Statement on the conclusion of the Spring Sitting of the Legislature

Alberta Liberal Opposition caucus leader David Swann has released the following statement on the conclusion of the Spring Sitting of the Third Session of the 29th Legislature:

“The Spring Sitting saw the government introduce a number of new initiatives as well as amendments to previous legislation. There were a few common-sense administrative changes, some welcome improvements, which I supported, and a couple of politically-motivated pieces that I did not believe were in the best interest of Albertans.

“Budget 2017 did not strike the right balance. While it protected public services, it increased deficit spending to record levels with no clear plan to pay down the debt or save for the future. Overall, it rewarded government allies at the expense of taxpayers and the principles of sound fiscal management.

“There was broad support when the government announced it would eliminate school fees for all students. However, once Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, was introduced and the details examined, it was clear that the NDP were creating two sets of rules – one for ‘public’ schools, and another for charter and private schools. I challenged them on not being transparent about their plans and not treating all students equally.

“In Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, the government wisely expanded limitation periods for seeking justice in the courts based on sexual misconduct, assault or battery. I introduced an amendment to try to broaden the categories of survivors to include those in positions of trust or authority such as relationships between professors and adult students.

“The NDP introduced an ideologically-driven ban on paid plasma donations in Bill 3, Voluntary Blood Donation Act, which will not ensure a safer or more sustainable supply of plasma. Alberta currently imports 80 per cent of its plasma products from clinics in the United States which pay donors. There is absolutely no way for the government to replace this capacity with volunteer donors. Systems allowing for paid plasma donations have had success in other jurisdictions without any of the adverse effects that the NDP are raising as justification for this bill.

“For many years, Alberta Liberals proposed the creation of a builder licensing system with an online registry. Bill 12, New Home Buyer Amendment Act, made this a reality, but stopped short of including information about warranty claims against a builder and any legal proceedings against a builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home.

“My Motion 502 was aimed at changing the way the Regulated Rate Option is calculated to the weighted average of the wholesale pool price, which, as significant research has shown, would deliver lower overall prices to consumers and reinforce the competitive market. The NDP chose instead to put a price cap on the rate, which hides the true cost of power, and ultimately has to be paid by the taxpayer.

“Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, was a well-intentioned Private Members’ Bill that the government adopted, but it did not go far enough. I proposed the creation of a new officer of the legislature, much like the Child and Youth Advocate, citing concerns over independence from government and having the necessary budget to fulfill its mandate.

“From day one, I advocated for a stronger, more co-ordinated response to the opioid crisis, including declaring a state of emergency, appointing new leadership, better data reporting, and investing more resources into prevention and treatment. I am pleased that the government has finally taken much-needed action, but there is still more to be done. We need to see a comprehensive plan to get ahead of this, one that isn’t based on what is politically palatable, but what is medically necessary.

“The Auditor General released a report on Better Healthcare for Albertans, which gives us some valuable insights into the long-standing flaws of our healthcare system. It clearly highlights a need to better co-ordinate our primary, acute and continuing care systems to ensure improved access to care and communication among care providers, smoother navigation through the system, and better overall health outcomes.

“Twice, I advocated to amend Bill 17, Fair and Family-Friendly Workplace Act, to extend employment standards such as overtime provisions and mandatory rest periods to paid farm and ranch workers. Shockingly, the NDP took the easy way out, fearing a backlash from the agricultural lobby, and failed to protect these workers when it mattered.

“The Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention met numerous times with stakeholders to listen to those affected by their interaction with the child intervention system. Bill 18, Child Protection and Accountability Act, incorporated the first phase of the panel’s recommendations related to reviewing the deaths of children and young people in care.

“Finally, the Session ended with the selection of a new Alberta Liberal Party leader, David Khan, who will have the responsibility of leading the party forward into the next provincial election. In the meantime, I have the honour of continuing to lead all caucus activities in the Assembly.”


NDP government must reinforce polluter pay principle following latest Redwater Energy ruling

In response to the Court of Appeal upholding last year’s Redwater Energy ruling, Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is calling on the NDP government to ensure the ‘polluter pays’ principle is upheld.

“Now that the courts have clearly signaled an insolvent company’s assets cannot be used primarily for remediation of non-producing wells, it is up to the NDP government to ensure reclamation costs are borne by industry and not Alberta taxpayers,” says Swann.

While abandoned oil and gas wells are a rapidly growing problem, the government is also failing to enforce polluter pays on tailings ponds and oil sands mines.

In his July 2015 report, the Auditor General was highly critical of the Mine Financial Security Program (MFSP) for not ensuring that mines hold sufficient cleanup funds. While the Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips accepted the Auditor General’s recommendations, and promised a MFSP review, subsequent government action on the file has been lacking.

“The province seems to be expecting the federal government to swoop in and help cover the cleanup costs, which should be the industry’s responsibility,” says Swann. “Forward thinking and greater financial security is a must if we are going to ensure that energy producers aren’t saddling Alberta taxpayers with massive liabilities.”


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann welcomes US executive order advancing Keystone XL pipeline

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann welcomed today’s decision in the United States to advance Keystone XL.

“Alberta Liberals have long been in support of pipelines to get the province’s energy resources to international markets, so long as the best environmental protections are included and First Nations communities are properly consulted.

“In light of the significant challenges Alberta has faced relative to the prolonged slump in oil prices, the importance of this project proceeding cannot be overstated. Today’s decision is a positive development for both our province and our country.”


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann addresses Trudeau’s comment on “phasing out” oil sands

Lethbridge, AB (January 13th, 2017):

David Swann and the Alberta Liberals fully support the oil and gas industry and call on Justin Trudeau to clarify his remarks. Alberta’s oil sands industry is both environmentally responsible and generates hundreds of thousands of jobs both here and across Canada.

“All of us, including the oil and gas industry, already recognise that we are in a transition to cleaner energy,” said Swann. “In the current international economic climate the industry does not need any more uncertainty about its future. We need our Prime Minister to not only support this industry, the economic engine of the country, but to communicate that clearly.

“Given Justin Trudeau’s recent pipeline approvals I believe he should be given the benefit of the doubt and a chance to clarify his remarks,” Swann concluded.


Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann proposes changes to Alberta’s electricity structure that will save billions and eliminate need to borrow to pay off PPAs

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann unveiled a new policy today that will save Albertans billions of dollars in electricity costs. As well, the policy will remove the need for government to borrow to fund the liability to the Balancing Pool caused by Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) holders returning their contracts under the “Change in Law” clause.

By adjusting the way the Regulated Rate Option (RRO) is calculated (this is the rate most Albertans pay for electricity), the Alberta Liberals’ plan could save Albertans $700 million to 2020 and $3 billion to 2030.

The change is centred on the calculation used to determine the final price of electricity. Currently the RRO is not based on the actual cost of electricity at time of consumption (the “Pool price”), instead using a process based on a “forward price.” Adjusting the process to reflect the actual price creates a very different outcome.

“The forward price has consistently been higher than the actual wholesale price,” says Rob Spragins, a former Utilities Consumer Advocate. “Historically, using this model would have saved Albertans over $1 billion between July 2006 and June 30, 2016.”

In the fall session the government passed the Electric Utilities Amendment Act (Bill 34). This bill allows unlimited borrowing to cover the cost of PPAs returned to the Balancing Pool because of changes in government policy. The liability is estimated between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion; if paid off by borrowing, the cost to consumers could increase from $350 million to $500 million.

“Albertans are extremely concerned with the debt loads this government is taking on,” says Swann. “Bill 34 gives the NDP unlimited borrowing power to cover up their mistakes in the electricity market. The simple changes we are proposing will remove the need for this additional debt.”

The savings created by the Liberal plan would allow the Balancing Pool to pay off the PPA liability as part of its normal operations, without incurring added expense to consumers through interest payments. The proposed RRO flow-through rate would more than offset the added costs of the PPAs, and consumers would even see a net reduction in their power bills.

For example, to retire the liability of the Balancing Pool by 2020:

 

“By making this simple change,” continued Swann, “the electricity market can operate without manipulation by the government. Under the current regime, the government is taking on enormous risk and, for political reasons, avoiding passing the cost directly on to consumers. In the end, though, the cost is paid out of our pockets.”

Please see attached documentation for details on how the Alberta Liberal plan functions

Alberta Liberal Proposed RRO Changes Backgrounder


David Swann calls for a pause on energy changes in Alberta until intentions of new administration in America are better understood

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann made this statement to the Alberta Legislature on November 10, 2016:

“Thank you Mr. Speaker,

“I stand today to speak on a very difficult issue for all who believe the science of climate change. Those who know me, know I’ve lobbied for, and some might say crusaded for, environmental change here in Alberta. I’ve felt that strong leadership was long overdue and all of us must share in the cost of reducing emissions.

“Above all, I knew this was never going to be easy. It is even less easy following the election of an unpredictable US president who denies man-made climate change.

“Strong leadership will be needed now, more than ever.

“While I support the targets and timelines for cleaner energy development with its triple benefit for climate, new jobs and alternate economy, the Alberta government must hit pause on other parts of its energy-focused agenda. Given Alberta’s deep dependence on oil and gas, our current economic weakness and the new economic threat from the United States, I see merit in pausing and allowing the new reality and expert views to further inform our decision on the bills we have before us.

“Not stop, just pause.

“I’ve heard the premier say that her Carbon Plan was developed independently and that the actions of our biggest customer – and competitor – will have no effect. Even so, I don’t believe that anyone planned for the United States to go full speed in reverse. Proposals announced by Trump in his truth-challenged campaign have already begun to unfetter the US fossil fuel industry and may drastically alter the investment climate here in Alberta.

“The ramifications of his election are sending shock waves through the Canadian economy. From free trade to softwood lumber to energy, US policies that seemed relatively stable are now in doubt.

“We have no idea what economic effect these changes will have on Alberta. We, in opposition, have not yet been adequately informed as to what effects our own carbon policies might have.

“Much is being taken on faith.

“Here in this house, we serve Albertans. We are mandated to craft for them the best possible laws, policies and regulations after a comprehensive analysis. Our already struggling economy and uncertain investment climate are now faced with an unpredictability that will be better understood in the New Year.

“Sometimes, the strongest leadership is shown by patience and the wisdom to realize that circumstance can alter even the best laid plans.”