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British Columbia Western Canada: The ‘summer of repeal’ begins in Alberta

Sorry for the delay, we had some technical difficulties. Here’s Wednesday’s Western newsletter.

Hello! It’s James Keller here in Calgary.

Premier Jason Kenney’s promised “summer of repeal” is off to a quick start.

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Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative government has already tabled several significant pieces of legislation – all taken from the party’s election platform – since the legislature opened last week. And each of those bills have been aimed at tearing down signature policies from the previous NDP government.

Last week, it was the provincial carbon tax, which is expected to be repealed by the end of this week. The tax was a key part of former premier Rachel Notley’s climate plan and was also an integral part of the national climate strategy. Mr. Kenney has long argued it was an unfair tax that punished Albertans for driving their cars and heating their homes. The relief may be short-lived, however: the federal government plans to implement its own tax, with personal income-tax rebates, very soon.

Next came a series of labour reforms, which target a policy that became a central part of the NDP’s 2015 election platform: the $15 minimum wage. The minimum wage hit $15 last fall, but it’s dropping to $13 – a cut of about 13 per cent – for students under 18 by next month. The youth wage kicks in as students prepare for summer jobs. The government will also return secret ballots to union certification votes and will revert back to a banked overtime system that accumulates time on a one-to-one basis, not time-and-a-half.

And yesterday, the government tabled legislation to cut corporate taxes by a third, bringing them to 8 per cent in four years, down from 12 per cent today. The government argues the tax will free up cash for investment and hiring, estimating it will create 55,000 jobs. But it will also blow a significant hole in the province’s finances, leaving the government short $1-billion in the fourth year alone. That’s despite the fact that when Mr. Kenney first announced the tax cut in March, he insisted the tax cut would bring in billions in new revenue.

And in the fall, the government plans to reverse changes to farm safety laws and bring in a tax on large industrial greenhouse gas emitters that will actually be lower than the tax those facilities are paying now. There will also be a fall budget.

The legislative session could stretch into August. It’s going to be a long summer.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

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Around the West

Forest fires: As parts of northern Alberta burn, forcing people from their homes well before the seasonal heat of summer sets in, Environment Canada this week suggested things are unlikely to get better. “They need rain in Alberta, in British Columbia,” he said. “It’s ominous with regard to the forest-fire season,” said David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist.

British Columbia, most of the Prairies, all of the North, Atlantic Canada and a large part of Quebec can expect June, July and August to be warmer than normal, on average, according to the forecast. “In Saskatchewan, this is the driest period they have ever gone through,” Mr. Phillips said. “They have never had three years in a row so dry: In the past 33 months, they have had less than half the precipitation that they would normally get.”

Environment reporter Jeff Lewis reported that with devastating fires becoming the norm, the Canadian Space Agency, the Canadian Forest Service and Environment and Climate Change Canada are soliciting proposals to develop “space-based capability” to provide near real-time information. The goal is to use technology to support wildland fire management, measure carbon emissions and improve air-quality forecasting, according to documents posted on the Public Works and Government Services Canada website.

Trans Mountain: Last week, five B.C. Court of Appeal justices agreed that the province did not have the constitutional jurisdiction to impose regulations to limit the transit of fossil fuels within its borders. The case, as expected, will be appealed and some of the Indigenous groups opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion believe the Supreme Court of Canada will come to a different conclusion. As Justine Hunter reports, it has happened before. Indigenous groups in particular are looking to press their case at the high court: The provincial Court of Appeal ruling dealt only with the balance of power between Victoria and Ottawa.

Chinese surveillance: B.C.’s public sector pension investment fund, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI), is among the Canadian pension funds that holds investments in Chinese surveillance-equipment companies.

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Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co. Ltd. are major manufacturers of camera equipment that combines video surveillance with advanced computer technologies such as facial and gait recognition.

Globe Beijing correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe reports BCI, which oversees $145.6-billion worth of assets, had raised its holdings in Hikvision to $37.9-million and committed a new investment of $4.2-million in Dahua.

Over the same period, it also raised its exposure to Beijing Venustech Group, a provider of network security services whose clients have included arms of the Chinese military, to $62.2-million from $43.2-million.

BCI declined comment on the holdings.

A number of private funds have also traded shares in the Chinese surveillance state. Investor documents show that CI Investments held $3.7-million in Hikvision via its emerging markets equity pool, while Calgary-based Mawer Investment Management had upward of $50-million in Hikvision across its portfolio. “We no longer hold the company in any of our portfolios,” Mawer marketing manager Joanna Crozier said in an e-mail. “That company is not held in the emerging markets equity pool and is not held by any CI fund,” said Murray Oxby, vice-president of communications at CI Investments.

Unhappy teachers: It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After spending 16 years battling the provincial Liberals, B.C.’s teachers are negotiating their first contract with an NDP government, which they actively worked to get elected. But the employer is asking for concessions on things such as class sizes and the union representing teachers says some of its members are openly talking about a strike vote.

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Opinion

Gary Mason on the decision by Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to run as independents: “Not everyone is thrilled with what they did, especially Liberal supporters. Yes, many believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have handled SNC much better than he did. But there is also a vast swath of the public that feels Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott could have too. And that their actions, if anything, have helped ensure that Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives get elected in the fall.”

Trevor Tombe on Jason Kenney and the carbon tax: “The political challenges are clear, though. When voters see the costs of a policy – almost any policy – it loses popularity. But the UCP isn’t killing Alberta’s carbon tax – it’s only shrinking it, changing it, then hiding it from view.”

Mark Milke on HSBC’s quixotic approach to fossil fuels: “HSBC’s board and staff should revisit their misplaced priorities, or at least, not trumpet their association and enthusiasm for regimes that kill people while the company simultaneously blackens Alberta’s reputation.”

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