Alberta's NDP Premier is distancing herself from a key federal New Democrat environment and energy policy, saying Thomas Mulcair's plan for a national cap-and-trade system may not be the best way to govern greenhouse gas emissions.
Premier Rachel Notley sent a strong signal she disagrees with Mr. Mulcair's plan one day after the federal NDP unveiled the policy.
She gave a speech to the Montreal chamber of commerce that attempted to put a business-friendly and environmentally conscious face on her government but curiously made no attempt to sell the Energy East pipeline project.
The federal NDP has promised a plan to put a national cap on greenhouse-gas emissions, including limits on the oil sands. However, Mr. Mulcair has said provinces would be free to create their own plans, as long as they meet federal standards for reducing greenhouse gases. Mr. Mulcair embraced British Columbia's plan for a carbon tax, for example.
But Ms. Notley was clear that the federal NDP plan to limit greenhouse gasses is not her favourite.
"A national cap-and-trade program may not be our best road forward," she said. "We may address climate change using different tools than [the cap-and-trade] Ontario and Quebec will use … but we will be working toward the same goals at long last."
Ms. Notley gave no details but said Alberta will be coming up with its own plan soon. The province has no choice, she said.
"If we don't get it right on this issue, a solution is going to be imposed on us – sooner or later – by others. By the federal government, and by our markets, who will increasingly insist that energy products they buy be mined and processed responsibly."
Quebec environmental activist Steven Guilbeault, the founder of Équiterre, welcomed the change in tone from the Alberta government, noting that Ms. Notley opened and closed her speech talking about the environment. He said he sees no contradiction between the federal NDP plan and Ms. Notley's position.
"She wants her own system, Mr. Mulcair said they can if they meet national standards. We've seen this often on issues where federal and provincial jurisdictions collide," he said. "I don't see it as incompatible."
"It's really the only way to do it in a country like Canada. The federal government will never ride in and impose something like that on provinces."
Ms. Notley's visit to Quebec was a marked contrast to one by Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice in December. Mr. Prentice was in Quebec largely to sell the Energy East pipeline project, which has met stiff resistance in Quebec.
He held a joint news conference with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard where they sang each other's praises and promised to find a way to make the $12-billion project work to bring oil from the Prairies to eastern tidewaters.
Ms. Notley, by contrast, didn't mention the word "pipeline" once Monday, although she did say she hopes to "begin to change some of underlying assumptions about energy infrastructure."
She jetted off without taking questions.
Ms. Notley will also be visiting New York and Toronto on this visit. In Montreal she tried to assuage concerns that her government will damage Alberta's business environment, saying the province's oil and gas reserves "will remain open to investment."
"We will be consultative and prudent," she said.
Ms. Notley also said she will try to move Alberta away from reliance on coal for the production of more than half its electricity. She noted the province uses more coal than the other Canadian provinces combined.
"We will phase out coal as quickly as we can," she said, "without imposing unnecessary price shocks on consumers, or risking security of supply, or unnecessarily stranding capital."
She also said Alberta is the only province without an energy-efficiency program and she will correct that.