Alberta set the stage for a constitutional battle with Ottawa over ratification of the Kyoto Protocol yesterday, with a landmark bill that asserts provincial control over greenhouse gases.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said that a legal challenge will be "inevitable" if the federal government carries through with its plan to endorse the climate-change accord by the end of the year.
"The legislation . . . will provide some meaningful ammunition -- some very tangible, concrete ammunition -- to a constitutional challenge," he said.
Environment Minister David Anderson laughed off Alberta's attempt to redefine greenhouse-gas emissions as natural resources, calling it a ploy that is "straight out of Alice in Wonderland."
He said Mr. Klein reminds him of the Humpty Dumpty character in the Lewis Carroll book who declared that a word "means just what I choose it to mean -- nothing more or less."
"Here is Humpty Dumpty Klein, choosing words and defining them as he wishes," Mr. Anderson said.
Bill 32, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act, unveiled after MLAs began their fall sitting yesterday, declares Alberta's jurisdiction over natural resources, including carbon dioxide and methane, and asserts them to be "inextricably linked" with the management of other resources. Mr. Anderson said Alberta cannot arbitrarily change the definition of the term natural resource to cover pollution, and he denounced the attempt to assert control over emissions as "phony as a three-dollar bill."
He said that no legislation by any province can pre-empt federal moves to reduce emissions, which as pollutants are a national responsibility.
"This is not a natural-resource issue. This is an emissions issue, and when Alberta gets that clearly understood, I think that constitutional debate will end," he said.
Rob Macintosh, a senior adviser with the Alberta-based Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, agreed, saying Alberta's argument "doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell.
"The province appears to be poised to waste an incredible amount of taxpayer money and an incredible amount of precious time in fighting a moot jurisdictional point."
As well, the bill would enshrine the province's "made-in-Alberta" plan to curb greenhouse-gas emissions more slowly than would occur under Kyoto, while relying on as-yet undeveloped technology. Eventually, it would lead to negotiated emissions targets and an emissions-trading system for industry.
Bill 32 states that plans for greenhouse-gas emissions must not create an "undue burden" on provinces, territories, regions or sectors, and that determination of such hardship "must be made by the jurisdiction accepting the burden."
Alberta contends that the proposed law would provide "certainty to all sectors" of the provincial economy, while ensuring its sustainability.
The bill states that Alberta is committed to "realistic and workable solutions" to climate change "without impairing economic growth."
The Alberta government said the draft legislation would not be passed during the legislature's fall session that began yesterday and is expected to last 11 working days. It said it wants feedback from the public and industry.
Mr. Klein, who during a conference call yesterday spoke with representatives of several provinces, said that he expects at least three -- Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan -- to introduce resolutions reaffirming their commitment to 12 principles developed by the provinces last month.
The principles are designed to cushion the accord's effects on their economies.
Also yesterday, Ottawa and the provinces appeared to reach a tentative deal to hold a last round of talks on Kyoto before the Liberal government ratifies the treaty by Christmas, as planned.
A meeting scheduled for tomorrow fell through.
But the provinces said in a letter to Ottawa yesterday afternoon that they would be willing to meet in Toronto on Nov. 29.