WORLD NEWS Alberta premier moves to invoke government's signature sovereignty act

Alberta premier moves to invoke government’s signature sovereignty act

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‘These measures are not something that we want to do,’ Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said Monday.

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith invoked her signature sovereignty act legislation on Monday in a move that takes aim at Ottawa’s electricity regulations while also laying the groundwork for the creation of a new provincial Crown corporation that would become the province’s power “generator of last resort.”

In the legislature on Monday, government House Leader Joseph Schow gave oral notice of a Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act resolution, though it is expected to be debated by MLAs more fully on Tuesday. The resolution was sponsored by Smith and can be passed by a majority vote of MLAs.

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It takes aim at the federal government’s clean electricity regulations (CER) in the latest development of an ongoing feud over the timing of the regulations, with Ottawa setting a 2035 goal and Alberta insisting that to be impossible, preferring a target of 2050.

“These measures are not something that we want to do. They are a plan to counteract the absurd, illogical, unscientific and unconstitutional interference in Alberta’s electrical grid by a federal government that simply doesn’t care what happens to our province,” Smith said.

“We refuse to meekly accept actions which are so plainly destructive to Alberta’s economy and to the very safety and security of Albertan citizens.”

The resolution asks the legislature for approval to take several actions in the coming months:

  • Asks cabinet to order all provincial entities to refrain from enforcing or complying with the proposed electricity regulations, “to the extent legally permissible”
  • Implement various reforms to Alberta’s electrical system to ensure grid affordability and reliability
  • Study the feasibility of establishing a provincial Crown corporation that, if created, would not recognize the clean electricity regulations
  • Urges the government to use “all legal means necessary” to oppose federal electricity regulations

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Any orders under the act would not apply to private companies or individuals.

When pressed by reporters, Smith conceded the changes she is seeking to implement could be accomplished without using the sovereignty act, but said the legislation serves a symbolic purpose.

“We’re creating an opportunity for the federal government to do the right thing and back down.”

She cited two legal defeats for the federal government as evidence for the need for Ottawa to back down, though federal officials have said the government will adjust its legislation to comply with one of the rulings and has appealed the second judgment.

‘Generator of last resort’

Smith said the potential creation of a new provincial Alberta Crown corporation would give the province better energy security against the federal regulations.

“There’s simply not enough natural gas projects coming on stream in Alberta,” she said.

The new agency would not recognize the clean electricity regulations as constitutionally sound, Smith claimed, and would act as a backstop if the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide the needed level of baseload power throughout the province.

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“If they don’t, then we will step in,” she said.

She denied such an agency would lead to the nationalization of the province’s power grid, citing ATB Financial as an example of a provincial Crown corporation that exists within an otherwise private marketplace.

“I think people would be very surprised that we’re contemplating that,” she said of the prospect of establishing a new agency.

‘No legal basis’

The clean electricity regulations remain in a draft phase and are not expected to be finalized until sometime next year.

They have proven to be a sore spot for relations between the provincial and federal government, who says the regulations will ensure power grids will respond to growing demand while also reducing emissions.

In a news conference in Ottawa later Monday, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault characterized the act as having “no legal basis” and being “bad for Albertans.”

“This seems to be part of a new tradition of the Alberta governments to ideologically position their government on issues of clean electricity,” he said, noting the province’s moratorium on renewable energy approvals announced in August.

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Guilbeault said the working group between the two governments had met several times and that the sovereignty act was not brought up at any of those meetings.

“We will continue moving ahead with this,” he said, adding he is confident Ottawa is “on very solid ground” as shown by agreements with other provinces and private investors.

When asked if the sovereignty act would affect Ottawa’s 2035 timeline for the CER, Guilbeault answered, “no.”

Speaking Monday before the resolution was introduced, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told reporters she viewed the sovereignty act as “an illegal stunt.”

“It undermines investment certainty. It challenges our respect for the rule of law. It breaches treaty rights all over Canada, but especially here in Alberta, and it declares to the world that we just don’t care about tackling climate change.”

mblack@postmedia.com

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