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Alberta Kenney launches legal skirmish with B.C. on first day as premier, proclaims law to ‘turn off the taps’

The United Conservative Party (UCP) Leader Jason Kenney was sworn in as Alberta’s 18th Premier on Tuesday.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Jason Kenney has set Alberta on a collision course with British Columbia in his first day in the premier’s office as his cabinet proclaimed a law giving his new government power to cut off oil and gas supplies across the Rocky Mountains.

Alberta’s new conservative Premier was sworn in on Tuesday and came into office with a promise to balance the energy-producing province’s environmental rules with a greater focus on increasing growth in a long-suffering economy. His decision to start a legal skirmish with neighboring B.C., announced in a letter published in the Vancouver Sun, followed a promise to give Alberta’s government the power to stop oil shipments as a bargaining tool to build new pipelines.

Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Kenney said the so-called “turn off the taps” legislation would be enacted within an hour of his swearing-in. The decision came late on Tuesday. The B.C. government could not immediately be reached for comment, however the province’s justice minister has said he would challenge the law in court.

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Mr. Kenney, who takes over after a career as a high-ranking cabinet official in Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government, said he instead was looking to bring balance to the province.

“The truth is this: We need to strike the right balance between environmental protection and economic growth. There is no balance in Alberta right now,” he told reporters after his swearing-in at Government House in Edmonton. He said he believes Alberta’s government can accelerate the expansion of the energy industry while maintaining high environmental standards.

“Our approach will be to seek balance through consultation, as opposed to the NDP’s path of confrontation,” he added.

The Premier is headed to Ottawa and Toronto in his first week to lobby the federal government to reverse new energy regulations, and to ask financial markets for more investment in Canada’s main oil-producing province.

Alberta is the key supplier of gas to B.C., and cutting off supply would be a major economic blow. The B.C. government was ready for the law to be proclaimed on Tuesday, with lawyers waiting at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary to file an application seeking relief from the Alberta courts the moment it was proclaimed.

In court documents filed last May in the Court of Queen’s Bench, lawyers for B.C. said Bill 12 is designed to punish British Columbia for opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project – a form of discrimination it says is prohibited in the Constitution. The case was dismissed because the law had not come into force.

Deron Bilous, a former NDP cabinet minister who is now in opposition, said Ms. Notley had warned Mr. Kenney not to proclaim Bill 12 too quickly due to the threat of a constitutional challenge.

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“This would be like blowing up a weapon on the launch pad. You only proclaim legislation like this when you plan on using it,” he said.

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Who’s in cabinet:

Here is the full list of Alberta’s new cabinet:

Premier, Intergovernmental Relations: Jason Kenney

Justice and Solicitor General: Doug Schweitzer

Health: Tyler Shandro

Transportation: Ric McIver

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Education: Adriana LaGrange

Economic Development, Trade and Tourism: Tanya Fir

Finance: Travis Toews

Environment and Parks: Jason Nixon

Agriculture and Forestry: Devin Dreeshen

Energy: Sonya Savage

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Community and Social Services: Rajan Sawhney

Seniors and Housing: Josephine Pon

Children’s Services: Rebecca Schulz

Indigenous Relations: Richard Wilson

Advanced Education: Demetrios Nicolaides

Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women: Leela Aheer

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Labour and Immigration: Jason Copping

Municipal Affairs: Kaycee Madu

Infrastructure: Prasad Panda

Service Alberta: Nate Glubish

Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction: Grant Hunter

Associate Minister of Natural Gas: Dale Nally

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Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions: Jason Luan

With reports from Justine Hunter in Victoria and The Canadian Press

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