Tories rev up fundraising machine with big-ticket events featuring Premier Doug Ford, energy minister


Premier Doug Ford’s governing Progressive Conservatives are revving up their money machine.

After loosening campaign finance laws introduced by former premier Kathleen Wynne following a 2016 Star exposé of Liberal fundraising, the Tories are banking on a cash windfall.

Miele touted the premier’s dinner as “the biggest fundraiser in our party’s history.”

Last Friday, Ford attended a modest $25-a-plate spaghetti dinner for 200 supporters at Kitchener’s Bingemans Conference Centre.

Under Wynne’s restrictions, all MPPs, candidates, and staff were forbidden from attending any event where money was raised for political parties.

But last November Finance Minister Vic Fedeli changed the law to enable politicians and their staff to go to fundraisers.

That had been the case prior to Wynne’s reforms almost three years ago amid accusations of the Liberals accepting “cash-for-access.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Tuesday he was “disappointed” with the trend back to such fundraisers.

“Cash-for-access dinners have made a return to Ontario politics and it’s a bad sign for democracy. Pay-to-play politics is good for those with deep pockets, but not good for the people,” said Schreiner.

“At $1,250 per-plate to buy the ear of the premier, this is not a ‘government for the people.’ It’s a government for big banks, big developers, big nuclear, and big oil.”

In his amendments last fall, Fedeli retained the Grits’ prohibition on corporate and union donations, but some loopholes have emerged in the new legislation.

The Tories repealed a section that forced donors to “certify, in a form approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, that the person has not acted contrary” to the ban on trade unions or corporations donating cash in the name of their members or employees.

Both Conservative and Liberal fundraising experts have privately said all political parties could exploit that.

“If you don’t fill out a disclosure form, then what’s to stop a corporation donating on your behalf?” a veteran Liberal confided last fall, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the fundraising practices.

“It was the only thing in the act that required any threshold of activity on behalf of a donor to prove that a corporation wasn’t funnelling money through the backdoor,” the Liberal said.

A veteran Tory, who also requested anonymity, joked at the time that “it’s a loophole you could drive a Brink’s truck through.”

However, Ford’s government has said filling out the disclosure form was a nuisance to donors. The Tories stress that it is still illegal to accept money from a corporation or union to donate as an individual.

The revamped provincial legislation mirrors existing federal campaign laws.

In the 2016 Liberal bill, donors would have to certify in writing that they did not donate “funds that do not actually belong to the person; or any funds that have been given or furnished by any person or group of persons or by a corporation or trade union for the purpose of making a contribution.”

Fedeli is also phasing out the public $2.71 per-vote subsidies for political parties before the 2022 election.

The governing Tories, who got more than 2.3 million votes, receive almost $6.3 million a year, while the NDP get $5.2 million, the Liberals around $3 million, and the Greens about $700,000.


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Husky Energy looks to get out of the gas station business after 80 years


Husky Energy Inc. says it is looking at getting out of retailing fuels to consumers after 80 years in the business.

The Calgary-based oilsands producer says it is launching a strategic review that could result in it selling its Canadian retail and commercial fuels business and its small Prince George, B.C., refinery.

It says it prefers to focus on its core upstream assets in northeastern Alberta, Atlantic Canada and the Asia Pacific region, adding the decision is not related to its offer that expires next week to buy oilsands rival MEG Energy Corp.

Husky has more than 500 service stations, travel centres, cardlock operations and bulk distribution facilities from British Columbia to New Brunswick. Its myHusky Rewards loyalty program has about 1.6 million members.

The 12,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Prince George processes light oil into gasoline, diesel and other products for nearby regions of B.C. It owns two refineries and is half-owner of a third in the United States.

Spokesman Mel Duvall says Husky started selling fuel to consumers in 1938 shortly after the original owner built a small refinery in Cody, Wyo. The refinery was moved to Lloydminster on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border in 1946.

CEO Rob Peabody says in a news release the businesses are « highly marketable » and will attract strong interest and valuations.

TD Securities Inc. is acting as financial adviser, with Torys LLP as legal adviser.


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Ottawa offers $1.6B backstop for energy sector as political tensions with Alberta fester


The federal government is promising more than $1.6 billion — most of it in commercial loans —  to support the ailing energy sector, as political tensions in the Ottawa-Alberta relationship simmer.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr made the announcement in Edmonton this morning.

The bulk of the money, $1 billion in commercial support, comes from Export Development Canada’s coffers, the national export credit agency. It’s meant for oil and gas exporters who want to invest in new technologies and diversify their markets.

The funding package also includes $500 million over three years from the Business Development Bank of Canada, a Crown corporation, to help smaller companies increase operational and environmental efficiency, buy new technology and equipment or expand into new markets.

The government first made an official request to the EDC and BDC about making targeted money available this fall, said a senior government source.

An additional $150 million is pegged for clean growth and infrastructure projects — $50 million of it coming from Natural Resources Canada’s current Clean Growth Program, a $155 million investment fund for clean technology research and development.

Sohi said the money will be available immediately.

Concerned oil field workers watch as Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr, left, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, centre and Randy Boissonnault, Edmonton M.P. speak during press conference to announce support for Canada’s oil and gas sector, in Edmonton on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The price for Alberta’s crude tumbled to $11 a barrel in late November, inciting panic among industry players and politicians.

« When Alberta hurts, so does Canada, » said Sohi. 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who was not on hand for today’s announcement, has called on Ottawa to help the province buy new rail cars to ship two additional tanker trains full of Alberta crude out of the province every day.

Today’s funding announcement didn’t mention rail cars.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney called the investment « too little, too late. » In a news release, Alberta’s opposition leader said if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was serious about helping Alberta energy workers, it would nix Bill C-69 — legislation overhauling Canada’s energy project assessment system — and Bill C-48, which would ban oil tankers from the northern B.C. coast.

« Alberta’s NDP government made a critical mistake in putting all their faith in their alliance with the Trudeau Liberal government, and today Albertans are facing the consequences, » said Kenney.

Watch Sohi speak about aid for the energy industry

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi spoke to reporters in Edmonton on Tuesday 2:55


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Energy assessment law needed to avoid another Trans Mountain impasse, PM says


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is overhauling how Canada assesses big energy projects in a bid to ensure new projects can get built without the government having to buy them to make that happen.

« We’re going to work to make sure that we’re creating a system where you don’t have to pass a law to get a pipeline built, you don’t have to buy an energy project in order to de-risk it, » Trudeau said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

« We want an energy sector where the private sector has confidence in getting our resources to markets. »

The government’s $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline was one of the biggest — and possibly most unexpected — political manoeuvres the Liberals made in 2018.

The government bought it from Kinder Morgan at the end of the summer after political opposition to expanding the pipeline gave the company and its investors cold feet.

Trans Mountain hit a major snag in August when the Federal Court of Appeal tore up federal approval for the expansion citing insufficient environment and Indigenous consultations.

The government is trying to get it back on track by redoing parts of those consultations to do what the court said was lacking.

Trudeau believes his government’s Impact Assessment Act will fix a flawed review process that created the uncertainty around Trans Mountain. Bill C-69 is one of the last big pieces of legislation the government wants passed before the next election — and potentially is in for a very rough ride.

The bill sets in place new timelines and parameters for reviews, lifts limits set by the previous Conservatives on who can participate in the process, and creates an early-phase consultation with Indigenous communities and anyone else impacted by the project to identify concerns.

Trudeau said is open to amendments if it makes the bill better, but added he won’t agree to dropping the legislation entirely. He said not passing the legislation is not an option if Canadians want to see their resources developed.

« No matter how much we’re investing in the knowledge economy and education, Canada will always have a core of natural resources as an important part of our economy, » he said.

A Senate committee is scheduled to start hearings on C-69 at the end of January, but the bill faces stiff opposition from Conservative senators spurred by an angry oil industry and the Alberta government.

Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs said if the law is approved, there won’t be any new energy projects like pipelines approved in Canada because no investor would believe it could withstand the tests required under C-69.

Stubbs said she thinks the bill needs to be scrapped altogether, or at the very least remove the discretion for the government to put the proposed two-year review process on hold.

She also wants the government to rework the bill so that environmental assessments only contemplate greenhouse gas emissions produced by the pipeline itself and not those produced by the refining process.

The bill does not specifically require upstream emissions be looked at. Rather, the legislation says the project has to be considered in terms of its impact on Canada meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets.


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Ottawa to announce boost for battered energy sector


Canada’s battered energy industry will get a $1.6-billion boost from Ottawa on Tuesday to try to slow the political and economic bleeding.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr will be at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton to unveil a support package for oil and gas companies, which are reeling from record-low oil prices.

The funds will be divided among several different programs, including money to help companies invest in clean growth, loans, and other financial supports to help companies find new markets away from the United States, as well as investments in training and new technology.

It is a package based, in some ways, on those offered to softwood, steel and aluminum producers after the United States dealt them direct blows with new import tariffs.

With pipelines at capacity and some major refineries down for maintenance this fall, the price for Alberta crude plummeted in the fall, hitting a panic-inducing $11 a barrel in late November.


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Alberta Energy Regulator executive found billing for travel from B.C. residence


A second executive with the Alberta Energy Regulator is billing the organization for travel expenses because the person is living in B.C.

The AER tells CBC News its board of directors wasn’t aware of the situation. The AER is the single regulator of energy development in Alberta — from application and exploration, to construction and operation, to decommissioning, closure and reclamation.

Since May, Jennifer Steber has expensed flights, taxi trips and other costs to go to work at the AER from her residence in B.C. Her expense claims also include mileage on her vehicle driving from her B.C. residence to the Penticton airport in B.C’s Okanagan Valley. Steber is part of the executive team at the AER.

A snapshot of Steber’s expense claim shows travel from her residence in B.C. to the AER offices in Edmonton and Calgary. (AER expense claims)

The discovery comes after the Alberta government expressed its disappointment with the regulator for reimbursing CEO Jim Ellis’s travel from B.C. 

Former CEO got expenses to come to meetings

CBC News counted nearly 50 trips, mostly return airfares between Calgary and Penticton, to transport Ellis for the express purpose of attending AER meetings. A tally of those flights shows costs topping $14,600, not including airfare change fees and other travel expenses. Ellis has since retired.

According to the regulator, Ellis authorized Steber to file expense claims from her residence in B.C.

« This travel arrangement was approved by the AER’s previous CEO, Jim Ellis, » said Bob Curran, a spokesperson for the regulator, in an email. « The AER board of directors has just become aware of this issue and has ordered a thorough review of practices inside the AER to determine what corrective action is required. »

There is no indication from her expenses about where in B.C. she lives, however a property registry search shows Steber is listed as one of the registered owners of a house in Osoyoos, located 60 kilometres south of Penticton.

The AER lists Steber’s salary as $373,547 in 2015.

The provincial government sets the budget for the AER, but the oil and gas industry itself funds the regulator through administrative fees.

According to the regulator, Steber is currently on vacation and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jennifer Steber’s expense claims include ‘personal mileage’ as she drove from her B.C. residence to the Penticton airport in B.C’s Okanagan Valley. (AER expense forms)


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Kingston committee holds public meeting to discuss how to use solar energy community fund – Kingston


Kingston’s rural advisory committee held a public meeting at the Glenburnie Fire Hall, where very few members of the Kingston community attended on Monday night.

City staff discussed a few ways that they can use the solar renewal energy community benefit fund based on some of the input that they’ve received from community members.

“We have heard from our ‘get involved’ page, we’ve heard that you know exercise equipment on the K&P trail, we heard from some councillors again in respect to the tree-planting properties,” said the community projects manager for the city, Julie Salter-Keane.

The city receives $92,000 from Samsung each year in exchange for providing rural space to the tech company for their solar projects.

Kingston city staff propose funding to revamp busy intersection

City staff had launched a “get involved” public input page about a month ago, where the public can give their opinions on how the community benefit fund should be used.

The page will be open to the public until Tuesday at 4:30 pm. If anyone from the community still wants to provide their input, they can reach out to their local councillors and they will pass their ideas forward.

There are three requirements that the city has laid out for the allocation of the funds. The money can either go towards tree planting, towards updating parks, or for acquiring parklands in rural areas of Kingston.

Kingston: The electric city

City staff will continue gathering input from the public and they will present a formal report to council early next year with a recommendation.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Alberta energy firms split on call for government-imposed production cuts


The question of whether Alberta should force industry-wide production cuts to relieve an oversupply of oil and support prices has opened a rift between companies that are suffering from price discounts and those that aren’t.

On Thursday, oilsands and refining firms Suncor Energy Inc. and Husky Energy Inc. rejected a call by rival Cenovus Energy Inc. for government-imposed temporary cuts, while Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. stepped up to endorse the idea.

The province, meanwhile, will only say it is considering the request along with other options to help support prices.

The recent « differential » between Western Canadian Select bitumen-blend crude and New York-traded West Texas Intermediate oil, if held for a year, would create an Alberta royalty shortfall of about $4 billion, Phil Skolnick, an analyst at Eight Capital Research, said in a report on Thursday.

He added the discounts would cause an oil industry-related Canadian federal income tax loss of about $13 billion and an annual U.S. federal income tax gain of about $12 billion from higher U.S. refining earnings (all figures in Canadian currency).

If the industry cuts output by 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day — a small percentage of total Western Canadian production of about 4.3 million bpd — for a short period, it will greatly relieve the pressure on pipelines and help return prices to normal levels, Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix said in an interview on Thursday

‘Incredibly serious problem’

« This is an incredibly serious problem, » he said.

« We looked at everything we could possibly think of, and this is the only option I’ve seen that has a very high probability of success and also can be implemented very rapidly. »

Canadian Natural spokeswoman Julie Woo agreed, saying in an email Thursday that the times « call for urgent action » on production cuts.

Other players in the industry disagreed.

Suncor has minimal exposure to the differential and therefore shouldn’t have to reduce its production, company spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said.

« We upgrade or refine over 70 per cent of the barrels we produce in Alberta, » she said, adding the company should be allowed to benefit from the refineries and upgraders it has built at the cost of billions of dollars, as well as the pipeline space it has contracted that insulate it from local price discounts.

Risk from market intervention

Husky spokeswoman Kim Guttormson agreed in an email and noted there’s « an unacceptably high level of economic and trade risk » from market intervention.

The province has called on Ottawa to help increase crude-by-rail shipments and unveiled Wednesday a « lost-revenue counter » to be displayed in Ottawa to track how much money Canadians are missing out on since the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion approval was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in August.

In his report, Skolnick said the temporary cuts would work to clear clogged storage and reduce price discounts to the benefit of the provincial treasury.

« Shut-in volumes would quickly alleviate the pain by freeing up export pipeline space and clearing out Alberta storage levels, » he said, adding the province appears to have the legislative right to make the move.

Discounts expected to moderate

He expects price discounts to moderate over the next few months as companies voluntarily reduce output, crude-by-rail exports rise, U.S. refineries come back on line after fall maintenance shutdowns and the 80,000-barrel-per-day Sturgeon Refinery begins processing bitumen, likely by early next year, near Edmonton.

According to Net Energy, the WCS-WTI differential was at $42.95 US per barrel on Thursday morning, a difference that means producers were getting about $14 US for each barrel of bitumen blend sold on spot markets.

The discount versus WTI was also elevated for upgraded synthetic crude at $31.55 US per barrel and for Edmonton light oil at $34.60 US.

Implied bitumen prices in Canada after subtracting the cost of the light oil diluent needed to allow it to flow in a pipeline are about 83 cents per barrel or about half the cost of a bottle of Diet Coke, RBC energy analyst Greg Pardy said in a report.

« By comparison, Mexican Maya (a comparable crude stream to WCS in terms of gravity and sulphur content) is capturing $63 US on the U.S. Gulf Coast…. This dynamic reflects the fact that Canada’s depressed oil prices are heavily related to egress constraints, » he wrote.


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Opposition leader Andrew Scheer talks energy with Indian PM Modi


Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi he wants to find ways to ship Canadian oil and gas to India to meet its voracious energy needs.

Scheer said that’s the message he delivered to Modi on Tuesday during their meeting in New Delhi, which was part of the Opposition leader’s week-long trip to forge economic links and deepen trade with the country.

Scheer said he told the Indian leader he is serious about developing the energy sector and getting oil resources to market, including reviving the failed Energy East pipeline that would have delivered Canadian oil to the East Coast, so it could be shipped to India.

TransCanada abandoned its Energy East pipeline project last fall, citing non-specific « changed circumstances. »

Supporters of the project blamed costs and delays due to federal regulatory demands, while others have said it succumbed to simple market forces.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced on Twitter that he will travel to India in October. Scheer said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit there earlier this year damaged the relationship. (Twitter)

In an interview, Scheer said he blames the Liberals, reiterating the criticism he’s levelled recently in the House of Commons.

« Energy East was on the table. It was cancelled because of Liberal regulatory changes. We continue to have tanker after tanker of foreign oil coming up the St. Lawrence into eastern Canadian markets directly because of the government’s decision, » Scheer said from New Delhi.

During an exchange with Scheer last month in the Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the plug was pulled on the project because a private company made a business decision based on the falling price of oil.

On Tuesday, Scheer said a Conservative government would remove roadblocks to pipeline expansion so Canadian oil and gas can reach new markets.

The Conservative leader made no mention of Trudeau’s heavily criticized trip to India earlier in the year, where he was taken to task for dressing up in traditional Indian clothing for a series of photo-ops with this family.

Scheer characterized his conversation with Modi as « warm, » saying his host wanted his take on the recently completed renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Scheer said he told Modi what he has been saying in public.

« This was a challenging time for Canada. Obviously what we had under the original NAFTA was very good. Canada prospered greatly from it, » said Scheer.

« Now, we’ve given up ground in some key areas, and there’s a sense of frustration that some of the big issues that we thought would be resolved like steel and aluminum tariffs haven’t been. »

Tory government would prioritize free trade with India

Scheer said he wanted to send a message to Modi that if the Conservatives form government in 2019, they will make India a major focus of efforts to expand free trade agreements.

Scheer acknowledged there are still many hurdles to be cleared in pursuing trade with India, but he suggested the country offers better prospects than some destinations.

Scheer didn’t mention China by name, but he said India and Canada are both Commonwealth democracies with « a similar foundation for the rule of law. »

Scheer also held meetings on Sunday with India’s foreign affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, and the minister of state for housing and urban affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri. He is to fill the rest of the week meeting with Indian business leaders.

The trip is one of a series of foreign forays that the Conservative leader has been making to burnish his international credentials ahead of next year’s federal election.

The Conservatives have been hearing a lot lately from their former leader, ex-prime minister Stephen Harper, who just authored a book about the global disruptions in politics and business that have occurred since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Scheer said he hasn’t read it yet, but added, « whether it’s Liberal or Conservative — any time someone has a perspective on what their experience has been as prime minister of the country, it’s always interesting. »


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