Alberta MLAs endure allnight standoff to pass controversial energy bill, Alberta Introduces New Energy Regulator

Alberta MLAs react to all night session, Bill 2 debate by Emily Mertz, November 21, 2012, Global News
One of the biggest items up for discussion was Bill 2: the Responsible Energy Development Act. …  “It’s a huge issue,” says Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin. “Energy development is significant in this province. Nobody is against it, but we need to do it in an orderly and organized fashion.” Opposition Wildrose MLAs claim the amendments would protect landowner rights.  “We went on Bill 2 all night long,” said Anglin. “We had brought forward a number of amendments. Their attitude is they want to eliminate the public interest and they want to eliminate property rights… their argument is they think it protects property rights, but they remove a landowner’s right to notification, they remove the landowners right to have a reasonable amount of time to learn the facts, and they removed the right to challenge the facts.”

The PC MLAs disagree. “Bill 2 is exceedingly important to Alberta. It’s really going to be one of the most important pieces of legislation for the economic future of this province. And so we’re interested in hearing all views. We heard out all of the more than 20 amendments,” explained Minister of Energy Ken Hughes. “There are a lot of misunderstandings about Bill 2,” said Hughes. “It actually strengthens many landowner participation rights in the regulatory process… it also actually ensures we have a more efficient and effective regulatory process as well for applicants.” Over the course of four hours, little progress was made, and the discussion on the Bill and its amendments was adjourned.

“A lot of amendments are being brought forward and great discussion and that’s what it’s about. Our members are speaking and the opposition is speaking,” said Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Culture. “It’s democracy in action, that’s how I view it.” … “There was a lot of good will on both sides,” said Hughes. “Everybody recognizes we have a job to do… the spirit was good.”

Not everyone agreed the mood was so positive. “They’re obstinate,” said Anglin. … “At the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s the best way for democracy to operate,” said Wildrose MLA Bruce McAllister, “but if it’s the way the government wants to run it, we have no choice.” [Emphasis added]

Alberta MLAs endure allnight standoff to pass controversial energy bill by Keith Gerein, November 21, 2012, Edmonton Journal
Rubbing sleep-deprived eyes and unshaven faces, Progressive Conservative MLAs have passed controversial energy development legislation following a heated, all-night standoff with their Wildrose party rivals. A debate that began after dinner Tuesday ended up going nearly 18 consecutive hours, with MLAs finally calling it quits around 1 p.m. Wednesday. That gave them a break of 30 minutes before the day’s regularly scheduled question period started. The PCs and Wildrose blamed each other for the marathon debate, which was prompted by an impasse on Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act. The legislation is designed to streamline the process for approving oil and gas projects by creating a single regulator, but it has drawn derision from property rights activists and some environmental groups. PC House Leader Dave Hancock told the legislature Tuesday evening he wanted debate on Bill 2 finished that night to leave enough time in the fall session to consider other bills on whistleblower protection and changes to election finances. But the Wildrose cried foul, refusing to let the bill go forward until all 12 of its amendments were considered, a process that took until after lunch Wednesday. The PCs voted down all of the proposed changes, as well as some from the NDP and Liberals. The bill was eventually passed late Wednesday afternoon.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who was one of the lucky MLAs to get some sleep Tuesday night, accused the Tories of bullying the opposition to keep to a rushed legislative schedule. “We don’t think the legislature is for the convenience of government to force through bad legislation and ignore the opposition in bringing forward the concerns of Albertans,” she said. “We believe that our job as official opposition is to point out the problems, bring forward constructive amendments, and make the changes to get these bills right.” Smith said she saw no reason for Hancock to rush since two and half weeks remain in the official schedule for the fall session, which is set to end on Dec. 6. “It’s pretty clear they are getting beaten up in question period, and what they understand is the faster they can push legislation through, the earlier they can end the session,” she said. “We know they want to get out of here by next Thursday.” But Hancock shot back that debate shouldn’t be allowed to continue ad nauseam, saying the legislature simply needs to make faster progress on some legislation to ensure all bills are considered. He said Bill 2 received about 30 hours of debate since it was introduced last month. “We still have a lot of work to do in this session,” said Hancock, one of those who was up all night. “This is not something that you actually plan to do. It’s something that results when common sense negotiations between house leaders breaks down.

Critics have called Bill 2, which merges six conservation acts, a “train wreck” that tramples on landowner rights, provides inadequate protection for the environment and could spark violence in the oilpatch. Among the most serious concerns, they say the bill restricts the ability of landowners to appeal regulator rulings, narrows the scope of who can trigger a public hearing into a project, gives too much power to the ministers to override decisions, lacks timelines and attempts to bypass the constitutional right of aboriginal people to be consulted on projects on their traditional lands. Energy Minister Ken Hughes, who made 15 amendments of his own to clarify the bill’s intent, said he has planned a speaking tour to reassure farmers and ranchers who might be worried their land will be affected with little warning or recourse. He said the bill actually strengthens landowner rights, including a greater requirement for the new regulator to provide notice of project applications up front. Premier Alison Redford accused critics last week of “fearmongering” and spreading misinformation about Bill 2.

Such tensions boiled over at times during the all-night debate, as rival MLAs fuelled by caffeine, adrenalin and emotion barked at each other across the legislature chamber and online. Hancock and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson were among those who engaged in a 6 a.m. battle on Twitter. The PCs, who have 61 MLAs, also used shifts to ensure they had at least 25 members in the chamber at all times. McDonald’s food was brought in to settle late-night cravings. Both the Liberals and NDP, which have smaller caucuses, had no one in the house between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. Liberal House Leader Laurie Blakeman said the government is still acting with too much arrogance after a scare in the last election, while the Wildrose is “playing with time and mischief.” “Male anatomy seems to come into these things more often than you would like, and that’s part of what makes this an unattractive place for women to be.” The all-night session was the first such marathon since a health care debate in November 2010, shortly after Raj Sherman was kicked out of the PC caucus.

Alberta MLAs pull all-night session debating energy bill by Allison Salz, November 21, 2012, Sun News
After an all-night session at the legislature, a contentious energy bill is no closer to passing. A marathon session that began Tuesday night stretched well into Wednesday morning. The sticking point — Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act. After debating for hours, with the Wildrose party tabling several amendments, MLAs agreed to move on, with several other bills passing on second and third readings. “These bills trample the rights of landowners, guarantee a massive increase on Albertans’ power bills,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said, adding that all-night sessions have become commonplace. “The PC attempt to ram seven bills through the legislature in one marathon session shows their utter contempt for the democratic process.” MLAs took to Twitter during the session to voice their thoughts on the all-nighter. Tory MLA Cathy Olesen posted: “It’s 4:35 and we’re still debating Bill 2. McDonalds food with caucus in shifts. Go team. #shpk #ableg.” … MLAs pulled night shifts for nearly a week in an effort to pass six major pieces of new legislation.

Alberta Introduces New Energy Regulator by Paul Edwards, November 20, 2012, Gowlings
In some respects the new regulator will look a good deal like the ERCB; however, its mandate will be broader. Respecting energy resource activities, it will have the power “to consider and decide applications and other matters under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.”  The exact scope of the regulator’s powers, and what is to be left in the hands of the Department, will depend on more detailed provisions, and regulations, yet to be published. The new regulator will be responsible for the management of water “in respect of energy resource activities,” and for that purpose will be given the power to decide applications under the Water Act. At present, the government is responsible for the development of water management plans, and exercises control over water licences. Details of exactly how control over water resources will be exercised once the new Act comes into force, still have to be worked out.

Decisions of the regulator will be immune from judicial review. [Emphasis added]

This entry was posted in Case Related. Bookmark the permalink.