#REDNEXIT: Liberals ridicule disillusioned Albertans with hashtag
The condescending hashtag #Rednexit has been trending on Twitter in response to Alberta separatist sentiments spreading like wildfire all over social media after the re-election of Justin Trudeau.
During the election Albertans by the large voted against the Liberals with the Conservatives gaining most of the seats in the province.
Alberta has long been fueling Canada’s gas pumps nationwide, but since world oil collapsed in 2014, thousands of displaced energy jobs migrated south of the border.
According to a new interview with Calgary-based Osprey Informatics COO Paul Ritchie, moving jobs to Houston was a move that the lone star state has welcomed him with open arms.
The company opened its Houston-based office in January and is budgeted to do a sizable 10 percent of its business out of the states in 2020. That 10 percent, though, is expected to bring in 70 percent of the company’s business, and Canada only 30 percent.
Ritchie told Global News that the move was a no brainer.
“I wouldn’t have left Canada without the opportunity that sits in front of us right now.”
“Canadian companies are so well respected that it’s not even a blip in the road when you’re dealing with somebody. It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re a Canadian company—it’s going to be good, and you’re going to be nice to me.’”
Ritchie says it’s not just individuals who’ve made the moves—companies, large and small, have flocked to states with more welcoming attitudes towards oil work.
“We all know the big names that have left. There are hundreds of smaller companies that are very significant employers here in Calgary that, 50, 60, 70 percent of their revenues are coming out of the United States and they had no choice.”
“This isn’t something that they wanted to do, but if the business is in the U.S. you are going to go where that business is.”
Oil analysts say Ritchie’s case is far from unusual. Tim Pickering with Auspice Capital Advisors Ltd. said there’s definitely an energy exodus happening.
“It’s just a lot easier in Texas in a lot of ways,” Pickering said. “There’s no real edge to being in Alberta and that’s painful to say.”
Ritchie went on to say that the move was a welcomed change in his life, and that he was excited to move to a city like Houston, which reminded him a lot of the city Calgary used to be 15 years ago.
“Houston has a Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Consulate is there, they have three trade commissioners there. They are very active in pushing Canadian companies to the U.S. market.”
Scholz said conversations are happening all over the province in businesses, wondering if it’s worth it to keep their head offices in Alberta.
Starting on March 1, Alberta is planning to drop coverage for those benefiting from the Alberta Seniors Benefit Drug Program.
CBC has reported that the change was made public in the 2019 Albertan budget as well as by letters recently mailed by the government.
The letter says, “To ensure the government can continue to provide this program to our province’s seniors and to keep Alberta’s health system sustainable, the government is changing the eligibility criteria for the program.”
According Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s spokesperson, Steve Buick, the seniors program is the largest drug program in Alberta. The program costs approximately $600 million annually.
“The Seniors [Benefit] Drug Program is for seniors—not for non-seniors. No other province covers non-seniors through a seniors’ drug program,” wrote Buick.
Buick says that dropping the coverage of dependents who are under the age of 65 is estimated to save Alberta about $36.5 million annually.
He noted that the number of Albertans currently using the program as dependants is about 46,000.
Heather Waldie is among the Albertans who will no longer receive coverage starting in march.
Waldie is an Edmonton resident and has Stage 4 breast cancer. Her cancer treatment requires costly drugs that the government has covered until now but that coverage will end in March.
“My coverage is ending because I’m 63. I’m under 65. My husband is over 65, but with the new eligibility criteria I am no longer eligible for drug coverage,” Waldie told CBC. “My future is very uncertain because I have ongoing treatment. So it’s a stressor.”
Waldie showed up to an NDP news conference to share her objections towards the program which she described as “absolute hogwash.”
“This affects 46,000 Albertans who have contributed to life in Alberta, who want to contribute as they live their lives. Billions of dollars have been given away in tax cuts to corporations,” she said.
“I think this is completely affordable by this government, but they are choosing to cut valuable programs that preserve the health and well-being of Albertans who have built this province. I think it’s outrageous.”
Waldie planned her retirement from a career in teaching with the benefit program in mind.
She said, “Seniors are part of a family household, and codependents, so it’s a family budget. You hurt one member of a family unit, you’re hurting everybody in that family unit.”
The option that the government has suggested is applying for non-group Blue Cross coverage for Albertans losing their benefits.
A liquor store in Edmonton is testing out a new security program to combat a string of thefts over the past 18 months. Under the proposed new security system, customers will have to scan their ID before they can enter the premises according to a recent article in CBC.
Alcanna, Canada’s biggest private retailer of alcohol is launching a pilot project in partnership with Edmonton police. The project will be tested at Ace Liquor, located at 11708 34th St. in northeast Edmonton. Alcanna stated the intent of the project is to deal with “the epidemic of liquor store robberies that has plagued the city,” a problem that has escalated rapidly in the past year and a half.
“In 2019, EPS officers responded to almost 9,600 calls of theft of liquor — about 26 calls per day across the city,” Const. Robin Wilson said in the release. An increase of 200 percent since 2018.
“It’s not just people taking advantage of something that is easy, it’s somebody preying on people as well,” he said.
Dale McFee, Chief of Edmonton police told CBC News that investigators often find that some of the thefts are gang-related and that it presents a huge problem for the city.
“Ultimately, the way we are right now and the amount of officer time and different things that are going on in this space, it’s not working. So it’s time to try a few things.”
The new scan system requires patrons to scan their identification before the door will unlock and allow entry into the store. This practice has already been used by bars and nightclubs in Edmonton for years.
The Alcanna pilot project has been positively received by many including Const. Wilson who commended the company for “taking proactive steps to increase the safety of both their employees and the general public,”
Joe Cook is the vice-president of Alcanna which in addition to Ace Liquor, also owns the Liquor Depot, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands. “Just as was done with pre-pay and pay at the pump for gas stations, we are hoping Patronscan creates a safer shopping experience,” said Cook in a news release. “This is not shoplifting,” he said. “It is robbery with real or threatened violence.”
Edmontonians won’t have to worry about their privacy rights as the customer ID information will not be kept in the devices but stored in Patronscan’s data centre with restricted access, according to a press release from Alcanna.
Albertan oil and gas companies owe the province’s rural municipalities unpaid property tax, and the amount has doubled since the beginning of last year. Some people are referring to this trend as a tax revolt according to CTV News.
“If Alberta’s property tax system is not amended to prevent oil and gas companies from refusing to pay property taxes, many rural municipalities will struggle to remain viable,” association president Al Kemmere said in a release.
The municipalities want the province to change the rules in order to force companies accountable for the taxes they owe Kemmere explained. As it currently stands property taxes are controlled by the province and not the local communities.
“A lot of the oil and gas is doing their fair part as citizens, but we need legislation to force others to pay much like everybody else has to pay,” said Kemmere.
Rural Municipalities Alberta conducted a survey of the owed taxes and found that the number has increased 114 percent from a similar survey they conducted in the spring of 2019. According to the survey, oil and gas companies owe a total of $173 million.
Reeve Paul McLauchlin estimates that his municipality of Ponoka County, south of Edmonton, is owed about $2.6 million out of a total of $27 million. The oilpatch consultant said, “It creates operational constraints, our ability to provide community services. We have nonprofits asking for assistance. We say ‘no’ more and more.”
Many people in the industry believe that it’s the way that taxes are assessed that is driving companies out of business. The provincial government is in charge of assessing properties however they evaluate them based on replacement cost and not market value.
“We defend the need for the province to take a look at how assessment works and have it reflective of the market,” said Ben Brunnen, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“A lot of these unpaid taxes are coming in jurisdictions where you’ve got assets that are older and not as productive or economic. The choice for these types of assets is to shut (them) in or find a way to reduce costs.” he said.
Brunnen suggested that some municipalities are going to have to accept less revenue from oil and gas companies as a result of such shut-in walls which are often abandoned or never reclaimed after bankruptcy.
Last year it was ruled that municipalities are unsecured creditors by the Alberta Court of Appeal. This ruling effectively puts them at the back of the line when it comes to tax collection following a bankruptcy.
The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project works to comprehend the impact of old energy infrastructure on the province. Regan Boychuck, a researcher working for the project claimed, “Oilpatch property tax are now voluntary.”
About 40 per cent of unpaid taxes are from distressed companies that are feeling the effects of an industry hit by lower resource prices according to McLauchlin. The rest belongs to companies that continue to operate without paying.
“My personal opinion is that this is a tax revolt,” McLauchlin said. “They are using this as a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs.”
One could argue that in a sense the process has already begun. Alberta’s United Conservative government brought in legislation that allowed municipalities to cut taxes on specific well by up to about one-third last year.
Initially, the cuts would be reimbursed by the province but the municipalities said that the program has been abandoned and they are left to deal with the loss.
Boychuck said despite the decline of oil and gas reserves the mill rates on wells and other facilities have remained unchanged for years.
“What industry is really saying is that they’ve depleted their wells so far they can’t cover operating costs. The wells are done and whatever wealth remains needs to be directed to clean up rather than looted any further before bankruptcy.”
The Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded group that was created to clean up abandoned wells. They currently have 3,400 abandoned wells under their care and that number is up by 300 since the beginning of last year.