Premier, sovereignty bill are barriers to progress on emerging energy: Alberta NDP

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley Source: Flickr/Dave Cournoyer

Alberta’s Opposition NDP leader wants to see more details of Ottawa’s proposed plan for green energy jobs, but says Premier Danielle Smith's knee-jerk criticism and her sovereignty act don't help anyone.

Rachel Notley said she wants to see a plan with practical, achievable greenhouse gas emissions targets while supporting jobs in the oil and gas sector that would position the province to support and benefit from emerging green technologies.

“We can create within oil and gas more industrial jobs across this province by investing in the tech necessary to reduce emissions,'' Notley said at a news conference Wednesday.

“That's the model I'm focused on, (but) I'm afraid that with all this rhetorical debate, because we're in the political red zone and the connection to rational facts is becoming increasingly tenuous, that what we are doing in effect is delaying the necessary work that has to happen to bring all the parties to the table.''

Notley's ``red zone'' refers to the provincial general election on May 29, with polls suggesting a close fight between the NDP and Smith's United Conservative Party.

Notley said Smith needs to craft a strategy that will benefit Alberta in the long run rather than refusing to participate while lobbing attacks at the federal government.

Notley also said the sovereignty act, which promises to allow Alberta to ignore federal laws, raises questions about the province's legal stability that would have a chilling effect on business.

“We're looking at billions and billions of dollars of investment that are necessary (for carbon capture and other green technologies), and it is hard to attract that investment when you've got the sovereignty act hanging above us like the sword of Damocles,'' she said.

Last week, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Ottawa will move ahead this spring with legislation to provide the framework for its green energy jobs plan.

A “just transition,'' as it is called, was part of the 2015 Paris agreement Canada signed that involves preparing the workforce to fully participate in the low-carbon economy while minimizing the effects of labour market transitions.

The federal government said it will be training and providing an incentive blueprint for workers to make the transition.

Smith, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said she, too, would work on a plan with practical solutions and achievable greenhouse gas targets. She added, however, that she fears the plan is a Trojan Horse aimed at making Alberta's oil and gas industry extinct.

Smith has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government of making it harder for the province to develop its natural resource industry, calling such actions a violation of provincial constitutional rights.

To that end, her government passed a sovereignty act late last year to push back on such perceived encroachments. The law grants Alberta the power to direct its agencies to flout federal laws and initiatives deemed inimical to provincial interests. At the time the bill was introduced, Smith had cabinet ministers drawing up action items to employ the new legislation.

However, amid concerns about the bill's legality and what it means for the rule of law, Smith has stepped back from actively employing it.

On Tuesday, she wouldn't commit to using it against the just transition plan, adding: “We haven't made a decision to invoke the sovereignty act on anything.''

Trudeau's Liberals promised during the 2019 election campaign to proceed with such green jobs legislation. It is also a condition of the deal signed last year with the NDP to keep Trudeau's minority government in power until 2025.

In the meantime, the federal government have held regional roundtables to discuss the blueprint, but Alberta and Saskatchewan have not participated.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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