The Strife of Brian

Alberta Oil - - OBSERVER -

A former log­ger, Alberta’s of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion leader, BRIAN JEAN, likes to chop away at the NDP gov­ern­ment’s en­ergy poli­cies and pro­pos­als with equal en­thu­si­asm. Jean’s in­tro­duc­tion to the free mar­ket came at an early age. At six years old, along with his sis­ters, he scooped up and bagged oil sands sam­ples that his par­ents sold to tourists vis­it­ing his home­town of Fort McMur­ray. He later be­came an an­i­mal trap­per and then a lawyer, be­fore serv­ing 10 years as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment in the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Stephen Harper. He would go on to lobby the prime min­is­ter to fund the twin­ning of High­way 63, the road that even­tu­ally served as the sole es­cape route from Fort McMur­ray dur­ing the May wild­fires that con­sumed his home and oth­ers. In 2015, he was elected to the Alberta leg­is­la­ture in his home­town rid­ing and elected the leader of Alberta’s right-wing Wil­drose Party af­ter the de­fec­tion of sev­eral party mem­bers to the rul­ing Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

When the polls close af­ter Alberta’s next provin­cial elec­tion, Brian Jean would like to see his Wil­drose Party in power. And he be­lieves they have the en­ergy—and the en­ergy poli­cies—to do it.

How would you re­form the Alberta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor?

I would im­me­di­ately set up a task force with in­dus­try lead­ers and abo­rig­i­nal and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates right across the prov­ince. Leave noth­ing off the ta­ble, no sa­cred cows. The goal is to make the process as clear and lean as pos­si­ble while en­sur­ing all con­cerns are ad­dressed. Let’s make it the most com­pet­i­tive ju­ris­dic­tion in the world for oil and gas and also man­u­fac­tur­ing. Restor­ing the Alberta ad­van­tage will re­quire both reg­u­la­tory-bur­den re­duc­tion and tax-bur­den re­duc­tion.

The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment sub­si­dized car­bon cap­ture and stor­age at Stur­geon re­fin­ery and Shell’s Quest project. Would you sub­si­dize CCS for coal-fu­eled power plants, in the way that the Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment does?

When gov­ern­ments pick win­ners and losers, Al­ber­tans lose. If the power com­pa­nies or other emit­ters can make CCS work, great—the gov­ern­ment needs to en­sure there are no bar­ri­ers. But while I don’t think R&D or other sub­si­dies are a good idea, I also don’t think gov­ern­ment should be clos­ing coal down early, strand­ing as­sets and not even giv­ing them the op­tion of tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions.

What about cor­po­rate taxes?

The most im­por­tant thing is to be prag­matic and re­spon­sive to the time. Ul­ti­mately our job is to hand Alberta back to Al­ber­tans, by re­duc­ing tax and reg­u­la­tions. Alberta should have one of the low­est tax rates in the world to at­tract in­vest­ment. This doesn’t mean zero tax, just less than our com­peti­tors are at, so com­pa­nies set up shop here. This is some­what con­tin­gent on bal­anc­ing the bud­get, but we should get back to 10 per­cent and maybe look to bring it down closer to eight per­cent as fi­nances per­mit.

Are there en­ergy reg­u­la­tions in place to­day you would like to re­move?

Com­pa­nies will in­vest in a low reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment. It’s al­most un­be­liev­able what you have to do to buy a well—it takes four times as long as it does in North Dakota and Texas. The more you can re­duce the reg­u­la­tory bur­den the bet­ter off every­one is. Even with the low­est tax rates in the world, if there’s too much red tape com­pared to other places, we will lose a lot of job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Would you abol­ish the car­bon tax that was in­tro­duced by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment and in­creased by the New Democrats?

Yes. We can’t af­ford to be out of step with where our com­peti­tors are, es­pe­cially in North Amer­ica—whether it’s North Dakota, Texas, Saskatchewan, or Penn­syl­va­nia, the in­vestors we are com­pet­ing for are look­ing at Alberta right now and say­ing ‘No thanks.’ We have a far more ag­gres­sive car­bon tax than any­where else in the world right now. And we do this on a reg­u­la­tory frame­work that’s the most ad­vanced in the world. I’ve looked and looked and looked for the ap­pli­ca­tion form for a so­cial li­cence and I’ve never seen one. I think we need to do what the rest of the world’s do­ing—be com­pet­i­tive. We can do this through tech­nol­ogy. We can’t be more ag­gres­sive than the rest of the world on cli­mate change or we be­come non-com­pet­i­tive.

With­out car­bon pric­ing or emis­sions caps, where’s the in­cen­tive to de­ploy new tech­nol­ogy?

Well, when­ever you can re­duce in­puts you are sav­ing money. But I didn’t say we would scrap the SGER (Spec­i­fied Gas Emit­ters Reg­u­la­tion) pro­gram that’s been in place for seven years, I just think the gov­ern­ment should take it back to $15/ton and maybe con­sult with in­dus­try to ad­just the way it’s done. There is also a lot of talk about a North Amer­i­can­wide car­bon pric­ing plan, and es­pe­cially a Canada-wide one. Com­pa­nies have to think ahead to some­thing like that com­ing—the point is we shouldn’t be sin­gling out Al­ber­tan em­ploy­ers to pay a price they wouldn’t if they took those jobs else­where.

How would you pro­mote pipe­lines?

The in­dus­try and the Alberta gov­ern­ment have tried tak­ing a calm, fact-based ap­proach and so far it hasn’t worked.

I think the de­bate heated up sig­nif­i­cantly over the last eight or nine years, it was lost by the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments. For one, not enough credit has been given to how thor­ough and le­git­i­mate the NEB process is, and the fact that these in­ter­provin­cial projects are fed­eral, which means there are no provin­cial or mu­nic­i­pal ve­toes.

Then there are out­side in­ter­ests— out­side of Alberta and Canada—that don’t want to see our oil be­ing ex­tracted for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. It’s ei­ther be­cause they are com­peti­tors or they are ide­o­log­i­cally op­posed, but it’s sur­pris­ing how of­ten those two op­posed groups end up on the same cam­paigns against Cana­dian oil. I would en­gage the stake­hold­ers on the ground that are hold­ing pipe­lines up and re­solve these is­sues with them, and also push for more lo­cal en­gage­ment in ad­vance be­fore the op­po­nents show up, so reg­u­lar peo­ple are ex­cited about the eco­nomic prospects. Through my time in north­ern Alberta, I dis­cov­ered that we have a very suc­cess­ful model for con­sul­ta­tion and in­volve­ment with abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties. I’ve been in­volved in this.

Brian Jean, leader of the Alberta Wil­drose Party

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