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Alberta Invokes Sovereignty Act Over Federal Clean Electricity Regulations

Alberta’s United Conservative government has invoked its controversial Sovereignty Act for the first time by introducing a resolution to push back against the federal government’s proposed Clean Electricity Regulations. 

The resolution, tabled in the Alberta legislature Monday, instructs governments and provincial entities such as the Alberta Electric System Operator and the Alberta Utilities Commission to ignore the regulations when they come into force “to the extent legally permissable.”

The resolution also raises the possibility of Alberta setting up a Crown corporation to protect the private sector companies that provide electricity in the province. If passed, the resolution would direct AESO, AUC and the Market Surveillance Administrator to consult with stakeholders on the feasibility of such a corporation. 

The Clean Electricity Regulations, currently in draft form, lay out the rules for getting Canada’s electricity grid to net zero emissions by 2035.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the deadline is impossible for the province to meet without risking blackouts and high costs for consumers.

The government says investors are afraid of proposing new power generation projects in light of the CER. The Crown corporation could commission new natural gas-fired plants, make deals for small-scale nuclear reactors or buy existing gas-fired plants.

At a news conference Monday, Smith said a provincial Crown corporation would encourage private sector companies to keep investing, but it would be a generator of last resort. 

“I cannot give direction to a private sector company to defy the law,” she said. 

“But if we operate a Crown corporation, we will do it on the basis that we’re only stepping in so that we can make sure that we preserve power.”

Smith said a resolution passed by the legislature would help the province if the matter goes to court. But she also hopes it compels the federal government to avoid a legal battle by abandoning the 2035 net zero goal. 

“Why don’t we just work together on a 2050 target?” she asked.  

“I’m hoping that they now understand that we’re serious, that we are going to preserve the integrity of our power grid in whatever way we need to, so that we can get back to the table and talk about the ways in which we can agree.”

Smith publicly proposed the Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act when she was running for the leadership of the UCP in summer 2022. 

Under the law, the legislature can pass motions that outline why and how the province will not enforce federal legislation deemed not to be in Alberta’s interests. 

The idea appealed to UCP members who believed Smith’s predecessor, Jason Kenney, wasn’t tough when dealing with the federal government. Smith won the leadership in October 2022. The act was tabled and passed in the legislature in her first sitting as premier. 

The resolution introduced Monday will likely pass since Smith’s United Conservative Party holds the majority of seats in the Alberta legislature. 

Feds say they’re on solid ground

Steven Guilbeault, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the potential use of the Sovereignty Act never came up in months of meetings between federal and provincial officials as part of a working group on the CER and the oil and gas emissions cap.

He said the federal government will continue meeting with stakeholders on the draft regulations. 

“There is no legal basis for what Alberta is doing ,” Guilbeault told reporters on Parliament Hill.

“We feel that we’re on very solid ground and the fact that we already have some provinces who are on board with us, as well as a number of private companies and investors who say that this is the way to the future. We will continue working on this.”

Rachel Notley, leader of the Official Opposition NDP, said her caucus will oppose the resolution. 

“The so-called Sovereignty Act is an illegal stunt. Unfortunately, it is a stunt with real world consequences,” Notley said. 

“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.”

Legal experts said different aspects of the resolution jumped out at them. 

Gerard Kennedy, an assistant professor of law at the University of Alberta, said Smith’s resolution is premature since the regulations aren’t in force yet. 

“It’s a symbolic step,” he said. “I think this is neither necessary nor sufficient to fight the federal regulations which we haven’t even seen yet.” 

Andrew Leach, a professor of economics and law at the University of Alberta, said the section that directs the provincial entities, like AESO, to consider the federal regulations invalid will be a problem. 

“They’re not planning our electricity system around meeting those more aggressive climate targets, which then in turn, makes them less easy to meet if we don’t have the electricity system infrastructure planned accordingly,” he said. 

Source : CBC