Alberta Election 2015 – No Longer Either-Or

The Economy, the Environment, and Societal Well-Being

As faithful citizens we are encouraged to seek out, debate and promote policies and practices which reflect God’s call for love, justice, and the flourishing of Creation.

Elections offer an important moment to reflect on the policy options before us. As Christians, we are urged to think beyond ourselves and our families, and to consider the well-being of our society as a whole.

Recent discourse in Canada suggests that one must prioritize the economy or the environment, but not both. In truth, a strong economy, a health environment, and the well-being of all can be supported simultaneously.

A public justice lens may provide some issues to consider as you head to the polls on May 5.

Poverty in Alberta

While Alberta may be known for its prosperity, a high number (10.7%) of people in Alberta are poor, with 143,200 children living in poverty. A society is not judged by how their most well-off fare, but rather how it treats the most vulnerable. While the province of Alberta government has announced that they will address poverty through developing a provincial poverty reduction plan, they have not yet done so.

A comprehensive poverty reduction strategy is sorely needed in Alberta. A strong plan would increase investments in strategies to reduce poverty and make new commitments to policies and services like quality childcare and affordable housing that support families as they work to get out of poverty. A national anti-poverty plan is also needed to complement provincial and territorial plans.

Questions for candidates:

  • Do you support the implementation of a comprehensive, integrated provincial poverty reduction plan, supported by legislation and resource allocation? Is this reflected in your party’s platform?
  • What steps will your government take to reduce the growth of precarious employment and large scale loss of stable employment for Albertans?
  • How are current policies and programs of your party specifically geared towards people living in poverty?

Oil, the Environment, and Jobs

Climate change is emerging as the moral issue of our time. In Canada, much of the discussion is centred around the Athabasca oil field and the associated pipelines.

Carbon in the atmosphere has surpassed the internationally agreed-upon “safe” level of 350 parts per million, exceeding 400ppm in 2013. Internationally, Canada ranks 15th among the world’s worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs), releasing 14.7 metric tons per person, per year into the atmosphere. Among G8 countries, we rank 3rd. The single greatest – and fastest growing – source of emissions is the oil sands. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, 75% of known reserves in the Athabasca oil fields must stay underground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Alberta’s Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, which is set to expire in June, covers about half of the province’s GHG emissions. It requires companies to cut emissions intensity 12% (against average 2003-2005 levels) or pay a fee of $15/tonne of emissions. Effectively, this approach works out to a carbon price of a mere $1.80 per tonne, if applied to all emissions. Alberta needs a stringent measure to price carbon, and a strategy to end coal fired electricity generation, and promote renewables.

Research by BlueGreen Canada indicates that “$1.3 billion invested in renewable energy or energy efficiency could create between 18,000-20,000 jobs. In comparison, that same amount of money invested in oil and gas would yield less than 3,000 jobs.” Others, including the Green Economy Network, and Aki Energy have also pointed to the training, employment, and economic opportunities that come with investments in renewable energy. And these benefits come in addition to improved environmental outcomes associated with conservation, energy efficiency, and renewables.

Questions for candidates:

  • Do you support putting a meaningful price on carbon emissions ($30-40/tonne) sufficient to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2° Celsius?
  • Would you implement strict GHG emissions standards across the oil and gas sector? If so, how and when?
  • Would you work to end all subsidies to coal, oil and gas producers, including those provided through tax breaks or weak environmental laws? Would you phase out coal fired electricity generation? By when? And using what alternatives? If so, when?
  • What are the major components of your plan to promote the development of renewable energy in Canada?
  • Which pipelines would you build, which would you not build to export Alberta’s resources, and how would you guarantee their safe operation?

Photo Credit: Mack Male (Flickr CC)

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