In the 2019 federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party announced that if elected, the government would introduce the “Just Transition Act,” which would give workers and communities dependent on the oil and gas industry the training and support they need to thrive in the clean, green economy of the future.
The announcement garnered little attention at the time. And after the Liberals won re-election, it was basically forgotten.
Word that the Liberals plan on introducing the legislation this spring has been met by howls from – well, no surprise here – Alberta and Saskatchewan. But Alberta holds the biggest megaphone on this file, and Premier Danielle Smith is using it to warn of war with Ottawa if it introduces a law that she suspects will threaten the livelihoods of those making a very good income in the province’s oil patch.
This really could be a redux of the grand fight we witnessed in the early 1980s over the National Energy Program – a battle that Ottawa, and specifically Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, lost badly. But Alberta has never forgotten what the feds tried to do: effectively take control over their oil industry. Consequently, anything that smells even remotely like the NEP sets off alarm bells in Wildrose country.
And fair enough. It is Albertans’ liquid gold that has been used to build unfathomable wealth for both individuals and for governments over the decades. But things have changed over the years – namely the menacing presence of climate change, which is not something people in Alberta like to talk about, despite what they will tell you.
Mr. Trudeau recently had the gall to make this point in an interview with Reuters. “One of the challenges is there is a political class in Alberta that has decided that anything to do with climate change is going to be bad for them or for Alberta,” he said, calling for Ms. Smith’s government to use its budget surplus to fund carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology.
The remarks caused a stir. “This is trash politics based on ignorance or myth,” railed veteran political columnist Don Braid earlier this week.
It seems that Mr. Trudeau forgot that Alberta was an early pioneer in CCUS, even if for years the sequestration technology was an expensive disappointment. There is more optimism about it now, but there is still a long way to go before it makes a meaningful reduction in the province’s emission levels.
Still, carbon capture aside, it’s fair to say that Alberta has not exactly been at the forefront of climate policy. The only Alberta premier who has come close to embracing the challenge that climate change poses is the NDP’s Rachel Notley, but she was dumped from office largely on the basis of the carbon tax she introduced. Her successor, Jason Kenney, eliminated the tax as his first order of business upon taking office. He then fought the national carbon tax in court, and lost.
Some may well consider Mr. Trudeau’s comments to be “trash politics.” But his criticism of Alberta’s politicians wasn’t too far off the mark.
The fact is that Alberta is, by far, Canada’s most polluting province. Emissions there have increased 55 per cent compared with 1990 levels; they have grown by 19 per cent since 2005. Yes, we understand that the province’s main industry is emissions-intensive, but we also shouldn’t pretend that the threat climate change poses is a challenge that has been openly taken up by the whole of Alberta’s political class in recent years, outside of Ms. Notley’s administration.
KELLY CRYDERMAN: Despite Ottawa’s rebrand of pending policy, Alberta finds ‘just-transition’ anything but that
I also have a little problem with the outrage over Mr. Trudeau insulting them over climate change. It seems rich, coming from a jurisdiction whose leaders have been levelling unimaginable ad hominem attacks in the Prime Minister’s direction for years.
Ms. Smith keeps insisting that Mr. Trudeau wants to phase the oil and gas industry out of existence, with zero evidence to support that statement. It will eventually be phased out, no question – economic and environmental realities will do that – but that won’t be for decades, likely.
We don’t yet know what’s going to be in the Just Transition legislation – a fact that rankles Ms. Smith, who complained this week that Alberta wasn’t consulted. Never mind that her province, along with Saskatchewan, refused to participate in the regional energy resource tables where they might have had some input. Go figure.
Nevertheless, at a news conference, Ms. Smith listed the many ways Alberta has been attacked by Ottawa, including the Prime Minister’s refusal to let the province back out of the carbon tax. She has every right to do so. But it beggars belief that she would make the case that Alberta is taking climate change as seriously as it could and should be.