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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at an announcement in Edmonton on Nov. 27.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

In 2023, Danielle Smith proved her ability to fight, constantly, with Ottawa on energy and climate matters. And after her first full year in office, her government’s outlook is that the federal Liberals are hostile to the province’s interests on so many fronts that Alberta – as a major oil producer – has to do much of its own advocacy.

Increasingly, the Premier is looking to bypass Ottawa altogether, as evidenced by her increasing number of international meetings – including December’s COP28 summit, the annual United Nations climate conference-cum-trade-show. She also wants to create a new association of oil and natural gas-producing states and subnational governments that will work together to share emissions-reduction technology.

The energy transition is a whole different ball of wax when your economy is wrapped up in producing fossil fuels for wider use, Ms. Smith said in a year-end interview with The Globe and Mail. “We’ve got unique challenges as energy-producing countries,” she said. “We’ve got the joint challenge of addressing energy poverty as well as reducing emissions. So I’m prepared to do what I can to spearhead that movement.”

Texas and other U.S. producer states would be in. She wants Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and British Columbia in the club, too. “We have lots of common cause with Norway,” she added. “Norway has been increasing their [oil and natural gas] production. But they’ve also been reducing their emissions in their own country.”

The group could also include some Middle Eastern leaders that the Premier has recently met with. She’s fascinated by liquefied natural gas powerhouse Qatar’s push on solar, and Saudi Arabia’s work on a combustion engine hydrogen vehicle (There isn’t a mention of Riyadh’s human rights abuses, as was the case when Ms. Smith worked in the media.)

Canada’s export-focused energy industry is highly regional, and mostly unrepresented by Liberal MPs. Ms. Smith said she needs to forge these types of relationships with other global producers as Ottawa shows little interest in carrying the mantle. “There’s zero chance that Steven Guilbeault or Jonathan Wilkinson are going to go to Qatar or Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and talk about Alberta’s energy interests and talk about carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen and green technology.”

The worldview of the two levels of government is indeed very different. But despite Ms. Smith’s words, there is also much common cause, including on CCUS, hydrogen and green technology. She has picked unnecessary fights, even in areas where there’s broad agreement to reduce Canada’s emissions, including the federal methane emissions rules or an initiative to cut the gassy output from cattle.

These days, her purest ire is reserved for the Environment Minister. Latching onto one of the biggest taboos of the medieval period, she accused Mr. Guilbeault of “treachery” against the province in December.

“The Liberals are tone-deaf. I have no idea why it is that they haven’t recognized it’s Steven Guilbeault’s policies that are driving them down in the polls,” she said, citing his recent mandate that 100 per cent of light-duty vehicles sold in Canada by 2035 must be EVs, a rule that critics say could lead to a host of unintended consequences.

At this point, near-term predictions about the demise of oil demand have fallen flat. Her wishes could come true in the years ahead: She may be able to fight off the most impractical federal climate policies, or see legal battles land on her side – as was the case over Ottawa’s plastics ban – and the Liberals replaced by the Conservatives in Ottawa.

But the world changes slowly, and then quickly. Ms. Smith still lives in a time where she must act on climate change. Her club of oil producers will have to show results.

At home, Ms. Smith’s government needs to coherently open up Alberta’s renewables business in February, when her heavily criticized pause on new wind and solar projects ends. It will have to have a plan for making the province’s market-based electricity grid greener and less prone to price swings – while planning for a doubling or tripling of capacity.

The Premier will need to add meat to the bones of her government’s emissions plan, released in April, with actual interim targets. She will have to utter the phrase “climate change,” which she doesn’t often do, preferring to talk of emission reductions (she says this is the same thing).

And at some point, she’s going to have to work with Ottawa. When the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion opens, hopefully sometime this year – with tens of billions of federal dollars backing the important project – there will be a ribbon cutting-like photo op.

In short, in 2024, Ms. Smith will have to show she can build as much as she can tear down.

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