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Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault is facing virtually unprecedented opposition from almost every corner of the country as he works to implement a suite of clean energy policies.

His fiercest opponent is Danielle Smith, premier of the country’s top fossil fuel-producing province, who is openly instructing her ministers to go to war against federal energy policies aimed at curbing emissions.

In particular, she wants to weaken or outright shut down a proposed cap on oil and gas sector emissions and clean electricity rules and is mustering the help needed to make the federal government back down.

The first bullet point in Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean’s marching orders is to defend “Alberta’s energy interests against federal overreach and [develop] strategic alliances with other provinces to deal with energy-related issues.”

Following a three-day conference of Canadian premiers earlier this week, Smith said: "The problem with the federal approach is it's all stick and no carrot.”

On a phone call from Belgium, where he is representing Canada at a climate summit, Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer he “respectfully disagrees” with Smith. Guilbeault pointed to roughly $200 billion worth of investments in clean technologies, electrification, transit and more his government has passed since 2015, including approximately $80 billion in Budget 2023.

“I don’t know how [many] carrots she wants before she starts counting them,” he said.

A working group involving Alberta and the federal government was announced last week to study the technical feasibility of capping oil and gas sector emissions and ratcheting them down by 2030. Environmental advocates are concerned it could delay the regulations coming into force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on the emissions cap, and breathing life into it remains a priority for Guilbeault, according to the minister and his mandate letter. At the same time, Smith has repeatedly called the emissions cap’s goal of curbing oil and gas sector emissions 42 per cent by 2030 unrealistic, arguing it is “essentially a production cap.”

Steven Guilbeault confirms oil and gas sector emissions cap draft rules by end of year as conflict with premiers over clean energy policies reaches new levels.

Aly Hyder Ali, oil and gas program manager with advocacy organization Environmental Defence, says draft regulations for the emissions cap were promised by spring or summer of this year, making any delay worrying.

“There is a concern that [the working group] could be used to delay and weaken the regulation … before it gets to draft form,” he said. “We've seen and heard Alberta's position on the emissions cap.

“We don't have the time to delay and casually put something out when day after day, we're hearing and experiencing more of these [climate] impacts,” he said, pointing to recent research linking nearly 40 per cent of North America’s wildfires between 1986 and 2021 to emissions from the fossil fuel and cement industries.

Guilbeault insists the working group will not delay the emissions cap.

“Our intentions are unwavering,” he said. “We will be putting out an oil and gas cap, and we will be doing it this year.” Whether it's draft legislation or draft regulation, “Canadians and Canadian industry will have a fairly good idea of what we're trying to do this year,” he said, even if the cap itself doesn’t go into effect until later.

But Guilbeault added that because the Constitution gives provincial governments jurisdiction over natural resources, the federal government is being careful to design the emissions cap regulations in a way that “is clearly aimed at emissions and not production.” Failing to do so could make it vulnerable to a court challenge from the provinces. In a 2021 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada found Ottawa’s price on pollution was constitutional — a decision that solidified the federal government's jurisdiction over tackling emissions.

That case was brought to the Supreme Court through a series of legal challenges led by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

The proposed emissions cap, which Guilbeault said was needed to reach 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets, “will likely get challenged.”

“We need to make sure we have all our ducks in a row to ensure we're on solid legal ground because it will get challenged,” he said.

Pressure mounting

At the premiers conference this week in Winnipeg, Smith wasn’t the only leader to put Ottawa’s environmental and clean energy policies in its crosshairs.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said ratepayers in his province could be on the hook for $8 billion worth of stranded assets if his province has to meet federal clean electricity regulations that require a clean power grid by 2035. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, a former Irving Oil executive, took aim at clean fuel regulations, accusing the federal government of increasing the costs people pay at the pump, even though it was a provincial regulation that allowed a refinery like Irving Oil to pass costs directly onto consumers before incurring any costs itself.

In Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston has his hands out looking for more federal investment in the Atlantic Loop to help reach clean electricity goals, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called Guilbeault “a real piece of work” for criticizing the province’s climate plans. The two have also gotten into dustups over Ford’s plan to pave through the Greenbelt.

“I must confess that I'm a bit disappointed by the position taken by the premiers that we should do less to fight climate change in a time where we're seeing floodings, record forest fires and heat waves,” Guilbeault said. “I'm forced to ask myself … what will it take for them to get on board with the fight against climate change?

“I'm not saying they're all climate deniers,” he said. “But most of the time when we listen to some of them talk about these things it's to say there's too much being done to fight climate change, and I profoundly disagree with that.”

University of Victoria associate professor James Rowe says it shouldn’t come as a surprise that provinces with major fossil fuel interests — whether they are producers of oil and gas, home to major refineries or have companies like Enbridge with a virtual monopoly on the grid — are teaming up to fight climate policy.

There are “very powerful corporate interests in each of these jurisdictions where you're seeing stiff resistance,” he said.

Rowe added there’s a “petro nationalism that still predominates Canada,” where oil and gas companies have been able to make their interests appear to many to be the same as provincial interests. Those fossil fuel companies understand their self-interest involves extracting and selling fossil fuels and is thereby at risk due to clean energy policies, he said.

“Totally dispiriting and planet-destroying, but utterly rational that they'd be fighting tooth and nail to defend their ability to maximize profit,” he said.

“The fact (provinces) would be fighting, and [organizing] together to resist what's coming down from Ottawa … those dynamics make perfect sense to me,” he said. “It's unfortunate that significant resistance to climate action remains part of the conservative brand both in Canada and also down south, given all the cultural exchange that happens between conservative movements in North America.

“So it's dispiriting but utterly predictable.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Given the number of provinces with conservative governments who continue to wear blinders over climate change, if not zero climate & environmental policies, the battle will be tough. Ottawa needs to move forward and hold its ground, the future depends on it.

Couple of things.

1. Studies show that people appreciate policy fairness (not equality, necessarily).
2. Most people believe in the need to tackle the climate crisis, but -- see #1 -- in a fair way.
3. The feds are unnecessarily setting themselves up as the sole whipping boy.
4. So, distribute the targets, currently stacked on Minister Guilbeault's back, and provoke some in-fighting, and realizations, amongst the provincial gov'ts and their patrons.
5. Do this by:
i) setting an economy-wide cap, decreasing annually.
ii) allocating a total percentage to private citizens, in equal shares (i.e.fairness), those shares to be consumed when making purchases (gasoline, home heating fuels, utilities, embedded carbon in goods, etc), and tradeable, in a simple fashion, on a gov't market. An individual can buy more carbon credits, once their allocation has been consumed, but it will cost $$, if not $$$$$.
iii) discuss, for a limited time, with business how they want their total share to be allocated. Let businesses, largely (but certainly not solely) choose how to allocate emissions.
6. Will this create some uncertainty? Probably. And because people don't like uncertainty, they will seek to reduce it by reducing their carbon liability. Or taking their marbles elsewhere, in a huff. B'bye!
7. Are there details to work out? Of course! But the nickname assigned to our vessel (i.e. Titanic, or something else) will be determined by the direction given to the wheelhouse.

I've yet to see a viable alternative, but I'm open to suggestions.

So you want . . . cap-and-trade, on an individual level? I dunno. It's not like cap-and-trade has worked at all well at a corporate level.

It seems to me more to the point is direct government action--build the solar and wind farms, upgrade the buildings, do the building standards, make the transit, put freight by rail back in charge and electrify it--buy Canadian Pacific if that's what it takes to get things done right. Way back in 2011, Jack Layton advanced a plan where the government would come to your home and say "OK, we're going to replace your fossil-fuel-using stuff with not-fossil-fuel-using stuff and improve your home's efficiency, finance it at low interest rates such that you pay net zero until it's paid off and save money on your reduced energy bills from there on in. Sign here if that's OK with you."
If that had been put into practice half of us would have heat pumps by now.

That and regulation. We're getting electric cars for two reasons. Number one is regulation--governments have been putting writing on the wall in huge letters saying to the car companies "Thou shalt make electric or die; X% by year Y, baby". Number two is they're afraid of Elon Musk eating their lunch if they don't make any, but regulation is the bigger motivator.

Agreed. The federal government has never been more necessary, nor more powerful.
Too bad for the shrill anti-government conservatives....

I agree, absolutely, with a broad, organized gov't program to upgrade homes to reduce energy demand. I also support immediate and serious upgrades to building codes. This is low-hanging fruit that is being picked on a rather small scale, presently.

You can find various sources that speak to personal carbon allocation, such as:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/personal-carbon-allowan...

The idea is pretty simple. Some specifics to be hashed out. But, everyone knows that personal carbon emissions must be reduced, so let's reduce them. Personal allocations will make people think more about how much gasoline they buy, and how much their car burns; how big a house they need; how much energy they use; where they choose to live; how often they fly; etc. Carbon accounts could be readily linked to payment accounts, such as credit/debit cards. The thrifty among us can sell a surplus; the spendthrifts will need to buy more. Further, additional progressive taxation on energy bills could be implemented, regardless of how the electricity is sourced. If you like to turn every light on inside and outside your house, it should cost increasingly more per kWh over a certain "reasonable", comfortable threshold of basic usage. It's all called demand-side management, which you don't hear politicians talking much about; it's always "we must increase the supply".

We face a crisis, but we're not yet really acting like it.

"Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said ratepayers in his province could be on the hook for $8 billion worth of stranded assets if his province has to meet federal clean electricity regulations that require a clean power grid by 2035."
Dude, that's going to happen anyway. Those assets are already stranded, you just haven't noticed it yet.

Of course, Moe could go after the companies involved and force them to clean up their act as part of the agreement they have. But of course, being in bed with these companies means he will push them to the tax payers anyways.

"Those assets are already stranded, you just haven't noticed it yet."

And furthermore, various people have been trying to tell you (Moe) this for quite some years now, and you haven't been paying attention... perhaps because they have not been paying for your attention.

I'm banking on Guilbeault and on "dispiriting" and "planet destroying" piling on to finally move the needle after this summer.
The newly energized conservative premiers feel enough solidarity to make demands on the federal government but collectively they sound as petty, entitled, and out of step as old white man Blaine Higgs' notions of the LGBTQ evolution. He crushed those young student's hopes as casually and with as much smug certainty as conservatives generally do, blindly rest assured that taking climate change seriously can still wait on their singularly provincial priorities, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Never mind that our fundamental hope is being crushed at an unprecedented level in unprecedented ways; talk about a boot in the face of humanity.
The pandemic scare still lingers among us and with this summer's growing list of climate horrors has driven home the undeniable fact that ours are "eggshell" lives.

You've forgotten that Guilbeault is also working against almost the entire Liberal Party. If the Liberals and NDP were at all serious about climate action, we would already have the oil and gas cap and also a youth climate corps, windfall profits tax, extreme wealth tax, a climate jobs guarantee, a climate emergency agency to inform the public about the climate emergency, no TMX pipeline, no Bay du Nord approval, and so on. Electoral reform too. It's not just a bunch of Conservative premiers slowing things down.