Canada: Highlights Of The Speech From The Throne – Second Session Of The Twenty-Ninth Legislature March 8th, 2016

On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, Her Honour Lois Mitchell, C.M., delivered the Speech from the Throne, kicking off the Second Session of the 29th Legislature of Alberta.

The Speech outlined five broad goals of the NDP Government ("Government"): (1) diversification of energy markets; (2) creation of an economic development strategy; (3) investment in a greener, more sustainable economy; (4) responsible management of the province's finances; and (5) engagement in democratic reform to ensure accountability. Related to these goals, the Government indicated that it will implement various legislative changes, targeted at benefit plans for low income families and three new energy advisory agencies. Concurrently, the Government will repeal certain existing legislation, replace defunct programs and reduce inefficiencies in the operation and management of the province's many public boards, agencies and commissions. The Government did not, however, table any details regarding the proposed carbon levy, which along with details concerning potential tax increases or cuts to programs and services, will not become clear until the introduction of its budget later this spring.

What to Expect This Spring

The Government will introduce the Climate Leadership Implementation Act, which will, if passed, give force and effect to key elements of Alberta's climate reform. While the specifics of the Climate Leadership Implementation Act were not addressed in the Speech from the Throne, the Government has previously indicated that climate reform includes proposals to cap annual carbon emissions from the oil sands at 100-megatonnes, phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, and introduce an economy-wide tax of $20 per tonne on carbon-dioxide emissions starting in 2017.

The impact of implementing the Climate Leadership Implementation Act remains to be seen. However, Alberta's largest energy companies generally reacted positively to the Government's climate reform when proposed last fall. Readers are encouraged to access BLG's previous analysis concerning the province's shift toward climate reform and for further consideration of the implications arising from climate reform.

The Government will also introduce the Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act, which aims to facilitate job creation and economic diversification initiatives. Proposed initiatives include implementing measures to promote greater access to capital for Alberta's employers and renewed investment in infrastructure development. Additionally, the Government has directed AIMCo, the province's institutional investment fund manager, to put aside $500-million for investment in Alberta companies demonstrating growth potential. For a more expansive review of the investment implications driven by Alberta's climate reform, readers are encouraged to access our post from November 2015.

As well as implementing new legislative initiatives, the Government will repeal Bill 22, the controversial Aboriginal Consultation Levy Act, which prescribed rules to regulate the making of grants to First Nations groups to assist them in participating in any required Crown consultation in respect of provincially regulated activities. Although never proclaimed into force, the Government will move to replace Bill 22 by first engaging Indigenous communities in preliminary discussions concerning how the Crown should fulfill its consultation duties. The implication for industry is the potential for further delay of projects. However, there is also the view of those who welcome the reform if it brings clarity and certainty for a proposed project. The Government will also consult First Nations regarding the implementation of a new Indigenous People's Sacred Ceremonial Objects Repatriation Act, which would facilitate the return of sacred objects to the nations to whom they belong.

As part of the Government's ongoing review of Alberta's public agencies, boards, and commissions, the Speech from the Throne also emphasized the Government's plan to reform compensation practices and streamline spending in those bodies through the introduction of the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Act. Although the specifics of the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Act are not yet available (and therefore, its implications yet unknown), it is believed that agency reform will build upon the governance practices established in the Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act ("APAGA") and the Public Agencies Governance Framework. The Framework and, in turn, APAGA, which was proclaimed into law in 2013, were adopted in response to a 2007 report chaired by Neil McCrank, Q.C., Counsel, BLG, which set out a number of recommendations for the transparent, accountable management of the province's agencies.

As well as reviewing and reforming the province's existing agencies, boards and commissions, the Government will also introduce three new agencies this session: an energy diversification advisory committee, an oil sands advisory group and an energy efficiency agency. The specific make-up of the new agencies was not addressed However, the energy diversification advisory committee and the oil sands advisory group are being established to enhance economic diversification and job creation, while the energy efficiency agency is being created to assist families, businesses and communities reduce energy costs and greenhouse gases in the interests of meeting the targets established by climate reform.

Of further note, the Government signaled its commitment to maintain education and health care spending while also introducing a new Child Benefit Plan for low income families. The benefit program is expected to provide $340 million in benefits to approximately 380,000 children living in low-income households.

Additional Observations

In addition to establishing the course of Alberta's immediate legislative future, the Speech from the Throne set out the intent by the Government to appeal to other provinces and the federal Government to further develop a Canadian Energy Strategy. In particular, it highlighted that Canada's energy industry requires pipeline access to tidewater to enable Alberta's production to command the highest possible value on world markets. Additionally, the Government will introduce new legislation and, where necessary, amendments to existing legislation concerning predatory lending, labour legislation, the enforcement of provincial offences and municipal government administration. The Government also committed to make amendments to the Alberta Securities Act to permit the further modernization, national harmonization and streamlining of securities legislation. At this stage the implications of potential amendments to Alberta's Securities Act is unclear as the specifics of the Government's proposed amendments are yet to be determined.

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP will be monitoring and reporting on policy development and new legislation from the Government as they arise.

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