The Daily Visionary: Thursday, November 29, 2018

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

Calgarians protest the federal government twice in a week over lack of energy support


Following the federal government’s fiscal update given in the House of Commons last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau made two separate visits to Calgary, Alberta and were met with angry protestors. Chanting "Build that pipe!", over two thousand Calgarians protested outside the hotel where PM Trudeau gave a lunch address to a subdued business community, and Minister Morneau attracted hundreds of protestors to his own address. There are currently over 100,000 unemployed Calgarians, in a city of over one million, as a direct result of the debilitated energy sector and its broader impact on the economy, as people lose homes and businesses and an increase in suicide rates.


Speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon, PM Trudeau blamed the current low price of Canadian oil, calling it a "crisis" for Alberta, for the prolonged economic hardship though he offered nothing in the way of new help. The provincial government and critics say the federal government isn’t doing enough to help Albertans and the energy sector, pointing to the federal government’s immediate reaction to the announcement GM is closing its Oshawa plant and the lack of a specific line-item in the fiscal update for the sector.


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley responded to say the oil price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select, which averaged around USD $45 per barrel last month, is costing the Canadian economy CAD $80 million a day. Alberta’s oil sells for a lower price in the United States (U.S.) partially due to the lack of pipeline capacity to move Canadian crude to market. Leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party Jason Kenney, who is expected to win the spring 2019 provincial election, called Trudeau's visit to the province "an insult" and blamed the prime minister for policies that hurt the energy industry, saying, “It is no longer adequate to come out here, pat us on the head and tell us he feels our pain. It's time for action."


PM Trudeau reiterated the federal government was doing what it could to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, which would triple its capacity to carry oil to tankers on the west coast. The federal government bought Trans Mountain and its expansion project for CAD $4.5 billion last summer, but the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal struck down its approval, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation and failure to consider impacts on marine ecosystems.


The PM pointed to his government’s fiscal update, which included a measure that lets companies write off capital expenditures more quickly, and a tax benefit related to asset depreciation, which he claimed will help businesses. Energy industry leaders, Albertans, and provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci criticized the Liberal government's fiscal update, saying it failed to include any direct line items that would bolster Alberta's ailing energy sector and help close the price gap between benchmark oil prices and Alberta's oil.


Joining the crowd of protestors, MEG Energy CEO Derek Evans said, "We're already shutting down rigs. We're already pulling back on capital. Until we've got good visibility that we're gonna be able to move this production, either by rail or by future pipelines, capital activity — the investment into the economy — is going to drop dramatically in western Canada."


After his speech to the Chamber, PM Trudeau met with executives from a number of oil and gas companies behind closed doors to discuss the importance of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and concerns over Bill C-69, which includes Ottawa's plans to revamp the assessment process for major energy projects. Executive Vice Chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Steve Laut said, “The accelerated capital cost allowance doesn't matter if the differentials are where they are because no one is going to spend any money."

At Minister Morneau’s speech, he refused to commit to a date when the Trans Mountain pipeline project would be built, saying, "I can't give you an exact timelines because that would not be consistent with the goals that we are trying to achieve.


Senate passes legislation to end Canada Post strike


Canada Post’s mail service resumed across the country this week after the Senate passed legislation, Bill C-89, ordering an end to five weeks of rotating strikes by the postal workers union. The government rushed Bill C-89 through the House of Commons last week, saying passage of the bill was urgent due to the economic impact of continued mail disruptions during the busy holiday season. In response, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers issue a statement declaring that it is "exploring all options to fight the back-to-work legislation."


Canada’s Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) national President Mike Palecek responded to say, "Postal workers are rightly dismayed and outraged. This law violates our right to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Some senators agreed with that assessment and voted against the bill, however, the majority either disagreed or concluded that it's up to the courts, not Senators, to rule on constitutionality.


Negotiations have been underway for nearly a year, but the dispute escalated more recently when CUPW members launched rotating strikes October 22. Early this week, Labour Minister Patti Hajdu said the special mediator had concluded his work and the two sides were no longer negotiating. Post worker walkouts have resulted in a backlog of mail and parcel deliveries at the Crown corporation's main sorting plants in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.


During debate, Senator Peter Harder told his fellow Senators that failure to quickly pass Bill C-89 would have severe consequences for those who rely on stable mail delivery service, including the elderly, residents in rural and remote areas and, most especially, retailers who use Canada Post to deliver online purchases. He said, “It is the government's strong view that if it does not act now to protect the public interest, it will have acted too late," and argued that postal disruptions are "not merely inconvenient," as “The strikes come at a critical period for retailers. Unlike other kinds of e-commerce transactions ... lost holiday sales are unlikely to be deferred to a later date. They represent real and actual lost business for these companies."


Canada Post said Monday that the backlog of mail and parcels is "severe" and expected to "worsen significantly" once online orders from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are processed. Canada Post said it expects this backlog will be cleared by March 2019, including international mail; the union has disallowed overtime for postal workers.


Republicans win the Mississippi Senate seat in a runoff vote from midterm elections


Three weeks after American midterm elections, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has won Mississippi’s Senate seat in an election runoff, defeating former Clinton administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, Democrat Mike Espy, by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. Ms. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate seat in April 2018 by Governor Phil Bryant when Senator Thad Cochran resigned for health reasons. She is the first woman elected to represent Mississippi on Capitol Hill and will serve the remaining two years of former Senator Cochran’s term and be up for re-election in 2020.


In the earlier election, Ms. Hyde-Smith won 41 percent of the vote, Mr. Espy won 40 percent, and conservative Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel won 16 percent. Ms. Hyde-Smith and Mr. Espy qualified for the runoff election as the top two finishers in the November 6 election, in which neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote.


The final party breakdown of the United States Senate in the 116th session of Congress that will convene in Washington in January 2019 is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats or Independents who caucus with Democrats.


Nigeria’s President doubles down on anti-terrorism after renewed Boko Haram attacks


Shocked by a deadly new series of extremist attacks on soldiers, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari addressed security leaders in Maiduguri city, the birthplace of Boko Haram, by backing off previous declarations that Boko Haram had been defeated and urged the military to “rise to the challenge” and wipe its fighters “from the surface of the earth.” Opposition lawmakers said a November 18 assault on a military base killed forty-four soldiers. The Islamic State West Africa Province, the largest IS-linked extremist group in Africa and a recent Boko Haram offshoot, claimed responsibility. Boko Haram has killed or kidnapped thousands over the years, including the mass abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, and forced scores of children into carrying out suicide bombings.


President Buhari is a former military dictator from the north seeking re-election after making the defeat of the nearly decade-old Islamic insurgency a central goal of his presidency. President Buhari faces growing criticism ahead of next year’s federal election over the government’s failure to end what he called a “must-win war.” He told military chiefs that “I will do everything within my powers to continue empowering you” and vowed to improve soldiers’ welfare, to applause. Soldiers weary of the dangerous operation have at times protested, amid concerns that the global drop in oil prices has hurt funding for military efforts in Nigeria, one of Africa’s top producers of crude.


Even as he acknowledged that the fight against Boko Haram and the IS-linked offshoot was not over, President Buhari told Nigeria’s security chiefs that “there has been remarkable improvement” since he took office in 2015, saying, “We remain committed to ending the crisis in the northeast and making the entire area safe for all,” and urged troops to remain nonpartisan and vigilant as the elections approach.


The president also announced he was convening a meeting on Thursday in Chad of the heads of state of several nations in the vast Lake Chad region. The meeting will review the security situation and “enhance the capacity” of the regional multinational force combating Boko Haram, his office said. The military will put in place a “new proactive strategy” to counter the recent losses, the State House cited the army’s Chief of Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, as saying.


European Union wants member states to be climate neutral by 2050


The European Union’s (E.U.) executive branch has proposed the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure some scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming. The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving climate neutrality in the next three decades. However, its plan, announced days before a global climate summit being held in Poland, is far more ambitious than the national targets set or even closely achieved to date by many of the E.U.’s twenty-eight-member nations.

The Commission cites scientists who say ending the use of fossil fuels, a process known as decarbonization, is one of the most important measures needed to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest growth or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.


The Commission’s proposal, which was welcomed by environmental groups, isn’t binding, and adds pressure on E.U. nations that have resisted setting tighter goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is expected to miss its goals for 2020 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has objected to raising the nation’s emissions reduction target for 2030 from 40 percent to 45 percent.


Symbolically, the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine in Poland that was closed in 1999 after 176 years of coal production. World leaders are gathering to agree on the fine print at the climate summit, held between December 2 and 14, three years after the global climate deal in Paris. “Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,” said Poland’s deputy Environment Minister, Michal Kurtyka.


Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world, and reveal what they are doing to reduce them. Many participants believe the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. However, the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets, and most nations are far off the mark from their targets.


Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 will entail a transformation of all sectors of each nation’s economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel. Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, claiming they are responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is factually inaccurate, as developing nations are the greatest polluters without rigorous environmental regulations. Rich countries say they are willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.


The United States (U.S.) under President Donald Trump recently withdrew from the Paris agreement, signed up former President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia appear to be heading in the same direction.