By Natasha Bulowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The federal government’s climate policies represent an “existential” threat to Alberta, according to Premier Danielle Smith, who told fellow conservatives Thursday she is on a collision course with Ottawa.
Speaking to a friendly audience gathered in the Westin Hotel in Ottawa for the annual Canada Strong and Free Networking conference, where conservatives discuss strategy and key issues, Smith said “the biggest threat” facing Alberta “is this NDP-Liberal coalition in Ottawa.”
She called Justin Trudeau an “ideological prime minister” and took issue with the federal government imposing policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In Smith’s view, the way jurisdiction is carved up between federal and provincial governments makes it clear that provinces control natural resource production, and that proposed policies like clean electricity regulations or capping oil and gas sector emissions are a way for the federal government to encroach on Alberta’s jurisdiction.
“It would be absurd for a provincial premier to dare to think she could step in and take over federal powers; equally absurd for a federal government to think it can come in and tell our province how to manage our resources and how to manage our electricity,” Smith told the crowd.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that combating greenhouse gas emissions is within the federal government’s purview.
“We’re a natural gas basin in Alberta, it makes sense for us to heat our homes with natural gas, it makes sense for us to have gas stoves, it makes sense for us to have electricity that is powered by natural gas,” she said. “The federal government wants to stop us from doing that.”
While Ottawa plans to achieve a net-zero electricity supply by 2035, there is no indication the federal government has set out to abolish natural gas production in Alberta or anywhere else in Canada. Just last week, the federal government and British Columbia greenlit the proposed $3-billion Cedar LNG export facility project in Kitimat, B.C.
“We want to work with all orders of government to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts, prepare for changes in global markets and position ourselves to take advantage of all the opportunities in a cleaner economy,” said a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault.
“We stand ready to work with Albertans on our common goal of providing energy security and a healthy environment and healthy economy to all Canadians.”
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that, when burned, contributes to global warming. Gas stoves are also increasingly linked to higher asthma rates in children. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly warned planetary greenhouse gas emissions must be cut approximately in half by 2030 to avoid crossing dangerous temperature thresholds that lock in major, irreversible damage.
Despite Ottawa’s support of oil and gas projects, Smith alleges the federal government is infringing on her province’s right to develop its natural resources. Her government is currently arguing before the Supreme Court of Canada that the federal government’s Impact Assessment Act (IAA), which evaluates whether the benefits of major projects like pipelines outweigh negative effects on the environment, human health and more, is unconstitutional.
University of Alberta political science professor Laurie Adkin told Canada’s National Observer the “only thing standing between Alberta’s citizens and the destruction of their watersheds by coal mining, widespread hardship during the COVID pandemic, unemployment linked to the shrinking workforce in the oil and gas sector, wholly privatized and unaffordable child care, and a privatized health-care system is federal legislation like the IAA and the Canada Health Act.”
Smith told the audience she considers clean electricity regulations and capping production emissions from the oil and gas sector threats Alberta needs to take seriously. The federal government has no plans to limit how much oil and gas Alberta, or any province, can produce. The cap will only apply to emissions created during extraction and production _ not the emissions that occur when fuel is burned to operate cars or heat homes, for example.
“For whom, exactly, are `clean energy regulations’ or emission caps on the oil and gas sector an `existential’ threat? Not for Albertans, and not for First Nations,” Adkin said. “The threat of worsening unemployment and income security isn’t coming from federal environmental regulation; it’s coming from Alberta governments that continue to obstruct a planned, managed, just transition.”
When it comes to the prospect of a just transition, that is, ensuring workers won’t be hung out to dry as the world economy undergoes a low-carbon transition, few have been more vocally opposed than Smith.
Smith has repeatedly attacked Justin Trudeau’s government for proposing a just transition plan that she says signals the end of Alberta’s oil and gas industry. This assertion contrasts starkly with the contents of the plan and comments made by federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who assured MPs in November:
“This global shift to a low-carbon future can be accomplished without phasing out Canada’s oil and gas sector.”
Natasha Bulowski works for CANADA’S NATIONAL OBSERVER. The Journalism Initiative Reporter is a federally funded program that makes this reporting possible.