Conservatives..the FUTURE of Alberta !

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A note for those who might be responding to any of my posts but who do not get any reply.  That is not because I have been overwhelmed with your response but most likely because I have used the "Ignore" feature of this forum to filter out your posts and or responses and thereby reduce the number of posts that are in my reading file.  In other words I no longer see your posts (original or rebuttals) Cheers all . 

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The charts that show how Alberta is picking up the bill


  • Calgary Herald
  • 15 Nov 2019

In just 11 years, Albertans have paid out almost $240 billion to the rest of Canada. That number is more than one-and-ahalf times as much as B.C. and Ontario combined, whose taxpayers pitched in $54.6 billion and $97.9 billion respectively, the other two largest net contributors to the federal balance sheet.

The money is sent to Ottawa as part of net federal fiscal transfers — basically the residents of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario pay more in federal taxes than they get back in federal programs and transfers — they are net positive contributors to the federal finances. And in Alberta’s case it has been doing that for a lot of years.

Other provinces are net negative contributors — they get more back in federal programs and transfers than they give in taxes. In Quebec’s case its net negative contributor was minus $171.3 billion from 2007-2018.

The numbers from Statistics Canada show that Alberta’s $240 billion comes to about $5,000 a year — for 11 years — for Alberta’s taxpayers.

Ben Eisen, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute’s Provincial Prosperity Initiative, said the results, per capita, were hard to ignore.

“Despite economic challenges which could reduce net contribution to federal finances, it still remains true that Alberta is a major net contributor to public finances,” he said in a phone interview.

“Far more tax revenue comes to Ottawa from Albertans than what comes back to Alberta in terms of federal services and transfers.”

Trevor Tombe, an associate professor from the department of economics at the University of Calgary, said the results were not surprising.

“The high amount of revenue raised per person is due to high income levels that exists in Alberta,” he said in a phone interview and pointed to the province’s “above average level of economic strength.”

“If you were to ask people ‘Should taxes depend on their income,’ most people would say yes.”

Tombe added that Alberta has the youngest population in Canada, which means it receives less income from federal benefits like the Old Age Security program and the Canada Pension Plan.

The Statistics Canada numbers also show Quebec benefitted most from the equalization program, raking in $107.5 billion. The program shuffles federal tax dollars to provinces with less money so all Canadians have comparable public services at comparable taxation levels.

How the statistics were gathered changed 11 years ago and so Statistics Canada does not have comparable numbers before that. However, a study by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy showed that from 1961 to 2017, Alberta’s net federal fiscal transfers amounted to more than $600 billion.

How much money Alberta contributes to the rest of Canada is one of the things that will be examined by a panel set up by Premier Jason Kenney as he seeks a “fair deal” from Ottawa.

“Albertans have been working for Ottawa for too long, it’s time for Ottawa to start working for us,” Kenney declared in a speech to the Alberta Manning Networking Conference. “We Albertans will not lose our heads, we are practical people, we are not unreasonable people. Nothing we are asking for is unreasonable.”

The feeling of alienation in the west was highlighted by the Liberals being shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the federal election.

Eisen said he hoped the data would “promote a sense of cooperation and help Canadians from coast to coast understand how big Alberta’s contribution to everyone’s well-being is.”

“A strong Alberta benefits the entire country, when there’s an economically strong Alberta it spreads across the country,” he said.

“Ottawa would be far worse off without Alberta’s contribution. It would harm taxpayers all across the province because of the debt-service payments. Canada can’t reach it’s full economic potential if Alberta doesn’t reach it’s full economic potential.”



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It is amazing to see that Alberta wants to blame Quebec and Trudeau, but won't call out Kenney for giving corporate tax cuts that the corporations book big savings from and then go and spend the money elsewhere.  


Alberta's first budget under Premier Jason Kenney this week was filled with deep cuts across the board, with few departments were spared.

The cuts, though, also extended to taxes.


A slash of the corporate tax rate for all businesses, from 12 to eight per cent by 2022-23, is Kenney's main strategy to lure investment to the province, stimulate job growth, and resurrect the oilpatch.

It formalizes an election pledge made by the United Conservative Party, and when the first one per cent cut came into effect on July 1, it gave Alberta the lowest corporate tax rate in Canada.

So far, the appeal of that lower tax rate isn't making much of a difference.

A prime example is Husky Energy, which saw a $233-million benefit from the Alberta tax cut in its second-quarter results. Yet the company is still choosing to spend a significant amount of its capital elsewhere — namely in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and the U.S.

This week, the company cut its workforce in Alberta, although Husky wouldn't say how many employees were laid off.

The Alberta government's decision to cut the corporate tax rate by four per cent over the next four years is expected to result in a $1-billion hit to provincial coffers.

Many of the larger companies with spare cash on hand are using the funds to pay down debt and buy back shares, instead of spending on new projects.

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If this isn't a Trumpian move to eliminate obstacles to corruption, what is?


Alberta terminates election commissioner’s contract amid probe into UCP leadership race

Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is terminating the contract of the province’s election commissioner, who has spent much of the past year investigating allegations about the party’s 2017 leadership race that involve Premier Jason Kenney.

Lorne Gibson, who was appointed last year as Alberta’s first election commissioner, has handed out more than $200,000 in fines in a case that has become known as the “kamikaze candidate.” It involves allegations that leadership candidate Jeff Callaway violated election finance laws to fund a campaign that was designed to help Mr. Kenney’s bid to lead the party.

The government insists the termination of Mr. Gibson’s appointment is little more than an administrative change, as the position is moved to Elections Alberta, which handled investigations until last year, rather than remaining in a standalone agency. The chief electoral officer could rehire Mr. Gibson, although there is no timeline for filling the position and no requirement to continue any investigation.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said the decision to terminate Mr. Gibson’s contract has nothing to do with the investigation into the UCP leadership race. Rather, he said the goal is to save $200,000 a year by eliminating the need for two agencies.

“We’re providing a full latitude to the chief electoral officer to hire the election commissioner, and should he choose to hire [Mr. Gibson], that will be entirely in his purview,” Mr. Toews said.


“We are doing nothing here that will undermine any current investigations that are taking place."

The RCMP is investigating separate allegations of identity theft and voter fraud from the leadership vote. A prosecutor from outside Alberta has been assigned to that case.

Mr. Gibson’s appointment will end when legislation tabled on Monday receives royal assent. Mr. Gibson did not respond to a request for comment.

Chief electoral officer Glen Resler was not available to comment, although Elections Alberta’s communications director, Pamela Renwick, said any open investigations will continue until Mr. Resler is able to review them.

“The legislation allows for the staff to continue in their roles, so I don’t see that their work is going to come to a standstill while we review everything and decide a path forward,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Renwick said it’s not clear when a new election commissioner will be appointed or if that will happen before Mr. Resler’s term ends, as scheduled, in six months.

Rachel Notley, leader of the Opposition New Democrats and Alberta’s former premier, said terminating the election commissioner’s contract is an attack on the province’s democratic institutions.

“This is corruption at its core," she said. "This is a challenge to fundamental democratic principles.

“Jason Kenney is casting a profound, chilling effect across Alberta, and delivering a message to anyone who would challenge Jason Kenney or his UCP operatives and felt that democratic institutions would keep them safe."

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the election commissioner has proven to be an effective guardian of Canada’s democratic institutions.

“Despite some valid criticism of the election commissioner in Alberta being a little too secretive, he’s done more than anyone I’ve seen in a decade by investigating and then penalizing people who have broken the rules,” Mr. Conacher said.


“And that’s why I’m sure Premier Kenney wants to get rid of him."

The former NDP government created the commissioner position as part of changes that also restricted third-party groups that advertise during election campaigns, and banned corporate and union donations to political parties.

The UCP caucus opposed the creation of an election commissioner, and Mr. Gibson’s appointment. Mr. Gibson had been chief electoral officer a decade earlier, but the Progressive Conservative government of the day declined to extend his contract after problems in the 2008 election prompted him to call for changes to the province’s electoral system.

Mr. Gibson’s investigation of the UCP leadership race has resulted in fines against many of Mr. Callaway’s donors and several members of his staff from the 2017 campaign.

The investigation intensified before this year’s provincial election, as questions about Mr. Callaway and another investigation about fraudulent voting overshadowed Mr. Kenney’s campaign.

Mr. Callaway was accused of running a leadership campaign whose main purpose was to attack Mr. Kenney’s chief rival, Brian Jean, who led the now-defunct Wildrose Party.


Leaked e-mails showed that a member of Mr. Kenney’s campaign provided Mr. Callaway’s team with speaking notes, message plans, graphics and videos.

Mr. Callaway and Mr. Kenney have repeatedly denied working together.

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A moderate conservative view from within...



Swann: Stop the blame game; Alberta's plight is our own doing


Updated: November 16, 2019

Abandoned oil well equipment near Legal. File photo. Supplied / Postmedia, file

After 11 years as an MLA in the Alberta legislature under the Progressive Conservative government I feel compelled to challenge the blame now levelled at Ottawa for our difficult economic state.

The current Alberta Conservatives have ramped up the tiresome strategy as old as Alberta; when in distress — blame the feds for our economic woes. And denounce the efforts for the TMX pipeline and policies for a new energy future, beyond carbon. The blame game by the UCP government also feeds climate change denial in spite of the overwhelming science and the growing global human suffering.

How many booms and busts does it take for a Conservative government, in power for 44 years, to acknowledge they have failed to both recognize the need for alternate markets for our oil, more economic diversity and a science-based response to climate warming with stimulus for clean energy, energy conservation and efficiency programs?

Transition is difficult at any time, and particularly in a recession. But responsible leaders do not ignore the science pointing to a climate tipping point in a decade. This is not the time to double down on fossil fuel stimulus, investment and subsidies. Nor is blaming the federal government (in power for just over one term) for the lack of pipelines.

It’s time to face the truth. We are an oil state, with all its advantages, entitlements, hubris and decades of quid pro quo between the oil industry and the people in power, neglecting Alberta’s long-term well-being.

Story continues below

Despite 15 years of prices from $50/barrel to $100/barrel (inflation-adjusted) there is little to show in the public purse to buffer our recession. Alberta’s Heritage Trust Fund is sitting under $20 billion, unlike Norway, which started its fund 15 years after Alberta and now has $1 trillion as insurance against the future. That is leadership in the public interest.

Royalties have declined from roughly 30 per cent in Lougheed’s time to close to three per cent in the last few years; and yet the Big Five (Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial and Husky) continue to post billions in profits. Albertans aren’t told that most companies operating in Alberta are foreign-owned, taking those profits elsewhere!

Anyone close to industry knows the Western Sedimentary Basin is virtually empty and conventional companies have been losing money since 2009, transferring low-producing wells to junior companies, with growing numbers taking what they can and walking away from clean-up obligations; now totalling $260 billion.

Again, Conservative governments continue to turn a blind eye to the contractual clean-up obligations of the oil industry. Government and its so-called “arms-length” regulators (specifically the Alberta Energy Regulator) have been captured by the industry and the Orphan Well Association (OWA), largely controlled by the industry, is now lost in a sea of insolvencies, begging for public money.

Ironically, this lack of foresight, integrity and political will have contributed to distrust and loss of confidence from investors. The Kenney war room is another blatant political ploy against both climate science and free speech; ironically, it is partially funded by foreign oil companies.

Oil prices and the global move away from fossil fuels are beyond our control. Let’s stop the blame game and acknowledge that we are all responsible for the Alberta we have, and for the Alberta we leave to our children. For all our sakes, let us see some mature, honest negotiating in good faith across this country and do our collective best to live up to our international commitment on the climate crisis. Alberta’s present state is largely our own doing.

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Well, looks like the honeymoon in Alberta is over for Kenney.

Booed at the Grey Cup.  Hmmm, who else did that happen to recently?

Maybe there is hope for Alberta after all.....


Is the United Conservative Party’s honeymoon over?

God knows, it ought to be. Sadly, though, it’s probably not. Yet.


Just the same, it was mildly encouraging to hear a few boos for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a recording of the the opening ceremony of Sunday’s Grey Cup game — in Calgary, of all places.

I suppose those boos could have been because Mr. Kenney was dressed like dweeb in a lame “I-heart-mapleleaf-oil-&-gas” bunnyhug, thereby “politicizing” one of the sacred rituals of Canadian professional sports. You know, the east-versus-west championship contest of our very own underpaid American-style football league, which comes complete with its own esoteric rulebook that still astonishes our cousins south of the 49th Parallel. Twelve players? Three downs? Say what?

Some media tried to pass that off as the explanation. And it is true Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was a more traditional good sport, showing up looking slightly less goofy in the jersey of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who eventually went on to beat the Hamilton Tiger Cats in a game that I’m sure was entertaining if you like that sort of thing.

Or maybe some of the scattered hoots of derision exited the pie-holes of determined Wexiters, displeased by the fact Mr. Kenney’s hoodie* had a stylized Canadian maple leaf on it, instead of the sacred symbol of a free and independent Alberta. (We’ll get back to you if we ever find out what that is. Suggestions are welcome.)

But most likely the ripple of disdainful hoots was the result of the fact Calgary’s teachers and nurses still make enough money to afford tickets to a championship game, albeit for the continent’s second-string league, on a cold day in late November, in a stadium with no roof.

Well, don’t worry, Mr. Kenney has a plan to fix the problem of teachers and nurses being paid enough to live on — and perhaps a few hundred more names to add to his always-expanding Enemies List.

Some parents of public school students and drivers of insured cars may have joined in too. They will have to be dealt with later.

Canadians are polite by nature, so it’s said here the boos weren’t forceful enough to make much difference. About as many people audibly booed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his face the last time he turned up in Calgary, although that got better press coverage for some reason. The crowd was bigger Sunday, though.

It’s fun to imagine how Mr. Kenney’s War Room will spin this: Maybe they’ll say anti-Alberta Alouettes fans infiltrated the crowd, frequent Tweeter Edwin Mundt suggested.

Still, we Albertans are going to have to do better than this if we want to get the point across to Mr. Kenney and his minions that we dislike the way they’re dismantling public health and public education as much as New York UFC fans dislike what their former local slumlord Donald Trump’s been getting up to lately.

Maybe we can get better results if we make this a Battle of Alberta thing, just like when the Calgary Stampeders play the Edmonton CFL team, whose name will not be repeated in this space for obvious reasons.

I bet the good people of Edmonton can do a better job of booing Mr. Kenney when he shows up in public than the folks in Calgary did, which in turn may inspire our neighbours in the former Cowtown to do better!

There’s nothing like a good-natured rivalry to buck up folks’ spirits in the middle of a government-inflicted recession.

So what about it, people?

Edited to add:


The interweb is alight...

Edited by deicer

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Kenney demands $1.7 billion from Ottawa, after giving away $4.5 billion to corporations

The request comes on the heels of a wave of social service cuts across the province.

After weeks of antagonizing the federal government, Premier Jason Kenney now wants $1.7 billion in funding from Ottawa. For a long time, Kenney has been making the case that Alberta is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to its dealings with the rest of the federation. This move is but one part of his larger plan to change this relationship.

Kenney’s case rests on the notion that Alberta’s public coffers are facing a significant shortfall. Indeed, the Premier has used this idea to justify $1.3 billion in cuts, increases to income taxes, and massive public service layoffs.

At the same time, the cornerstone of Kenney’s economic policy has been an unprecedented cut to the corporate tax rate.  His plan essentially amounts to a $4.5 billion tax handout to large corporations. So far, the move has generated considerable profits for oil and gas companies. The jobs that were supposed to accompany this tax cut have yet to be seen.  

Economists mostly agree that corporate tax cuts don’t do much in terms of stimulating employment. This year’s Nobel prize winner for economics has even stated the opposite. According to Abhijit Banerjee, taxing corporations and wealthy individuals does much more for employment than tax cuts. 

On the one hand, Kenney says there isn’t enough money in the budget. So he cuts public programs, increases income taxes and is now asking for funding from the federal government. On the other hand, there appears to be enough lee-way for Kenney to grant large corporations a fat tax handout.

The problem is not so much with Alberta’s coffers, but with the government managing them. Kenney’s decision to cut taxes for corporations and starve the government of revenue is a major contributor to the government’s financial woes. There are also other means to address the budget’s shortfall, for instance increasing Alberta’s relatively low tax revenues. A simple sales tax or higher taxes on the super-rich could help raise revenues.

Kenney’s problem is of his own making. If he expects the rest of Canada to bankroll his giveaways to oil and gas corporations, he is sadly mistaken. 

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I guess they didn't learn from watching Ontario.....


POLL: Kenney’s popularity plummets amidst austerity policies, corruption scandals

Alberta Premier’s approval rating drops 18% in two months

Just a few months ago, in September, Jason Kenney’s approval among Albertans was sitting at a comfortable sixty percent. According to a new Leger poll, that number has dropped eighteen percentage points. Now, only 42 percent of Albertans have a somewhat positive opinion of their Premier, compared to 50 percent who have a somewhat negative opinion.

What is behind this dramatic drop in Kenney’s popularity? What has the Premier’s government done in the past two months to affect his approval so significantly? Since September, two key developments have consumed Kenney’s government.

Firstly, there is the austerity agenda that has been central to his government’s plans for the province. The United Conservative Party’s (UCP) inaugural budget slashed funding across the board. Students have been left with higher tuition and less funding for their universities. Disabled Albertans have seen their benefits effectively cut by de-indexing. Hundreds of nurses are being fired as a result of budget cuts. More than 7000 public sector workers are expected to be laid off due to Kenney’s austerity policies.

The decreases in public spending will amount to a functional 20% cut when including population growth and inflation. Analyses by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests that Kenney’s budget will result in a 4.8% drop in GDP and will cost over 110,000 jobs. With so many affected by Kenney’s austerity program, it is no wonder that Albertans now have a less-than-favourable impression of him.

All this is compounded by a series of corruption and graft scandals that have rocked Kenney’s government.

In November, it was revealed that the Premier’s closest advisor had used $45,000 of public funds to pay for his trips to the United Kingdom.  The man heading Kenney’s inquiry into climate activists was also outed for handing a $905,000 government contract to his son’s legal firm. Most recently, Kenney fired the elections commissioner who had been investigating the Premier’s leadership race. 

Whatever the reason, it is clear that Kenney’s blank cheque is being revoked. Albertans are losing faith in their Premier at a rapid rate. Alongside the austerity and the graft, Kenney has introduced a radical plan to cut taxes by a third for corporations. While rich executives and big businesses are getting tax handouts, average folks get service cuts and lay-offs. The political and economic elite of Alberta are raking in millions and Kenney expects every-day Albertans to bear the burden. 

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I see that this topic has now grown to 6 pages. It is great that folks who don't live / never lived in Alberta are concerned about what they think is happening here.  Sadly of course they are evidently spreading information from the  defeated NDP party as well as from the "Public Service?" groups.  Who knows maybe even Justin is paying attention (maybe). 

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In the mean time, driven by pressures outside of Alberta,  

Nanos on the Numbers: Canadians bracing themselves for the 'R' word

Nik NanosCTV News pollsterPublished Saturday, December 14, 2019 11:00AM ESTLast Updated Saturday, December 14, 2019 3:28PM
Nik Nanos of Nanos Research takes a look at the numbers as over 70 thousand jobs were lost last month in Canada.

OTTAWA -- As the holiday season is upon Canadians, it is more economic gloom than festive exuberance.

According to Statistics Canada, the economy lost an eye-popping 71,200 jobs in November 2019 – the single biggest drop in about a decade when the world was still reeling from a recession.

To put this into context about 1,800 jobs were lost in October but the total number of jobs gained this year is still above 285,000.

The good news is that job creation, according to Statistics Canada, still remains net positive – it’s just that November was a substantive setback of previous gains.

The forward looking mood on the future strength of the Canadian economy, as measured by Nanos for Bloomberg News is still twice as likely to be negative rather positive. The kicker is that a majority of Canadians also think that it is likely or somewhat likely for Canada to hit a recession in 2020.

When you ask Canadians who live in the Prairie provinces, that dour attitude rockets to three of four citizens. Perhaps the key take-away is that Western alienation is not just about the political union that makes up Canada, but it is about economic disenchantment and how Canadians that live in the Prairie provinces don’t see the federation working well to advance prosperity and the financial well-being of Canadians.

Roll this all up and it points to psychological if not a potential real recession in Canada.

The ironic twist is that even when the macroeconomic numbers like the unemployment rate bode well for strong fundamentals, the mood for average Canadians is one of ‘joyless prosperity’ where there is a psychological disconnect with the macroeconomic data.

The past week saw the Trudeau Liberal Government launch their Speech from the Throne which firmly focused on a middle-class agenda, the environment, crime and tax relief for Canadians.

In a truly Canadian fashion, a recent Nanos survey for The Globe and Mail suggested that the vast majority of Canadians self-identify as being part of the middle class and believe the government should focus on helping families with children cope with the rising cost of living.

What does this all mean? The ‘R’ word is on the mind of Canadians.

For all the federal parties, they should not forget the adage from a previous American presidential election – “It’s the economy stupid!”

Right now, Canadians fear a recession, are gloomy about our economic future and want elected officials to advance solutions which make Canada economically stronger and which create conditions for Canadians to manage a rising cost of living.

Nik Nanos is the pollster of record for CTV News and Chief Data Scientist at Nanos Research

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OMG!!! So now Alberta wants to go away from 'socialist banking' (hey, it's in the article) to the successful banking model of the part of the country they hate??? Wow, they must be desperate. Now they want to make more money off the people of Alberta. 


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So in Alberta, the oil companies take huge tax cuts, don't pay taxes, don't reclaim the land they abuse, and their conservative government is going to disband the department that oversees the land reclamation. Just another reason to not vote conservative.


Report ‘buried’ by Alberta government reveals ‘mounting evidence’ that oil and gas wells aren’t reclaimed in the long run

A previously unreleased report obtained by The Narwhal shows a government division — soon to be scrapped by premier Jason Kenney — raised red flags about the province’s failing system for wellsite cleanup
Jan 23, 2020 14 min read

The Narwhal has obtained a previously unreleased report commissioned by the Alberta government that raises red flags about whether the government’s own program to ensure oil and gas sites are cleaned up is actually working in the long term. 

The 55-page report, obtained through a freedom of information request, cites “mounting evidence” that Alberta’s land reclamation program is not ensuring former oil and gas sites meet regulatory requirements in the long run, and instead confirms that, of the sites studied so far by an internal government pilot project, all but one failed to meet the government’s standards.

A former senior government official (who asked to remain anonymous) with knowledge of the report told The Narwhal that releasing the report was “seen as an extreme risk to the department” and that there was “extreme pushback” against it being made public. 

The former official described the report as a “valuable piece of science” and one “that needed to be publicly reported.”

But “politically inconvenient” reports, the official said, were often “buried” within the department, regardless of the government in power.

The province’s United Conservative Party (UCP) government has indicated that the office that has been working on this research — the environmental monitoring and science department — will soon be eliminated, and its staff “integrated” into other government departments.

‘The public needs to know that this land is being degraded’

There are nearly half a million oil and gas well sites in Alberta, covering an estimated 400,000 hectares — an area approximately five times the size of Calgary. 

For the last century, oil and gas companies have made a promise to Albertans — that the wells they’ve drilled across the province would one day be cleaned up. Companies promised that land would be returned to just as good as before drilling, sometimes even boldly claiming it would end up even better.

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the legislation that governs how companies must act to protect the environment, requires that operators — like those drilling oil and gas wells — fulfill “the objective of protecting the essential physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the environment against degradation.”

But the report finds that the government’s reclamation certificate program is unable to ensure this is happening in the long run.

The government updated its reclamation criteria in 2010, requiring cleaned-up well sites to achieve a sort of equivalence with nearby land. The government issues certificates to sites to mark them as officially cleaned up, called reclamation certificates. 

However, many reclaimed sites are not actually reclaimed at all, according to the report. 

In farmer’s fields, the exact outlines of well pads may be clearly visible through crop degradation. 

Drone shot well reclamation Alberta

A drone shot used in a presentation made by an Alberta Environment and Parks scientist at an Alberta Institute of Agrologists conference in April 2018. The image clearly shows lingering crop degradation, long after a reclamation certificate was issued. The Alberta Institute of Agrologists told The Narwhal in fall 2018 that “there was unwanted negativity toward s[the] findings.” Image: Alberta Environment and Parks

In forested areas, there may be no trees where wells used to be.

Peter Eggers, a farmer in northern Alberta, told The Narwhal last year that an old well site on his property that has received a certificate is known locally as “the spot where nothing grows.” 

As John Begg, recently retired senior manager of public land policy and former manager of the public land reclamation program with the Government of Alberta, told The Narwhal: “The public needs to know that this land is being degraded.”

“The fact that a … certificate is issued doesn’t mean everything is good — or is going to be good in 20 or 30 years.”

Shari Clare, a professional biologist and one of the authors of the report, told The Narwhal by email that the provincial government is “very focused on the short-term goal of issuing reclamation certificates, with the assumption that once a site is certified it will continue to improve through time.”

But, she said, “there is evidence to suggest that this is not the case.”

Long-term impacts of wells ‘largely unknown’

Companies are supposed to restore an area where a well has been drilled to “equivalent land capability,” a term that — according to the report — has turned out to be more subjective than one might imagine. The government uses an extensive list of criteria to compare an old well site to a nearby piece of land that hasn’t been drilled.

In the public understanding, a reclamation certificate should ensure that the site of an oil or gas well has been returned to an environmentally acceptable state. 

The report’s authors note “the ecological implications of certification remain largely unknown,” citing a number of factors, including a lack of any long-term monitoring of well pads after they are certified.

ites are underperforming long after certification,” the authors write, referring to reclamation certificates issued by the regulator once it deems sufficient work has been done. 

They note previous research has shown “a large number of certified well sites do not meet an acceptable standard,” as defined by the government.

Alberta Environment and Parks did not respond to The Narwhal’s repeated requests for an interview.

Terrex Energy oil operations near Carsland, Alberta.

Oil operations near Carseland, Alta. An author of a previously unreleased report on the long-term reclamation of sites like these told The Narwhal that the government and the provincial energy regulator are “very focused on the short-term goal of issuing reclamation certificates, with the assumption that once a site is certified it will continue to improve through time.” Her research found “mounting evidence” that this is not the case. Photo: Todd Korol

Alberta’s reclamation certificate program is overseen by the Alberta Energy Regulator, an independent corporation funded entirely by industry that oversees the regulation of oil and gas activities in Alberta.

The Alberta Energy Regulator declined to make anyone available for an interview and instead requested questions submitted by email.

Shawn Roth, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator, said in an emailed response that the regulator has “concerns with the methodology and interpretations made in the report.”

He noted that the sites studied received a reclamation certificate before the government’s current criteria were being used to evaluate equivalent land capability. “A site should not be reassessed using criteria that came into place after its reclamation certificate was granted as criteria evolve over time,” he wrote.

But the report notes that, currently, a “fairly substantive number of reclamation certificates are being issued for sites that do not meet the 2010 criteria,” because the regulator grants exceptions to companies by labelling their applications as “non-routine.”

“This raises important questions regarding long-term liability of these sites, that will eventually shift to Albertans on both private and public land,” the report’s authors write.

Clare, one of the authors of the report, told The Narwhal that “while the government insists that the new (2010) reclamation guidelines will result in better outcomes, there is no requirement to monitor these sites once they have been certified.”

And, as others point out, the massive number of sites that have already been certified as reclaimed may be a liability Alberta needs to deal with.

“Some of the things that are diminished are maybe permanent,” Begg said. “It’s not necessarily fixing itself over time.”

Alberta’s Energy Regulator’s public reporting is ‘not transparent’

The report alludes to a brewing regulatory failure to oversee the reclamation certificate process in the first place.

The report — which dubs the Alberta Energy Regulator’s public reporting as “not transparent with respect to very basic metrics,” “somewhat opaque,” and “unlikely to be informative” — was provided to the Alberta Energy Regulator in 2018 by Government of Alberta staff, according to emails obtained through a freedom of information request. 

The report contains a lengthy analysis of Alberta’s reclamation laws, policies and regulations and raises concerns about the Alberta Energy Regulator.

In it, the authors wave a red flag about the regulator’s audit system, which relies on a program for certification that is largely automated and seldom sends auditors out into the field to check the work of consultants hired to fill out applications for reclamation certificates. 

Percentage of field audits completed

Less than three per cent of sites that have received reclamation certificates from the Alberta Energy Regulator have been visited as part of an audit of the site’s approval, which is largely automated. The public has frequently been told 15 per cent of sites would be visited for an audit. Graph: Sharon J. Riley, Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

The authors interviewed practitioners who work in reclamation. Those practitioners felt the “audit system resulted in a greater proportion of poorly performing sites being certified, as there was less regulatory oversight in the audit system.”

Begg, the retired former manager of Alberta’s public land reclamation program, is concerned there are few consequences for a company when an audit reveals a site should have failed. “When there’s an audit failure there’s got to be drastic consequences, other than just failing the site,” he said.

Currently if an audit reveals a site should have failed, the company will simply need to update its application and complete any work to ensure the site passes next time.

The report suggested there is a large amount of leeway for the consultants that sign off on reclamation jobs, even if they may not meet the criteria required by the government.

Following an analysis of data provided by the regulator, the report found a “fairly substantive number of reclamation certificates are being issued for sites that do not meet the [government’s] criteria.”  

And that’s a problem — as the government has no mechanism to monitor the health of sites in the long term.

The report noted “there are no formal or legislated post-reclamation metrics against which to evaluate reclamation outcomes longer-term.” 

And with the soon-to-be elimination of the government division that was looking into long-term monitoring, it seems unlikely there will be any type of metric in the future.

No consensus a reclaimed well site is ‘actually going to grow a tree again’

The report notes that forestry operators have long found that certified well sites in the boreal region “do not support trees with the same growth and yield” and that farmers and landowners report that crop productivity on certified well sites is not comparable to the rest of their fields.

According to Begg, “on forested well sites, there isn’t consensus it’s actually going to grow a tree again.” 

reclamation oil and gas well forest

A ‘reclaimed’ oil and gas well in Yellowhead County, 250 kilometres west of Edmonton, Alberta. The landscape has not been returned to its former state. Image: Screenshot / Google Maps

The problem is often with the soil.

As Larry Brocke, former director of the Government of Alberta’s land reclamation division in the ’90s, put it in an interview with the Petroleum History Society, “You can’t put it back the way it was immediately. You just can’t.”

Roth, the spokesperson for the regulator, noted in an email that “companies remain responsible for surface issues related to reclamation for 25 years after receiving a reclamation certificate. They are also permanently responsible for contamination and any infrastructure left beneath the surface.”

But there are concerns that issues with reclamation may not be noticed for years, or even decades, particularly on remote public lands where there is no nearby landowner to keep a watchful eye.

And the question remains: how long does it take for land to get “back to what it was before” after oil and gas development? Or can it?

No one knows what will happen in the future

The Alberta Energy Regulator received the report in 2018. Nothing appears to have changed since the findings were shared among government officials.

Roth from the regulator wrote by email that “while we are not currently working on anything specifically with Alberta Environment and Parks, we are always looking for potential improvements to the reclamation certificate process.”

The Narwhal first reported on the Alberta government’s internal pilot project to evaluate a small number of reclaimed well sites in 2018. 

Since then, some of the results of that pilot project have been published for the scientific community.

In research published in November, University of Alberta scientists and their government counterparts found that “well pad impacts can be long lasting and may remain for decades or more post reclamation,” suggesting that regardless of the criteria used to measure a pass or fail, former well sites simply cannot be said to be recovering from the impacts of oil and gas development.

A paper in the Canadian Journal of Soil Science has detailed some of the results of the pilot project — and is sharply critical of the government’s ability to ensure oil and gas wells are truly cleaned up.

“There is a general lack of assurance to the public that intended goals of reclamation and recovery, as expressed in legislation, are achieved at reclaimed and certified well pads,” the authors write. 

The lead author of the paper is a land scientist with the soon-to-be scrapped environmental monitoring and science division of Alberta Environment and Parks.

The authors lambast the government for its lack of monitoring and its failure to collect scientific evidence.

They write that “even after more than five decades of certification history,” the government has not acted to collect any long-term information about the success of the cleanup of well sites.

”This type of scientific evidence is essential … to assure citizens that public and private land will be protected.”

The authors undertook a pilot project, called the ecological recovery monitoring project, that found “significant” environmental and crop impacts of oil and gas wells long after the government had signed off on reclamation certificates.

Pipeline affect farmer crops Fairview Alberta

The path of a buried pipeline is clearly visible in a farmer’s fields near Fairview, Alta. Some farmers have long been concerned with the impacts of oil and gas infrastructure on their crops. A report obtained through a freedom-of-information request has warned that even after oil and gas sites are certified as reclaimed, there may be long-term issues with the productivity of the land. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

The pilot project found “there are long-term oil and gas legacy effects on soils at reclaimed well pads.”

The funding for the ecological recovery monitoring project has since been cut, according to internal emails obtained by The Narwhal through a freedom of information request. 

And in October, CBC reported that the entire environmental science and monitoring division would be dissolved by the UCP government.

‘The most efficient regulatory system is one that doesn’t exist’

It has been internally estimated that it would cost as much as $100 billion for all the wells across the province to meet the government’s standards.

Given how many of these sites exist on the landscape, and the enormous ecological and public liability that this represents, I think that the provincial government should be giving greater attention to this issue,” Clare, one of the authors of the report, said in an email.

There should be, she added, “less focus being put on the number of applications that are being processed, and more focus being put on the quality of those sites.”

This report raises serious questions about what happens if sites still don’t meet standards, even after they’re certified as reclaimed — at a time when the Alberta government has increasingly put an emphasis on “efficiency” in its regulatory bodies.

“The most efficient regulatory system is one that doesn’t exist,” Begg told me. “It doesn’t create any burden. That’s extremely efficient.”

That sort of system, he laments, would also mean zero oversight for companies operating all over Alberta.

Begg is adamant that more needs to be done to ensure reclamation policies have been working in the province, and that includes ensuring companies invest in reclamation work in the first place. 

“We need policies to have timelines to ensure reclamation occurs,” he tells me.

And, he added, the government — who is responsible for setting reclamation policy — needs to take a step back and fully evaluate whether its program is working (as it appears the report obtained by The Narwhal was intended to do).   

“You’ve got to look back and make sure that the things you’re doing today are delivering what they’re supposed to,” Begg says. 

Eliminating the only government department to date that has tried to do just that, he implies, certainly isn’t helping.

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