Hi everyone, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.
After talking about it for the past year, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has invoked her signature piece of legislation.
On Monday, Smith deployed the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act while suggesting she would create a government-owned corporation with a mandate to defy Ottawa’s proposed environmental regulations for the country’s electricity grid. As The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Cryderman puts it, the Alberta Premier is using the “nuclear option.”
The motion is the next step in a staredown between Alberta and the federal government over its draft Clean Electricity Regulations, which call for an electricity grid that produces net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2035. Smith has been arguing for months that not only are the proposed regulations and deadline unrealistic, but also that they infringe on Alberta’s constitutional right to manage its electricity industry.
Smith introduced the sovereignty act last year, which gives the province the power to reject federal laws or regulations it considers beyond Ottawa’s jurisdictional scope. The law has thus far not been tested in court, and experts have questioned its constitutionality.
As The Globe’s Andrew Coyne argues, “the whole thing is a sham, a bit of performative nonsense” and a curious path for a conservative premier.
“Nationalizing an industry just so you can order it to defy the law – socialism, in the service of anarchy – will strike many readers as a novel version of conservatism,” he says.
On Tuesday, Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault dismissed Smith’s plan to thwart Ottawa’s proposed electricity regulations as a “largely symbolic gesture.”
And while Smith has said the province is willing to take the fight to court, Guilbeault wasn’t taking the bait. “You don’t take someone to court for something that’s symbolic,” he said.
In response, Smith said Ottawa should wait and see how symbolic it is if they go ahead with their 2035 deadline.
However, later in the afternoon, federal Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said his government is open to extending the deadline for existing natural gas plants to operate without emissions-trapping technology.
He said that negotiation was already well under way before Smith deployed the sovereignty act.
Wilkinson went on to say Ottawa has been clear that it understands Alberta’s concerns.
Meanwhile the Saskatchewan government is implementing its own similar legislation to Alberta’s to review the proposed clean-electricity regulations. On Tuesday, provincial Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said she will use the Saskatchewan First Act to create a tribunal to study the new rules and submit a report outlining the costs.
She added that the report could then be used in court, should the province decide to challenge the federal government.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.