Lethbridge Herald
24 Jul 2017
Dean Bennett

The former president of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives says some members feel adrift after a majority voted to embrace a new party, effectively consigning one of Canada’s great political brands to the ash heap of history.

Katherine O’Neill, in an interview Sunday, said she’s been hearing from many PC volunteers and members who now feel “politically homeless” in a party they feel is tacking too far right on social issues.

“There’s a lot of grieving going on today,” said O’Neill.

“(These) people have literally put their blood, sweat and tears into the Progressive Conservative party and I know a lot of these people and they’re heartbroken.

“There are a lot of memories, a lot of hard work. And now they’re not really sure where they could go and best use their efforts.”

O’Neill headed up the PCs during the recent leadership race that saw former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney elected on a platform to merge with the Wildrose, Alberta’s official Opposition.

That plan came to fruition Saturday night when members of both parties, in separate votes, chose overwhelmingly to join forces as the new United Conservative Party.

The Wildrose and the PC names will live on legally, but are effectively husks with no candidates.

O’Neill and other members left soon after Kenney’s leadership victory in the spring.

O’Neill said she is fiscally conservative but socially progressive. She’s now heading up a political action committee called Alberta Together that is looking to back a party with similar values.

Many at the Alberta Together meetings have been embracing the centrist Alberta Party.

Dave Quest, a former PC legislature member, said he was cutting up his PC party membership card after three decades.

“I don’t believe the UCP will be the party that I joined as a Progressive Conservative,” said Quest in an interview.

Quest said that under former PC premier Ed Stelmach the government had to fast track infrastructure construction that had been allowed to lag when the PCs, under Ralph Klein in the 1990s, focused exclusively on debt reduction and budget cuts.

“Should (the UCP) form government, it will be a 1990s fiscally driven agenda and it won’t be what’s best for the province,” said Quest.

The Progressive Conservatives won power in 1971 and governed Alberta for almost 44 years before being defeated by Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP in 2015. The Wildrose lasted a decade.

Kenney has stressed vote splitting by the Wildrose and the PCs led to the NDP win and that only a coalition can prevent a repeat in the 2019 election.

Other PCs, including most of the eight-person caucus, have embraced the Wildrose merger, and the race for a leader for the new UCP has begun. That vote goes on Oct. 28.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, Kenney, and longtime conservative and PC strategist Doug Schweitzer have already said they will run.

Schweitzer has been campaigning for weeks, anticipating a positive vote on the referendum. His campaign focuses on fiscal conservatism but social progressivism.

He said the die has not been cast on what the UCP will look like.

“Those (Progressive Conservative) values can still be in this new United Conservative Party and I think that they are,” said Schweitzer.

Jean said names and labels are important but can’t impede progress.

“I think we’ve got a great legacy (on both parties) and together we’re going to have more even than we’ve had as two separates,” said Jean.

“Unity is going to be extremely good for the province, extremely good for the conservative movement in Canada, and extremely good for Albertans — and that’s what it’s ultimately about.”

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said his party has offered alternatives on a range of issues from climate change to debt reduction, but said Albertans still don’t know what the UCP stands for.

“It’s a group that seems united in opposition to the NDP but have offered not a single positive policy that tells Albertans how they’re going to handle the challenges facing our province,” said Clark.


Albertans need to be kept informed about electricity system

Lethbridge Herald
23 Jul 2017

It is good to see that The Herald has undertaken a review of Alberta’s electricity supply system (“Power demand not taxing system,” by Dave Mabell, on July 14.)

Mr. Mabell provides some useful generating capacity statistics from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and concludes our existing electrical system is able to maintain an adequate supply cushion. Indeed, generating capacity from coal and gas totalling 13,631 MW provides a nice margin of security well beyond our maximum demand of 11.4 MW. Thankfully, Alberta’s coal and natural gas plants can jointly provide for the reliable electricity we now depend on. Renewable sources such as wind and solar are often not available when needed.

However, Alberta’s government has decreed the phase-out of all generation by coal over the next 13 years, removing 6,283MW from the present 13,631MW. A major expansion of natural gas capability, either through the building of new gas plants or the conversion of coal plants, will be essential to maintain Alberta’s electricity needs.

Our government has also announced that 5,000 MW of wind capacity will be added to the system by 2030. They will contribute little to nothing on lowwind and windless days. Significant storage of windgenerated energy, possibly through interaction with our modest hydropower capability, is barely on the agenda.

The AESO is charged with establishing and maintaining the generating capacity needed to provide a reliable system and has just embarked on a study involving participants from the electric power industry. The essential goal is to revise the electricity marketing system to encourage the building of sufficient capacity to ensure reliability. Five working groups totalling some 70 members have been chosen to establish the design of a so-called capacity market over the next three years.

Implementation of the muchmodified system will have a profound effect on the provision and cost of the electrical energy Albertans depend on. I’m hoping The Herald will continue to take the initiative to keep us informed on the status of our developing electricity system.

Duane Pendergast

Energy Collegium Lethbridge


Alta. right united again – PCs and Wil­drose ap­prove merger of two par­ties


Lethbridge Herald
23 Jul 2017
Dean Bennett

Alberta’s political landscape profoundly shifted Saturday as its two main conservative parties — enemies for a decade — overwhelmingly agreed to end their feud and work as one to defeat Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP. In separate votes, members of the Wildrose party and the Progressive Conservatives voted in a landslide to merge into the new United Conservative Party.

Wildrose supporters voted 95.4 per cent in results announced at a hotel in Red Deer late Saturday afternoon.

About two hours later, Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney announced at Calgary’s Stampede Grounds that 95 per cent of his members ratified the proposed deal, which had been brokered by both parties in May.

“What a day for Albertans! What a day for conservatives and what a day for Wildrose members!” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean told more than 300 supporters.

“(It’s) a new beginning, where we’re one step closer to putting power back in the hands of the ordinary working people of Alberta.”

Kenney told his supporters that hope was on the horizon.

“We are renewing the Alberta advantage with this democratic decision made today. Tens of thousands of Albertans have decided to put the future ahead of the past (and) to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us,” he said.

The votes fire the starting pistol on what is expected to be a bruising leadership race, culminating in a decision on Oct. 28.

Kenney and Jean have already announced they will run, as has longtime PC strategist Doug Schweitzer.

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt is also considering a run but said he’ll wait until the rules of the race are set before announcing his plans.

He also foreshadowed the rancour to come, saying no matter what happens, he won’t support his former boss, Jean.

“I’m not going to get into it right now,” Fildebrandt told reporters. “Today is a day about unification. “We’ll have plenty of time to beat the crap out of each other in the coming weeks and months.”

A founding convention will be held and the plan is to have constituency associations and candidates ready for the next election in spring 2019. The two caucuses — eight in the PCs and 22 in the Wildrose — will meet Monday in Edmonton to pick an interim leader.

The votes fulfil a plan launched a year ago by Kenney in his ultimately successful bid to become leader of

the PCs on a platform of merging with the Wildrose.

It was an historic coda for the Progressive Conservatives, a party that swept to power in 1971 under Peter Lougheed and governed Alberta for more than four decades before being swept aside by Notley’s NDP in 2015.

The Wildrose movement took root over a decade ago, composed in part by disaffected Tories who felt the PCs had abandoned their commitment to fiscal conservatism and grassroots consultation.

It was a bitter feud, with members even threatening to come to blows in the legislature chamber. PC legislature members at times bolted to the Wildrose benches and the Wildrose party almost closed up shop in late 2014 when then-leader Danielle Smith and most of her caucus crossed to the PCs.

Kenney says vote splitting leveraged Notley’s NDP to majority government in the 2015 election and only a united conservative party can prevent a repeat.

Kenney and Jean both say NDP policies — including a carbon tax and heavy debt spending for operations and infrastructure — are exacerbating a troubled economy buffeted by low oil and are

threatening to swamp future Albertans in unsustainable red ink.

As far as the NDP is concerned, the new UCP is a black wedding.

“This weekend was really about the parties being ready to embrace the worst in each other,” Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said in an interview from Edmonton.

Hoffman said the Wildrose are signing on to a PC party famous for its self-serving entitlements and the PCs are linking up with a Wildrose team determined to make life worse for Albertans by promising budget cuts estimated to run into the billions of dollars.

The Wildrose had a high hurdle to clear for the merger: 75 per cent had to say yes.

More than 42,617 Wildrosers took out memberships to vote. Of that figure 24,598 cast ballots, for a turnout of 57.7 per cent. Of the voters, 23,466 voted yes and 1,132 voted no to deliver the 95.4 percentage.

With the Tories, 49,200 registered to vote and 27,060 cast ballots, for a 55 per cent turnout.

Of the 27,060 ballots, 25,692 voted yes and 1,344 said no. There were 24 spoiled ballots.

The PCs needed just 50 per cent plus one for ratification.


Trump to reveal his hopes for NAFTA renegotiation

CTV News Channel: Protecting U.S. dairy priority

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 17, 2017 4:11AM EDT

WASHINGTON – After campaigning and complaining about NAFTA for two years, Donald Trump is about to start doing some explaining: the U.S. president is poised to release a list as early as today revealing how he wants to change the deal.

American law requires that the administration publish a list of its objectives entering trade negotiations. The reason this could happen any day is because the administration hopes to start negotiations around Aug. 16 and the law requires this list be posted online 30 days in advance.

Expect the Canadian government to say little in response to the list.
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Trump to reveal desired changes for NAFTA renegotiation

Trump to reveal NAFTA hopes

U.S. President Donald Trump waves upon arrival at the White House in Washington on Sunday, July 16, 2017. (AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“I can’t imagine that we would start negotiating before the negotiations actually start,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday. “We’re going to be responsible about this, to be thoughtful and responsible in how we engage the administration.”

That tight-lipped approach stems from the Canadian government’s overall strategy: Make the Americans lay out their cards first, given that they asked for these negotiations and in the parlance of trade talks are the “demandeur.”

The U.S. has signalled wildly conflicting approaches.

Trump keeps threatening to rip up the trade agreement in the absence of a major renegotiation. His vice-president just delivered a speech exuding collegiality and promising a new NAFTA that would be a “win-win-win.”

The signals to Congress have been equally contradictory.

In a leaked draft of a letter to lawmakers, the administration showed at a desire to play hardball and seek changes that would be deemed non-starters by the other countries. It later released a bare-bones, modest version of that letter.

It was with this letter that the Trump administration formally declared its intention to enter trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico. Those mixed messages are due in part to philosophical differences within Trump’s team about how aggressive to get on trade.

A veteran of U.S. trade negotiations suggests this upcoming notice will fall somewhere between the two versions of those letters to lawmakers: more detailed than the final version, less expansive than the draft.

“It will be more specific but I think still broad-brush bullet points on what they want to accomplish,” said Welles Orr, a senior U.S. trade official under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“So no surprises. I don’t expect we’re going to see anything that pops out as ‘Oh, wow, we didn’t see this coming.’ So I think it’ll be kind of perfunctory.”

Here’s what he expects in the new NAFTA: modern chapters on digital commerce, modelled on those in the now-dormant Trans-Pacific Partnership; changes to auto-parts import rules that all three countries can live with; and a bruising fight over dairy.

He predicts the dairy issue will come down to the final wire: “That’s the hotbed issue that’s hanging out there that will be the last issue to get resolved. But if that’s resolved, I don’t see a whole lot of contention on the Canadian side.”

The reason the administration has to publish this list, and release letters to Congress, is because of a deal between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, enshrined in what’s known as a fast-track law.

Under the terms of that deal, U.S. lawmakers relinquish their power to amend an international agreement, as is their right under the U.S. Constitution; in exchange, lawmakers are consulted throughout the negotiating process.

That process includes public hearings – on Tuesday, for instance, the House of Representatives committee in charge of trade will hold a hearing on NAFTA, how it’s worked, and how it could be modernized.

It was Orr’s job to act as a liaison to Congress as the deputy assistant U.S. trade czar.

He believes the administration will deliver more specific marching orders to the negotiating team in the upcoming public notice, including a desire to work quickly. That desire for a fast negotiation could be hindered by the fact that the U.S. trade czar’s office still has numerous positions unfilled.

But he believes it can be done this year: “I think what is going to play out is a relatively short negotiation. Meaning a deal can be probably hatched by December… I think there’s a more expedient need (for Trump) to get a win, that would put a lot of what might be seen as controversial issues to the side for the sake of getting this win.

“This is one of his hallmark campaign issues. He has to have a win. He has got to show that he’s done something. I think he can make some modest improvements – necessary improvements, that brings (NAFTA), frankly, into a more 21st century agreement,” said Orr, now a trade adviser at the Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier.



Canadian Press photo
Bryan Maynard, a co-owner of Farmboys Inc., along with his brother Kyle, is seen in one of their potato fields in Richmond, Prince Edward Island. Maynard is calling on families to talk about the future of their farms.

A growing number of farmers are nearing retirement without having formally planned for their successors, putting the next generation of smallscale farming at risk

Aging farmers with no succession plans put future of Canadian family farms at risk 92 per cent of Canadian farms have no transition plan ready, Stats Can says

By Jessica Smith Cross, The Canadian Press Posted: Jul 16, 2017 12:49 PM ET Last Updated: Jul 16, 2017 12:54 PM ET
Statistics Canada reports that 92 per cent of Canadian farms have no written transition plan ready for when the current operator retires.

Statistics Canada reports that 92 per cent of Canadian farms have no written transition plan ready for when the current operator retires. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Statistics Canada reports that 92 per cent of Canadian farms have no written transition plan ready for when the current operator retires.

Ottawa area hay farmers could lose crop due to record rainfalls
‘Boot camp’ funded by Prince Charles leads retired soldier to a new life on the farm

Bryan Maynard says his grandfather, a Prince Edward Island potato farmer, didn’t start talking about retirement until he was 80 years old and had been diagnosed with dementia.

At that point, with no succession strategy in place, Maynard and his brother suddenly had to scramble to find a way to keep the farm in the family and just barely managed to do so.

The 33-year-old’s situation is not uncommon. A growing number of farmers are nearing retirement without having formally planned for their successors, putting the next generation of small-scale farming at risk — something Maynard and advocates are urging farming families to think about.

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“Our grandfather didn’t really want to talk about selling the farm, ever, until it was too late and he had to,” Maynard said.

A Statistics Canada study found last year that the average age of Canadian farmers had reached 55 after rising for decades, and 92 per cent of farms had no written plan for who will take over when the operator retires.

It also found there were more farmers over age 70, than under 35.

It’s just tough to see family farms dwindle up and go the way of the dinosaur…
-Bryan Maynard, P.E.I. potato farmer

Christie Young, of Guelph, Ont., is trying to tackle that issue with Farmlink, a matchmaking service she runs for farm owners and prospective farmers across Canada.

She has found there’s no shortage of young people armed with business plans who want to get into farming, and older farmers who want to see their land farmed by a new generation when they retire.
A new kind of transition

The problem, she said, is that many farmers have become heavily leveraged in recent decades, having borrowed against the rising value of their farm properties — which spiked nearly 40 per cent per acre on average between 2011 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

That means farm owners need to sell their properties for full market value in order to retire, said Young, so the only buyers tend to be large agricultural operations consolidating farmland in rural areas or, if the farm is in the shadow of a city, property developers.

“If you’re a new farmer who’s trying to buy a piece of land and pay for it by working the land, it’s almost an impossible proposition,” she said.
Family farming farm farmer Canada

Despite other alarming numbers, Statistics Canada did see an uptick in the number of young, female farmers between 2011 and 2016, the first growth in the under 35 demographic since 1991. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Young uses Farmlink to help farm owners and young farmers set up partnerships that begin years before the owner’s retirement, such as lease-to-own arrangements that can allow a new farmer to start small and expand.

“The problem is that’s not how building farms has happened in the past — we don’t have a whole lot of history with agriculture, we only have 200 years — and the transition between generations hasn’t looked like this before,” she said.

A successful farm transition tends to require time and planning, so when a farmer comes to Young wanting to sell his property to a new farmer for $5 million by next weekend, she can’t help, she said.
‘It’s just tough to see’

In Maynard’s case, when his grandfather suddenly needed to retire in 2015, he and his brother bought 70 per cent of the farm. They’re successful today, but Maynard said they’re exception to the rule.

He said they just managed to get a loan, secured with a parcel of land that had been willed to them by their father and the financial backing of their mother — assets that aren’t available for most.

“It’s not the way Canadian agriculture should be doing things,” he said. “It’s just tough to see family farms dwindle up and go the way of the dinosaur just because of the lack of planning and lack of resources available to young farmers to help them get off the ground.”

Statistics Canada has, however, identified a small sign of change, finding the number of farmers under age 35 had increased slightly from 2011 to 2016, reaching almost 25,000, with a marked increase in the number of farms run by young women. It’s the first growth in the under 35 demographic since 1991.
High price of admission

Brenda Hsueh attributes some of that growth to a recent trend of many young farmers being motivated by a passion for small-scale organic farming and local food.

She took an unconventional path to farming, buying property in Grey County, Ont., in 2009 at age 33, with funds from the sale of her Toronto condo, which she had bought while working in the financial services industry.

Hsueh was trained to farm by the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training in southwestern Ontario, a network of small-scale organic farms that offer internships.
Dairy farm cow

The potential loss of Canadian family farms could affect access to and the price of local foods and produce. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

But Hsueh said most of the younger interns she met can’t afford the price of entry to farming today.

That’s why Young said she’d love the federal government to focus more of its farming support on young farmers, rather than on the economic viability of farming in general, fearing that without a change, there will be no more small family farms.

“We’re losing them,” she said.
Farms in thriving communities

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said the federal government provides funding and loan support to some young farmers, including loans for farm transitions that allow for deferred payments and interest-only payments.

“We are continuing to explore ways to support the next generation of farmers in starting up and transferring farms,” the ministry said in a statement.

Statistics Canada’s research shows the overall amount of Canadian land being farmed has remained relatively stable over decades, as farms have consolidated to become larger, and the number of farmers has fallen.

“That’s OK if what we care about is GDP and gross farm receipts,” said Young. “But it’s not OK if what we care about is farm livelihoods and farm families and thriving communities.”
© The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press



6 Jul 2017
Lethbridge Herald

’’ The entire provincial scheme for protecting Albertans from the abandonment costs in relation to non-productive wells is seriously compromised. – Nigel Bankes – University of Calgary

Alberta’s energy regulator has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to review a ruling that could allow energy companies to walk away from cleaning up abandoned oil wells and affect industrial sites across the country.

In documents filed Tuesday, the regulator formally applied to the top court for leave to appeal the so-called Redwater decision.

In May 2016, an Alberta Queen’s Bench judge ruled in favour of the bankruptcy trustee of Redwater Energy Corp. The court ruled the sale of assets from bankrupt energy companies should go first to creditors, not to cleaning up the mess from the company’s operations.

“The decision’s resulted in unacceptable risks to Albertans and it presents an environmental risk across Canada to all industrial sectors,” said Ryan Bartlett, spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator.

The Redwater Energy Corp trustee and its lender, ATB Financial, wanted to sell off the company’s remaining producing wells to pay creditors. They argued a bankruptcy trustee is free to pick and choose from among the company’s assets and disclaim unproductive oil and gas wells.

Disclaimed wells would be abandoned and left to the Orphan Well Association, an industryfunded and government-backed group, to clean up. The regulator argued money from the sale of the productive wells must be used to cover cleanup expenses for the unproductive wells.

But in a 2-1 decision released in April, Alberta’s Appeal Court backed the original judge, saying federal bankruptcy law takes precedence over provincial environmental rules.

Bartlett said that position creates an incentive for producers to offload the costs of cleaning up old, declining wells — especially since the drop in oil prices over the last couple years has increased the number of bankruptcies in the oilpatch.

“Disclaiming unprofitable sites allows companies to reap the benefits of natural resources while avoiding the costs to repair the land,” he said. “It can permanently impair the environment, the economy and safety of Albertans.”

Legal experts have also pointed out the case exposes a conflict between federal and provincial law.

“The practical effect of this decision is that the (regulator’s) authority to enforce abandonment orders at the cost of the licensee is unenforceable at precisely the time when the (regulator) most needs to be able to exercise that power — i.e. when the licensee is insolvent,” Nigel Bankes, chairman of resource law at the University of Calgary, wrote in an Alberta law blog.

“The entire provincial scheme for protecting Albertans from the abandonment costs in relation to non-productive wells is seriously compromised.”

The case is being watched across Canada. Both British Columbia and Saskatchewan have backed the regulator’s request for an appeal. The Farmers’ Advocate Office and Dene Tha’ First Nation also support it.

The regulator said that since the Redwater decision came down, about 1,000 sites have been disclaimed with estimated liabilities of more than $56 million. The Orphan Well Association’s inventory has more than doubled from almost 1,200 to more than 3,200.

In May, the growing backlog of abandoned wells prompted the Alberta government to loan the association $235 million to hasten their cleanup.


Watchdog must be impartial

14 Jun 2017
Lethbridge Herald


One of the most important qualifications in adjudicating matters of any kind is impartiality. Whether it involves a judge in a court case, a referee officiating a game, an arbitrator handling a labour mediation or a volunteer judging jams at a local fair, it’s vital that the person making the decisions is completely unbiased.

Objectivity is similarly and especially crucial in matters to do with the federal government. People chosen to serve as independent watchdogs overseeing government activities must indeed be independent. There can be no hint of partisanship that might influence, or even give the appearance of influencing, the decision-making process.

It’s with that in mind that the New Democrats are proposing a change in the way independent federal watchdogs are selected. The NDP are pushing to establish a multi-party committee that would have to approve people nominated by the federal government to serve as officers of Parliament. That would apply to the roles of auditor general, chief electoral officer and commissioners of ethics, lobbying, information, privacy, official languages and public sector integrity, as well as to the parliamentary budget officer, clerk of the House of Commons and chief parliamentary librarian.

The motion, which is to be voted on today or Thursday, comes in the wake of criticism over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s choice to fill the post as official languages commissioner.

Trudeau’s pick — fellow Liberal Madeleine Meilleur — is a former Ontario cabinet minister who in the past had donated to both the federal Liberal party and to Trudeau’s leadership campaign. Those partisan links not surprisingly raised concerns about her ability to properly hold the government to account in the role of bilingualism watchdog. Trudeau was also slammed for not consulting opposition parties about his choice, which is a legal requirement for officers of Parliament.

Meilleur defended her integrity before the Senate last week, noting, “In my prior positions, I have always been fully impartial,” but withdrew her candidacy two days later in the face of the criticism.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP ethnics critic, calls his party’s motion an “elegant solution” that will make sure partisan choices for federal watchdog jobs aren’t repeated.

Chantal Hébert, national affairs columnist with the Toronto Star, wrote of the Meilleur controversy: “This comes at a time when the Liberal government has presented legislation that could clip the wings of the parliamentary budget officer. To say that there is widespread opposition suspicion that the Liberals like watchdogs best when they are on a leash — just as their predecessors did — is an understatement.”

Federal watchdogs, including the auditor general and parliamentary budget officer, have often made governments uncomfortable with their findings in the past. That’s their job, to hold governments accountable, and that’s the way it should be in a healthy democracy.

If watchdogs are going to become nothing more than toothless lapdogs, their role defeats the purpose, and the taxpayers’ money that goes to paying their lucrative salaries is money down the drain. What we need are watchdogs with teeth and free run to do their jobs properly.

Comment on this editorial online at www.lethbridgeherald.com/ opinions/.



14 Jun 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Over the past decade, Ontario emerged as the poster child for poor fiscal management in Canada, due largely to the province’s deep run of deficits.

However, thanks to a decade of rapid spending growth and painful decline in oil prices, Alberta’s run of deficits is even worse than the biggest deficits of Ontario’s recent depressing fiscal history.

Up until the start of Alberta’s recent recession, Ontario’s per-person deficits were more than twice as large as any deficits run by any other large province since the turn of the century, peaking at $1,661 per Ontarian in 2009-10. (All amounts are in 2015 dollars.)

Remarkably, Alberta’s budget deficit in 2015-16 was $2,513 per person — about 50 per cent larger. What’s worse, Alberta is set to run another deficit of almost the same size this year.

Moreover, Alberta’s budget plan calls for continued deficits — which will be, per person, consistently larger than Ontario’s during its recent fiscal crunch — for the remainder of its fiscal plan.

Deficits are the difference between what a government spends on operating expenses and what it collects during a given year. Deficits contribute to a province’s overall debt — debt refers to liabilities acquired over a province’s entire history, not just a single year. The bigger the annual deficits, the faster the debt adds up, which means more taxpayer money spent on interest payments and a bigger burden passed on to future generations.

The silver lining for Albertans is that their province entered this string of large budget deficits with a lower baseline debt than Ontario in 2008-09. In fact, until last year Alberta was the only province with no net debt, meaning its financial assets exceeded its debts. Due to this better starting point, Alberta has a substantially smaller debt burden than Ontario despite the big deficits being run.

Ontario’s per-person net debt (a measure that adjusts for financial assets) has stabilized at approximately $22,000 whereas Alberta became a net debtor only last year, and so doesn’t yet carry a substantial net debt.

But the gap between the two provinces is shrinking quickly. Alberta’s fiscal plan calls for the province’s net debt to reach approximately $9,500 per person by 2019-20. Just four years removed from being Canada’s only debt-free province, Alberta will have racked up approximately 40 per cent as much debt per person as heavily indebted Ontario.

So it’s not hard to see that Alberta’s per-person debt could quickly catch up to Ontario’s — and much faster than some might assume, unless the pace of debt accumulation is slowed considerably.

In the years following the 2008-09 recession, Ontario ran budget deficits the likes of which hadn’t been seen in any large province in Canada since the mid-1990s.

But Alberta, with its oceans of red ink, is Canada’s new poster child for large sustained budget deficits.

Ben Eisen and Steve Lafleur are analysts with the Fraser Institute and coauthors of Race to the Bottom: Comparing the Recent Deficits of Alberta and Ontario. Distributed by Troy Media.


Quebec mayors make case for ‘win-win agreement’ in softwood lumber dispute

Union of Quebec Municipalities holds meetings in Washington, D.C.

CBC News Posted: May 16, 2017 10:37 AM ETLast Updated: May 16, 2017 11:52 AM ET

A truck carrying wood goes through the customs checkpointin Champlain, N.Y. Canadian lumber imports into the United States face new duties ranging from three to 24 per cent.

A truck carrying wood goes through the customs checkpointin Champlain, N.Y. Canadian lumber imports into the United States face new duties ranging from three to 24 per cent. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A group of Quebec mayors made its case in Washington, D.C. today for a quick end to the dispute over softwood lumber, which has hurt the industry in the province.

Communities across the province depend on the industry, said Drummondville Mayor Alexandre Cusson, who led a trade mission to the U.S. capital.

“We’re looking for a win-win agreement, as quickly as possible,” he said at a news conference Tuesday.

The comments come as the federal government’s aid package for the softwood lumber industry is expected to go before cabinet for final approval.

Sources tell CBC News the package will contain a “substantial” envelope of money — just under a billion dollars — to help the sector struggling to cope with new tariffs recently imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Cusson and other representatives from the Union of Quebec Municipalities met with both allies and opponents in the dispute, including members of the U.S. Lumber Coalition, a lobby group representing American sawmills.

He was accompanied in Washington, D.C., by the mayors from Rivière-Rouge, Saint-Félicien, Senneterre and Val-d’Or — all communities dependant on the lumber industry.

Quebec sawmills have already been forced to adjust their output to deal with lower demand from the U.S. following the introduction of the new tax.

On Monday, Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products cut shifts at seven sawmills and delayed the start of forest operations, affecting 1,282 workers.

Roughly 90 per cent of Quebec’s lumber exports head to the U.S. and the forestry sector accounts for 60,000 jobs in Quebec.

During the last softwood lumber dispute, Canada shed 20,000 forestry jobs between 2000 and 2006, and about 400 sawmills closed entirely between 2004 and 2009.