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Alberta UCP and NDP at odds over climate policies as Alberta legislature returns

Alberta premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, after Nixon was sworn into office in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon says the new government’s climate-change strategy will focus on funding technology and working with industry, ahead of the start of a legislative session where its first move will be to scrap the provincial carbon tax.

As part of Premier Jason Kenney’s promised “summer of repeal,” Mr. Nixon has been given the task of undoing part of former premier Rachel Notley’s legacy by quickly dismantling the climate-change plan instituted by her New Democrats. While the United Conservatives are ready to cancel the carbon tax within days, Mr. Nixon said on Tuesday that it’s still to early to talk about what will replace it.

“We will be focused on climate change, but our focus on climate change is around technology, focusing to make sure we can actually tackle the problem,” Mr. Nixon told reporters at the legislature in Edmonton.

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After the election of MLA Nathan Cooper as House Speaker on Tuesday, Alberta’s new legislature will hear a Throne Speech on Wednesday.

The blueprint for the UCP’s climate strategy, unveiled earlier this year during the election campaign that brought Mr. Kenney to power, called for scrapping Ms. Notley’s carbon tax, as well as cancelling a plethora of renewable subsidies and energy-efficiency programs. Instead, the UCP said it would impose limits on emissions from large industrial facilities, requiring them to meet increasingly stronger targets or face a $20 a tonne tax.

The money from the tax would go into a fund that the government would invest in climate projects. During the campaign, the party estimated that emitters would pay $570-million in the new carbon tax in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Mr. Nixon said the details of that plan have yet to be ironed out.

“We will have more to say on our focus on climate change, and the way we’re going to go, as we do it,” he said.

Once it is fully designed and approved, the UCP’s plan will be Alberta’s third different type of carbon tax in a decade. Prior to Ms. Notley’s provincewide carbon tax, the previous Progressive Conservative government had created an emissions-reductions strategy similar to Mr. Kenney’s proposal that only taxed large emitters.

NDP House Leader Deron Bilous said the government is showing a lack of urgency toward climate change. Mr. Kenney, he added, isn’t recognizing that Alberta under the NDP already committed $1.4-billion over seven years for climate technology projects.

“Climate change is an urgent issue for our society and our economy. The world knows that," said Mr. Bilous, who was a senior minister under Ms. Notley. "We understand that some people didn’t like the carbon tax, but we also know Albertans want a real plan to address climate change and act now for future generations. The UCP’s plan is basically to ignore the problem. They have no replacement for our climate leadership plan.”

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Mr. Bilous said technology alone will not be enough for the province to meaningfully curb its emissions.

As a number of large and out-of-control wildfires burn across Northern Alberta, which required the evacuation of the town of High Level on Monday, Mr. Nixon was asked if the new government is treating climate change as a crisis. “We’re not in crisis mode. We’re focused on actually being able to address emissions where the previous government taxed people,” he said.

Simon Dyer, the executive director of the Pembina Institute environmental think tank, said the details known so far about the UCP’s climate plan would cut fewer emissions than the NDP plan and could see less money invested in technology.

“It seems like at a time when we should be seeing more emissions reductions, we’re going to see less and not more. That’s not a credible climate plan,” he said.

After a decade of Alberta governments investing in climate technology, there have been incremental improvements in oil-sands extraction that have lowered the emissions created in the production of each barrel of bitumen, however there have been no real breakthroughs, Mr. Dyer said.

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