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Danielle Smith Kicks Off a Phoney War with Ottawa

Sovereignty Act dragged out as a prop in a battle over electricity rules that are 12 years away.

David Climenhaga 28 Nov 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

“Alberta’s government will not put Albertans and their businesses at risk of freezing in the dark at -30 C due to the federal government’s proposed unaffordable, unreliable and unconstitutional Clean Electricity Regulations.” — actual Government of Alberta press release, Nov. 27

I think it’s official, my fellow Albertans.

We have now truly become the embarrassing cousins of Confederation, as someone in Alberta politics was once famously accused of saying.

The government we elected has introduced actual legislation to use its preposterous Alberta Sovereignty Something-Something Act to make a stand against a federal regulation that doesn’t exist yet and isn’t supposed to take effect for more than a decade if it ever does.

And why? Premier Danielle Smith wants us to believe it’s so we won’t risk freezing in the dark in -30 weather in 2035 — assuming, of course, that there still is -30 weather anywhere on Earth by then.

This weak talking point would be gaslighting on an epic scale even if the chances of the Liberal government in Ottawa being defeated in the next general election weren’t widely acknowledged to be better than fair.

Plus, if Pierre Poilievre replaces Pierre Trudeau’s son as prime minister and keeps his promises, then Canada will once again be on its way to becoming an international climate criminal instead of a mere international climate virtue signaller that has its own overpriced bitumen pipeline on the side.

Mind you, nearly a dozen years is plenty of time for Canadians to elect the Conservatives and toss them out again, so I guess a premier who thinks ivermectin might cure COVID can’t be too careful.

To say the introduction of the first Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act resolution in the Alberta legislature Monday is performative is the understatement of the year, and the year is almost over.

The United Conservative Party government’s press release complains that breaking federal laws can come with criminal penalties, so the UCP caucus in the legislature (plus “Independent” Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Jennifer Johnson, no doubt) wants us to think it can make federal laws go away by waving a wand and muttering an incantation.

(Don’t try to invoke this legislative #Kudatah formula at home, folks, even with an Alberta law — the courts take a dim view.)

I suppose this is what happens when you elect people as premier who used to be associated with groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Jason Kenney) and the Fraser Institute (Danielle Smith).

Instead of policy, you get stunts.

Meaningful? Not very.

Will Ottawa respond? I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t even acknowledge it. Why bother? They can deal with it when someone actually breaks the clean electricity regulations, whatever form they may take, nearly a dozen years down the line when Smith is unlikely to be the premier of Alberta anymore.

Pressed hard by reporter Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press at Monday morning’s oxymoronic “embargoed news conference,” a shouty Smith feigned anger at the feds, but then admitted it’s mostly for show.

Bennett: You don’t actually need the Sovereignty Act for any of this. What it does though is it actually draws more attention to it.

Smith: Sure!

Bennett: But that’s not what the Sovereignty Act was supposed to be about.

Smith: What did you think the Sovereignty Act was supposed to be about? Of course it was!

I’ll tell you one thing. Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf and Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz — both reasonably sensible people who have lent their names to this gong show — have ruined their reputations. I’d be shocked if anyone ever takes either of them seriously again.

They’re both going the way of energy minister and twice-failed UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, who at least has enough money to move to one of his houses in a country where nobody knows his name the minute he decides to re-retire.

It might have been my imagination, but both ministers looked a trifle bilious at the news conference, as if wishing they could think of a way to leave the room in a hurry.

Smith’s UCP Government plans to do some very bad things, like hijacking Albertans’ Canada Pension Plan savings and privatizing great swaths of public health care. But this announcement is more like the chaff you dump out of an airplane to confuse the enemy’s radar.

The only interesting thing yesterday was the proposed new Crown corporation the government has proposed to do its lawbreaking for it — possibly in part because electricity generation corporations have told it to forget about them breaking any federal laws. If it goes ahead, the Crown corporation would take responsibility for some power generation.

University of Calgary economics professor Blake Shaffer wondered on X if “the Alberta government’s plan to get around currently draft regulations that if legislated won’t bind for another 12 years is to destroy private sector investor confidence by pitching a Crown corp to nationalize the sector’s assets?”

Or, as Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan observed, this “sounds completely out of character… unless companies like ATCO actually WANT to be bought out by the government. Do they want to cash out before the global energy transition gets real?”

This makes some sense. The new Crown corporation could subsidize the fossil fuel industry as the rest of the world invests more heavily in renewables, gas supplies grow and prices accordingly plunge. As the Breakdown put it on social media: “Dani will make sure that natural gas has a perpetual market in Alberta at all costs.”

This topic certainly preoccupied the rather feisty reporters who showed up for the news conference, which makes it interesting to listen to if you can stand the premier’s strident gaslighting about the need to keep using gas to keep the lights on.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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