Premier Rachel Notley says that a new Alberta will be ready to emerge at the next global climate conference in November, with a modern carbon strategy and a review of energy royalties that should be nearly finished. Following the NDP's unprecedented victory in Alberta last month, she says she's listening to energy producers as her government tinkers with the fiscal foundations of her province's dominant industry.
Speaking with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Notley says she's also keenly aware of the eyes on her ahead of October's federal election. But she's less interested in what her win means for the surging federal New Democrats and more focused on what an assertive Alberta can do to shape the national conversation on the economy, the environment and democratic reform.
"There's the potential for us to build legislation that will really make us a national leader," she said. "There once was a time when Alberta was a leader – I think we could be again."
Less than a month after she was sworn into power, Ms. Notley has moved ahead with plans to increase corporate and personal income taxes, draft a new climate-change strategy and undertake a contentious review of the province's energy royalties. She's also taken over the Canadian discussion on minimum wage, announcing plans to set a floor of $15 per hour by 2018.
Her first major test on the national stage will come at a meeting of the premiers in mid-July, when she'll push to have a discussion about an Alberta-led Canadian energy strategy feature prominently on the agenda. She says she has three goals going into the meeting: Address environmental critics of Alberta's energy industry; discuss ways to get oil to foreign markets; and persuade other leaders to push for more upgrading of Canadian oil in their provinces.
"We need to be doing more upgrading of our product before we ship it offshore," she said. "I'd like to see more of that upgrading here, but maybe it doesn't all need to be done in Alberta. I don't think that can be separate from our obligation to deal with the citizens of the country who are legitimately concerned about our environmental record. Whether you are talking about Quebec Premier [Philippe] Couillard and the fact that he has 20,000 people at demonstrations or Premier [Christy] Clark and the fact that people are demonstrating in Vancouver, we need to do a better job here at home."
One of the tools for meeting that criticism will be a provincial climate-change strategy – something that a number of Alberta governments have promised but not delivered. Before that strategy is drafted, Ms. Notley's team is "working frantically" on new rules to replace Alberta's eight-year-old carbon levy on industrial polluters, she said. The levy expires at the end of the month.
The cost of new climate rules and any changes to provincial royalties will be linked, Ms. Notley said.
"One of the things that energy representatives have been saying is that they want us to deal with it holistically and that's not unreasonable," she said. "We should be looking at the overall cost pressures we are potentially imposing on the industry through those two different mechanisms. We can't look at one without moving on the other. We have essentially said that whatever we do going forward they will be linked."
Ms. Notley has said that in her conversations with Alberta business leaders, none has mentioned the 20-per-cent corporate tax hike planned for July 1 as a concern.
However, chief executives have been searching for clues on royalty changes and new climate rules with little success so far. The Premier says there's a solid deadline for both: She'd like to be nearly finished with a new climate-change strategy and reviewing royalties by the first day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, known as COP21, on Nov. 30.
Alberta's oil sands have been the target of protest at past conferences. While she admits that it'll be a tough sell, Ms. Notley says she'd like to change the discussion this year and be engaged as a true player.
"What I hope to be able to do is say, 'Listen, we understand we haven't done as well as we should have. We've taken responsibility for it, we have a plan for it, we're laying it out in a way that people who understand the issue think could be doable.' It will be a significant change from where we've been."
Ms. Notley said Canada's position at the conference could change based on who forms government in Ottawa after October's federal election. Regardless of who wins, she says Alberta is prepared to assert itself. "If nothing else, we have a tremendous amount of provincial autonomy on the issue right now. That's good," she said.
The Premier's opponents in Alberta's legislature have criticized her for refusing to back the proposed Northern Gateway or Keystone XL pipelines. She does, however, support at least one pipeline project to transport Alberta's oil to British Columbia's coast.
Ms. Notley and B.C.'s Ms. Clark will be meeting for the first time in person at the premiers' conference next month. The two haven't spoken since a congratulatory phone call following the Alberta election. Ms. Notley says she intends to sit down with Ms. Clark over a glass of merlot and discuss the Kinder Morgan pipeline project from Alberta to B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
"I'd like to know the state of play with Kinder Morgan; I think there might be some potential there," she said. As for Ms. Clark, she added, "I think there are many things we have in common."
Both premiers will seek to build on shaky ground. As the two provinces have been tied together by controversies over pipelines and energy exports, the relationship between governments has swung between frosty and friendly over the past two years.