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Why there won’t be an Alberta sales tax any time soon, and who to blame for provincial pipeline paralysis

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In a year-end interview with the CBC, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley ruled out the idea of introducing a provincial sales tax (PST), saying it’s not a conversation she’s interested in having while trying to get the provincial economy back on track.

Notley sat down with CBC Calgary News at 6‘s Rob Brown and talked about the state of the economy, the impact of carbon pricing, who to blame for the pipeline paralysis and the upcoming 2019 provincial election campaign.

What she didn’t talk about was how much fuel consumption has decreased since the implementation of the carbon tax, and whether she regrets putting all her eggs in the Trans-Mountain pipeline basket.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Albertans are very angry right now. Who do you think they should hold responsible for the fact that construction [on the Trans Mountain pipeline] hasn’t started yet?

A: There’s a number of different factors. It’s been almost 70 years since we’ve gotten a pipeline built to Canadian tidewater. You probably heard me talk about it when I was at the Canadian first ministers meeting in Montreal a couple weeks ago. It’s as if Canadian political leaders both federally and provincially, for the last 10 to 15 years, sat around and watched this car crash happening in slow motion, and they sat back and politely admired the problem without actually digging in to find a fix.

  • Watch an extended version of CBC News’ interview with Premier Notley above

We know the obvious barrier to getting Trans Mountain built is the decision of the Court of Appeal — and they identified different problems: the direction of the previous federal government to the NEB [National Energy Board] to exclude consideration of marine safety, and the failure of the current federal government to engage in appropriate consultations with Indigenous people.

As the people of Alberta, we just sit by the wayside and pull our hair out, and get increasingly frustrated — particularly now — because we’ve got the [price] differential blowing out.

Q: You’ve been focused on the prime minister lately, and used much sharper language in describing him. Any regrets about going all in on the Trudeau/Trans Mountain basket? And giving in on Gateway and Energy East?

A: I wouldn’t put it that way. We worked very hard on Line 3, on Keystone, and, as you know, with Trans Mountain.

Gateway was pretty much over by the time we got elected, because the court’s review of it was a great deal more scathing and the fix for it much more complicated than what we’re dealing with Trans Mountain.

Premier Rachel Notley announces at a news conference her government wants expressions of interest from private companies wanting to build an oil refinery in Alberta. (David Bajer/CBC)

And of course, with Energy East, I’m very frustrated — like all Albertans are — that we can’t function more like a country in terms of supplying our product to Canadians. But I do think we need to continue to have that conversation about shipping our products east. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been raising concerns about Bill C-69.

Q: As a province, we’re still riding the economic ups and downs of the royalty roller-coaster. You’ve spoken in the past about how we need to have a conversation about a PST [provincial sales tax].

A: No, no,  no — I haven’t been talking about that.

Q: Your exact quote is: “In the long term, is this a conversation we need to have? I think it is — but not right now. It needed to happen in the context of a government needing a mandate.”

Is this something you want Albertans talking about in the coming campaign?

A: No. Not at all.

Q: Why not?

A: Because we are working really hard to bring Alberta through a recovery and to get our oil and gas industry back on its feet — and to do a lot of other work that we have been doing to promote diversification and economic development.

Now is not the time to bring something like that in.

Instead, what we need to do is carry on with what we have been doing, and on some fronts it has been successful.

Before we got to the point, in August, of the Federal Court of Appeal decision, Alberta was leading the country in economic growth this year. It led the country in economic growth last year, creating well over 100,000 jobs since the depth of the depression.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said it’s not the right time to have a conversation about introducing a provincial sales tax to Alberta, in a year-end interview with CBC’s Rob Brown. (CBC News)

Q: Introducing a PST could address that. So if not now, when it’s so acutely needed, then when?

A: I don’t think you take that kind of money out of the economy when the economy is struggling.

Right now, it’s just not on my horizon.

My horizon is for our economy to get to a point where it has actually recovered, where people who have lost their jobs have work again, and where they feel confident and secure in that employment. That’s absolutely our focus right now.

Q: Are you tax adverse because of the backlash you’ve seen with the carbon tax?

A: No. It’s really about what the economy can handle. For instance, If you look over at Saskatchewan, they took a much different approach. They took a very austerity-based approach to their public services and then they extended their sales tax — which is not insignificant —  to construction, out of the blue, and we’ve seen their growth diminish quite significantly.

That doesn’t work to build the economy. And so we’re focused on building the economy.

Q: We’ve had two years with a provincial carbon tax. What kind of decline in fuel consumption have we seen in Alberta in those two years?

A: I would have to get back to you on that. Because, of course, it’s related to economic activity as well. So you’ve got a lot of different things going on at the same time.

Q: Do you know if we’ve had a decrease in car emissions during that time?

A: I honestly can’t tell you right now because I wasn’t prepped for that. What I can say is just yesterday, through our CLP [climate leadership plan], we had our second and third auctions for renewable energy. And in doing that, we’ve now managed to bring in enough renewable energy — electricity — to power 300,000 homes in Alberta, to create 1,000 jobs, and to do so less expensively than anywhere else in North America

In the last 12 months, through our climate leadership plan, and the carbon pricing it generates, we’ve tripled the amount of renewable energy being used in Alberta in 12 months. As opposed to the amount of renewable energy being used in Alberta over the previous 20 years. So we’re doing some good work there.

Q: British Columbia measured fuel decrease — and in the first five years, they saw, I think, a 16% decrease. I can appreciate you don’t have those numbers at hand, but wouldn’t they be top of mind so you can explain to Albertans, in two years, that we’ve made this much of a difference in cutting emissions from vehicles? Are you not getting those numbers?

A:  We may have been, Rob, but there’s other things that have been going on: the economy was picking up, and so that’s a factor [with emissions] that you have to take into account.

As you know, our carbon pricing at this point still — as a portion of the fuel cost — is still very very small. But at the same time, what we are doing is we’re able to look at other things we’re doing — other projects we’re funding through it. That’s why I’m telling you about the renewable energy piece, which is a very direct, measurable thing.

We’ve also been able to dedicate funds toward the phasing out of coal. And as you can imagine, going from being the single biggest coal producer in the country — the rest of the country doesn’t produce as much coal combined as we do in Alberta — we’re well on track to be completely off coal by 2030.

That is going to bring about measurable reductions. There’s a lot of things we can look at.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley arrives at the first ministers’ meeting in Montreal on Dec. 7, 2018. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Q: Your party is trailing provincially. You’re ahead in Edmonton but behind in Calgary. Do you think you can win the next election without winning Calgary?

A: I think Calgary is absolutely fundamentally important … but we’re not into the election campaign yet. We’re still focused on doing things like governing the province, which we were elected to do, and that’s why we’ve been focused so much on work around the energy industry, the curtailment, the rail, pushing for more upgrading here in Alberta and more diversification like the announcement I made today.

The fact is, when we get to the campaign — I’m looking forward to it — I think when you get to the actual election, it turns into a choice between two options, and I’m looking forward to that debate.

Q: Your personal approval numbers are higher than your party’s. Does that keep you up at night? Do you feel like you’re carrying a burden?

A: Not at all. At the end of the day, polls are an interesting snapshot in time. The campaign is where people make their decisions. You get a chance to talk to folks about what your record is, what your vision for the future is, and to present that with as much honesty and integrity as you can — and that’s when we’ll have those conversations.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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