Alberta Premier Danielle Smith deployed her signature sovereignty legislation for the first time on Monday, floating the possibility of creating a government-owned corporation with a mandate to defy Ottawa’s proposed environmental regulations for the country’s electricity grid.
Ms. Smith’s motion, under the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, takes aim at the federal government’s draft Clean Electricity Regulations, which call for an electricity grid that produces net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2035. Ms. Smith and her governing United Conservative Party contend Ottawa’s proposal would infringe on Alberta’s constitutional right to manage its electricity industry, and that the 2035 goal is unrealistic in the province, which relies heavily on natural gas, a producer of greenhouse emissions, to generate power.
Ms. Smith introduced the sovereignty act last year, shortly after she won the UCP leadership with promises to take a stand against federal policies Alberta sees as interfering in provincial jurisdiction, including certain environmental laws. The act is designed to give the Alberta legislature the power to reject federal laws or regulations it considers beyond Ottawa’s jurisdictional scope. The law has not been tested in court, and experts have questioned its constitutionality.
Monday’s motion also calls on the Alberta government to empower provincial officials and regulators not to help implement or enforce federal rules tied to the 2035 net-zero grid – but not to the point that they break the law. Ms. Smith said her government will work out a provision to shield officials from prosecution, should things come to that.
The non-compliance order would not apply to private companies or people.
The motion instructs the provincial government to “explore the feasibility and effectiveness” of establishing a Crown corporation that could defy Ottawa’s desire to limit electricity generation from natural gas. The corporation, Ms. Smith told reporters on Monday, would be a “last resort,” and might purchase power-generating infrastructure as a way of shielding the province’s grid from Ottawa.
She said she is prepared to create a government-controlled entity to ensure the stability and affordability of Alberta’s power supply.
“These measures are not something that we want to do,” she said.
“They are a plan to counteract the absurd, illogical, unscientific and unconstitutional interference in Alberta’s electrical grid by a federal government that simply doesn’t care what happens to our province, so long as they have a good virtuous signalling story to tell their leftist friends and special interests.”
The federal government has denied that its proposed electricity regulations threaten Alberta to the degree claimed by Ms. Smith. The regulations have not yet been finalized, let alone implemented. But Ms. Smith said she is triggering her controversial legislation now because the province predicts blackouts, brownouts and skyrocketing power bills if the federal government proceeds with its environmental framework.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a joint statement that Ms. Smith is “choosing to create fear and uncertainty over collaboration and positive results” for Albertans.
The federal ministers noted that a working group made up of officials from Alberta and the federal government, which Alberta requested, had “several productive meetings,” most of which focused on the draft Clean Electricity Regulations. During the meetings, Alberta did not bring up the Premier’s intent to use the sovereignty act, according to the ministers.
“Today’s decision by the Premier is thus unnecessary and appears to be entirely politically driven,” Mr. Guilbeault and Mr. Wilkinson said.
Ms. Smith accused Ottawa of being unwilling to budge from its 2035 target, and of being uninterested in collaborating on building a net-zero grid for 2050, which Alberta considers a more realistic goal.
The Clean Electricity Regulations, according to critics, do not account for regional differences. Hydroelectricity makes up 80 per cent of electricity in British Columbia and Quebec, for example, while most electricity in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia comes from fossil fuels.
Ms. Smith said that if Ottawa proceeds, the fight will end up in court. Alberta’s motion, she said, is designed to help the courts understand the province’s position. By invoking the sovereignty act, Ms. Smith said, she is sending a message that Alberta is “serious” about pushing back against Ottawa’s 2035 strategy.
“We’re creating an opportunity for the federal government to do the right thing and back down,” she told reporters.
The motion cites the Supreme Court of Canada’s reference opinion on the federal government’s Impact Assessment Act. In that opinion, issued last month, the court said the federal law, which was intended to allow Ottawa to review energy, mining and industrial projects to protect Indigenous peoples and the environment, treads on provincial jurisdiction.
The opinion was celebrated in Alberta. The federal government said it would rewrite the law to comply with the court’s opinion.
With a report from The Canadian Press