Imagine being told that, despite your happiness in your current home, you need to move into a new type of house, full of untried, unsustainable technology. That’s the Just Transition.
Whatever you call it, the federal government’s plan to hollow out Alberta’s energy industry by paying for roughnecks to transition to social-media influencers is a hand grenade lobbed into the run-up to two key elections.
The Just Transition feeds perfectly into the rationale for Alberta premier Danielle Smith’s sovereignty legislation: the suspicion that, unless Trudeau is restrained, he will turn the province’s economy – energy production represents 27.3 per cent of Alberta’s economy – into a novelty shop at the Calgary Stampede midway.
It also presents Smith with a legitimate wedge issue to hammer NDP leader – and former premier – Rachel Notley as they head to a spring showdown. With her federal NDP cousins in connubial bliss in Ottawa with Trudeau, Notley must now abandon a habit of limp defence of fossil fuels or risk being viewed as weak on the home front as May’s provincial election arrives.
Smith, too, might be vulnerable if her resistance to Justin’s easy federal money for citizens is seen as principled to a fault. Sure, the money started life in the oil patch before being re-routed by the federal equalization purse. But to wobbly undecideds in Calgary and Edmonton saying no to helping a transition from fossil fuels to “TBA technologies” could be interpreted as churlish.
For Trudeau, who this past week snubbed Scott Moe, the premier of another fossil-fuel province, the Just Transfer represents a no-lose gamble for a politician who needs every advantage he can wrangle. He’s going to go 0-for Alberta/Saskatchewan/eastern BC when he gets around to dropping the writ, likely this fall.
So, he sees no downside to using Alberta as a whipping post for his devotedly woke base in Central Canada. Making Alberta the evil anchor holding back the sailing of the good ship Green Economy will find willing ears in the urban progressive sinks of the 613, 416 and 613. (At worst, he loses the election, falls into the loving embrace of the World Economic Forum crowd, and surfs off to Tofino.)
Yes, the Just Transition was a stink bomb to drop – especially when delivered by three federal ministers with zero connection to the West. In most respects, you couldn’t have made it more disrespectful to the industry that has kept the lights on in Canada’s economy this century.
So, you can understand that Notley is less than impressed with the unwanted plan that scuppers her soft-power agenda in Alberta. This is her last, best chance to regain the premier’s seat. If she can’t ride these favourable winds – polling shows her leading Smith by a comfortable majority – she’ll be considered like Ontario’s Andrea Howarth, an NDP politician past her best-before date.
You could tell just how vexing the dilemma was by the fact that Notley took 15 days to respond to Trudeau’s provocation. She had to find the right line – in the right time – to make room for herself between the PM and the premier. Room the Alberta voters – particularly the women’s vote in Calgary – are comfortable voting for.
While saying unconditionally that Ottawa must scrap the Just Transfer and the 42 per cent cut in emissions from 2019 levels by 2030, Notley tried to blame Smith’s Sovereignty Act for stirring up the population. “We are in what I would describe as a crisis right now, in that we have a federal government about to move forward on legislation that has wide-ranging consequences, particularly to the people of Alberta,” Notley said.
“And we are in that crisis position because of the incompetence and chaos and conflict that is constantly being generated by the UCP government … The federal government by no means gets away with no blame, but neither does the provincial government.”
Notley added that making the plan public just three months before the provincial election ramps up is unacceptable. On that, she and Smith are in agreement. Where the PM has never met a tax he didn’t like to increase, Albertans would like to discuss just how and why they are going to be tapped. For instance, their oil industry – struggling to compete with its American neighbours – would like to see incentives used to increase carbon sequestration, among other things. Prefacing the industry’s transition from fossil fuels to unsustainable wind and solar is not the way to respond to those pressing issues.
Reg Manhas, a Canadian now working in Texas, told The National Post that Trudeau’s government-led plans are leaving Canada far behind. “Yes, there are corporate imperatives to reduce carbon, to get to net zero, globally, but where the action is and the deals are being struck is the U.S.”
He sees Smith’s controversial sovereignty act as a cry for equality within Canada, something he doesn’t face now he’s in Texas. “The sovereignty issue in Alberta has always been bubbling under the surface, and has to do with perceptions of fairness within Confederation … Texas prides itself on individualism, on being an independent and strong state within the country, but there isn’t the same sense of unfairness …. .”
Both Notley and Smith agree that, once again, Ottawa is being capricious with Alberta. It might end up being the only thing they agree upon for a long while.
Bruce Dowbiggin is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book by bookauthority.org. His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best.