Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is warning that the federal government’s decision to designate plastic a toxic substance will chase away tens of billions of dollars in investment as his province looks for ways to diversify its struggling economy.
Mr. Kenney says Ottawa’s announcement earlier this week, which also included details of the government’s plan to ban some single-use plastics, is just one more bullet point in the list of ways he sees the federal government interfering with the province’s petroleum sector.
Alberta announced plans this week to significantly expand its plastic and petrochemical industry, a long-standing goal of the province.
“We think this could be a real ace in the hole for Alberta’s future," Mr. Kenney said at an event in Calgary on Friday.
But he said he is hearing from companies that might be interested in setting up production in Alberta that they are "very concerned about the implications of what just came from Ottawa. They find the notion of categorizing plastics as a toxin is unscientific.”
Mr. Kenney added that the federal government’s clean-fuel standard could further hamper the planned expansion by adding to the cost of the natural gas that is needed to make plastics.
The federal government announced on Thursday that it would ban six categories of single-use plastic items, including straws, cutlery and grocery bags, by the end of next year as part of a plan to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.
Ottawa also intends to designate “plastic manufactured items” as toxic under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which will allow the government to regulate and limit certain products without tabling new legislation.
Alberta was quick to push back. The province argued labelling plastic items as toxic will hurt its efforts to rebuild its economy, which was struggling long before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduced demand for oil.
On Friday, Mr. Kenney said the plastic announcement would be “added to our list” of areas where the federal government is harming the province.
He said his government is concerned about plastic waste, and has taken steps to address the issue.
Alberta released its natural gas strategy earlier this week, outlining a plan to establish a “centre of excellence” for plastics recycling by 2030. The province also wants to collaborate with the federal government on plastics policies and “realistic” waste-reduction targets.
“We’re all concerned about the environment, we’re all concerned about plastics,” he said.
“We also want for Alberta to become western North America’s hub for the circular plastics economy through recycling. ... The implications of [Ottawa’s] announcement may be very problematic for that vision.”
Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson was not available to comment. His press secretary referred to remarks he made earlier in the week while announcing the federal plastics policies.
At the time, Mr. Wilkinson said the toxic designation should not stand in the way of Alberta’s plans to step up recycling – an announcement he applauded.
On the issue of the single-use plastic ban, Mr. Wilkinson said it affected only a small fraction of plastic production in Canada and is focused only on items that are difficult to recycle.
The government has also played down the use of the word “toxic," which it said is a designation that allows additional regulatory powers and does not necessarily mean plastic itself is toxic.
Virtually all plastics produced globally are made from fossil fuels and most produced in Canada come from ethane, a component of natural gas.
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