 2020

Stage: First Reading passed February 26

Notes: Bill 3, if passed, gives mobile home site tenants and landlords access to the government’s Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS), which currently helps resolve landlord/tenant disputes for Albertans renting apartments or houses. Without these changes, the only recourse for dispute resolution between a landlord and resident of a mobile home site is through the courts, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Bill 4: Fiscal Planning and Transparency (Fixed Budget Period) Amendment Act, 2020

Stage: First Reading passed February 27

Notes: If passed, the Finance Minister shall table the main estimates for a fiscal year in the Legislative Assembly during the month of February of the immediately preceding fiscal year.

Bill 5: Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, 2020

Stage: First Reading passed March 3

Notes: Bill 5 proposes five changes across three different ministries including making changes to postsecondary education funding, levelling the playing field for Alberta’s temporary accommodation business, strengthening how government and school boards work together to ratify collective agreements, and ensuring as many tax dollars as possible go to the classroom.