Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is betting her political future on warring with Ottawa over energy policies, and a working group between her government and the feds is poised to be the theatre for this conflict.

A draft text of the working group’s term of reference obtained by Canada’s National Observer reveals how the battle could shape up. But within days of the rules of engagement being agreed on by the two governments, Smith said she has no intention of finding common ground on promises Ottawa has made.

“Under no scenario will the Government of Alberta permit the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or contemplated oil and gas emissions cap,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Ottawa has no constitutional authority to regulate in these areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

“We would strongly suggest the federal government refrain from testing our government's or Albertans' resolve in this regard.”

Smith’s office did not return requests for comment asking to clarify what steps she might take in light of the suggestion Ottawa “refrain from testing” her.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that combatting greenhouse gas emissions is within the federal government’s purview when Alberta, alongside Saskatchewan and Ontario, fought the carbon tax. Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault previously said he expects Alberta will similarly challenge the oil and gas emissions cap when it is introduced in a potential rematch over jurisdiction to fight planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

“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,” Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer in July.

When the working group was announced earlier this summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as a way to find “common ground” as his government attempts to shepherd a series of energy and emissions reduction policies from promises to legislation. But Smith has been clear her red lines will make common ground difficult to find, and her stated intention with the working group is to force Ottawa closer to Alberta’s position.

The six-page terms of reference draft for the talks says the group, capped at 10 individuals per side at any given time, is expected to work together for eight to 12 months. It notes the working group discussions do not prevent either government from pushing legislation forward during this period.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is betting her political future on warring with Ottawa over energy policies, and a working group between her government and the feds is poised to be the theatre for this conflict. #cdnpoli

Guilbeault said the terms of reference put into writing the federal government’s commitment to “open discussion and exchange of information.”

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks at COP15 in Montreal. Photo via UNFCCC/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

However, he stressed the discussions will not derail the delivery timeline for federal climate goals. “The Government of Canada remains committed to climate and economic action as we pursue a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 and an oil and gas sector emissions cap,” he told Canada’s National Observer in a statement.

Environmental advocates fear the working group’s talks, which could last up to a year, might translate to further delays to forthcoming regulations. The oil and gas emissions cap was first promised in 2021, and draft regulations were previously signalled to be ready by spring 2023 with final regulations ready by the end of the year.

Despite assurances Ottawa remains committed to capping oil and gas sector emissions, a potential delay has Aly Hyder Ali, oil and gas program manager with advocacy organization Environmental Defence “very concerned.” He said Smith is so determined to avoid an emissions cap at the same time the federal government has committed to introducing one that it is difficult to see how the two sides can meaningfully collaborate.

“Right off the bat [with this working group], I'm trying to understand, but I'm failing to do so, how they go from extreme positions to somewhere in the middle where the federal government is still able to keep the promises that it's made,” he said. “Premier Smith has been quoted multiple times in her own statements and elsewhere that she is not going to accept any emissions cap — forget a weak one, forget a strong one — she's not going to accept any oil and gas emissions cap.

“So I'm left scratching my head with what the purpose of this working group is, what it intends to do, and how it helps Canada meet its climate commitments and address these catastrophes that we're seeing.”

He called the oil and gas emissions cap a “make-or-break regulation,” and noted that despite Alberta being the country’s largest fossil fuel producer, the legislation would apply across the country, meaning there’s more to consider than just Alberta’s preferences.

A poll from Abacus Data earlier this year found across the country, a majority of Canadians believe the oil and gas sector should be regulated to reduce emissions. Support was highest in Quebec, a province the Liberals need support in to stay competitive if Trudeau wants another term.

Executive summary of the Abacus Data poll commissioned by Climate Action Network Canada from March 2023.

According to the draft terms of reference, there are six expected outcomes on the table. A “shared information base and agreed actions” for the “eventual decarbonization” of the province’s electricity and oil and gas sectors; an “investment framework” to help attract decarbonization investments initially focused on carbon capture, hydrogen and small modular nuclear reactor technologies; potentially using carbon credit trading for Alberta and Canada to claim emissions reductions in other countries; a “shared understanding” of jurisdiction on emission reduction legislation in the context of an energy transition; and a “framework for resource partnerships” to include Indigenous groups in energy resource projects.

“The terms/scope of this working group — if acceptable to the federal [government] — say a lot about what we can expect from the Trudeau government as a response to the climate emergency,” University of Alberta professor Laurie Adkin told Canada’s National Observer.

“The terms reinforce the policy tools that have failed, to date, to radically reduce emissions, promise further subsidization of the oil and gas sector, put our eggs in the basket of expensive, unproven technologies, treat decarbonization as a purely technological problem, and ‘industry’ as the only relevant stakeholder, and reproduce the status quo relationship with Indigenous nations in which they are excluded from the tables where policy decisions are made.”

Throughout this year, Smith has ramped up attacks on the federal government. Earlier this week, she used an alert urging Albertans to reduce their electricity as justification to invest further in natural gas power generation, even though a major contributor to the energy shortfall was a powerline under maintenance.

Speaking to a friendly audience of fellow conservatives in March, she called federal climate policy an “existential threat” to Alberta. She has also repeatedly attacked the federal government for proposing a just transition plan that she says signals the end of Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

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“…and a working group between her government and the feds is poised to be the theatre for this conflict.”

When I read this phrase, the image that mischievously came to mind was of the Kokoro Dance troupe’s annual naked presentation at Wreck Beach**. What could be more appropriate than various emperor wannabees (various gov’t leaders, perhaps a few of their extractive patrons/ handlers; maybe even a smattering of youthful, yet of legal age and consenting, well-meaning and optimistic climate defenders to maintain interest – prurient, if nothing else) writhing and posing naked in the sand towards some mysterious endgame?

Well, the thought made me chuckle.

I have many more thoughts as to the likelihood of this piece of theatre actually accomplishing anything – both the federal and Alberta gov’ts appear to live in cloud cuckoo land where oil and gas extraction continues unabated: one couldn’t care less of emissions and believes in manifest destiny, while the other believes in faeries -- but I will limit further comment to the belief that the federal gov’t must simply address their primary, ongoing messaging to thinking Albertans and not follow Trudeau-fils’ belief that he can be all things to all people. It doesn’t help that T-f bought us a pipeline -- imagine what those $30B could have bought us (maybe a working LRT in Ottawa? One swoons at the thought.) -- and believes that carbon capture and, one presumes, direct air capture will somehow save the day (and resolve every other ecological ill of the fossil extraction and consumption industries?).


I consider Smith and other like minded leaders around the world to be an existential threat to life on Earth!

That sounds right. The are sounding more and more like the repugs in the U.S. and Chomsky has said, '...the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization “in human history,” especially in their refusal to fight climate change or even denying that the global phenomenon is real.' (

Chomsky is such an intelligent, astute commentator on democracy in practice and the abuse of it by the entitled and privileged and he is bang on with his observation of this excuse of a political party wearing the clothing of republicans but representing and defending an autocrat and dictator wanna-be.

Plan B: The feds arm themselves with well thought out pre-prepared legal responses to all conceivable legal challenges thrown at them, and go it alone, preferably quietly and confidently and armed with intelligent rebuttal in the face of Alberta' increasing incidence of paranoid drama.

Going it alone will allow the feds to start distancing itself from supporting a sunset industry with subsidies and align themselves more with Canadians whose concerns about climate change are growing. It may even win the Libs another election.

Couple of things, Alex.

First, the carbon-captured prairie gov'ts, and there carbon handlers, appear ready to actually start down the myopic trail of (ever more) harmful (perceived) self-interest; nation destruction, rather than nation building, seems not off the table. One can look in various parts of the "civilized" world for examples of current leaders prepared to destroy the nations they lead, or have recently led, to save their sorry asses from the democratic institutions of governance (e.g. elections and legal systems). Consequently, I believe the feds must continue speaking directly to the Albertans who have not been assimilated into the carbon Borg and, in that sense, remain in partnership.

Second -- which makes my last sentence above troublesome, the feds have not, in my opinion, expressed policy interest in forcing a sunset of oil and gas. Such interest would show itself, initially, by way of making the industry pay its own way. If the industry wants a pipeline, they pay for it. If they want to travel the (still not working) CCUS path to salvation, let them pay for it. The carrot is the policy of assistance in transitioning those provincial economies now dependent on fossils (AB, SK, NL. BC isn't dependent on fracking; it's just getting going. In a climate crisis!)

@Ken Panton

The feds have big regulatory teeth on bad things that cross boundaries, like emissions, and the SCC has already ruled in their favour on the carbon tax challenges by recalcitrant provinces unsucessfuly citing the Constitution. They also ruled in their favour ironically on building TMX in two provincial jurisdictions, which may help -- again with great irony -- get a federal clean energy corridor built across several adjoining provinces (both amenable and opposed).

The law is solidly on the feds' side.

I grew up in Alberta and know it well. In my view it's time to call bullshit and challenge Alberta hubris and threats to the feds that have been a tradition since the 60s. This doesn't have to be in-your-face rage (Alberta's longstanding modus operandi). It could be calmly moving forward on regulating emissions everywhere equally and meeting every legal challenge head on with confidence.

If Smith is so radically bent as to spout cinuous separation rhetoric over being regulated, then challenge her to live up to her words and hold a separation referendum instead of continuing to cower from the bully. In my opinion she will back away from giving her power away through a decision on confederation made by the people, not by the UCP cabinet.


Still waiting for that edit button on this site.

I don't disagree with your points, Alex. I'm aware of the generalities, though not the detail, of the SCC decision re the federal mandated carbon tax. I'm not speaking of legalities so much as hearts and minds (I truly dislike that phrase) and the value of consistent messaging and action.

I'm all for calling bullshit on the Alberta premier and the provincial gov't (and their fossil patrons) and engaging in a little righteous brinkmanship (some Churchillian scowling, perhaps). (Aside: Alberta is not alone in requiring some scowls, in my opinion). I think, however, that it must be done in a way that somehow acknowledges the role the federal govt has had as an enabler/ appeaser of that attitude (buying the pipeline; paying ridiculous amounts of public money to expand it; doubling down with continuing/ increasing public subsidy to the industry). One complicating factor is that the "Alberta Attitude" (as opposed to the "Advantage") is longstanding and didn't arrive with Ms. Smith.

A major concern I have is that Mr. Trudeau is that due to his largesse to fossils (which appeasement appears not to have calmed the critics) he is missing the opportunity to cultivate the support of the many Albertans (I have no idea of polling percentages) who favour taking action to resolve the climate crisis.

Summary: I'm all for a federal government that takes seriously the job of governance of the country, and its ostensible values, rather than acting as an appeaser of petty, parochial, provincial pooh bahs.

Too harsh? :)

The other major factor missed over Alberta vs. Feds angst (Alberta is clearly the one fanning the flames...) is the fact that Alberta has no control over the economic and environmental policies of its export markets.

The evidence is quickly mounting that global investments in renewables is now at par with fossil fuels and will surpass it soon. That is concurrent with policy in the US, in China and in the EU that now indicates the demand destruction for fossil fuels is at the beginning of a steep S curve in growth.

Alberta will likely be nailed from two directions, regulation at home and shrinking markets abroad. What does Alberta do about it? Try to kill the best energy and economic alternative it has and in doing so shrink its undiversified financial foundation.

In other words, kneejerk responses to modern challenges instead of sound research and planning for the well being of all Albertans.

Agreed, which is why I think the feds need to, ultimately, be obviously ready to assist Albertans (at the point in time they are ready to be assisted) while setting national and international policy. Something about leading a horse to water....

The federal government can't just jump in and take control of provincial decision-making, which I'm sure you know.

This is still not the appropriate response to a climate emergency.

The key thing in this article is the confirmation that the majority of Canadians want something done on climate, and yesterday. It's that 60/40 split that keeps coming up with progressives being the majority.
The squeaky wheel in that 40% is of course the increasingly stupid UCP who somehow squeaked out a victory in Alberta, and who take pride in being thoroughly intractable, so a "working group" with them will indeed be theatre.
In a tweet that Max linked, leader of the TBA cult, David Parker accuses progressives of "virtue-signalling" when it comes to climate change, reducing all that top-drawer science to mere affectation, as with the vaccines, but again, they were accepted by the majority of Canadians.
Another premise of the absurd TBA is separation from the rest of Canada, which is not wanted by the majority of Albertans.
So since democracy is guided by the rule of law and the will of the majority, it's past time for the federal government to pull rank and relegate the more "provincial" provinces forcefully enough to make an example.

I have said this from day one, Danielle Smith is batshit crazy from the get go and only works for the oil & gas industry and doesn't give two hoots about Albertans or climate change. Just look at her background with oil & gas and it says it all.

When push comes to shove, Danielle will always ignore Albertans and cater to whatever the oil & gas industry wants, regardless how destructive or costly it is.

Danielle can battle Ottawa all she wants; she will continue to lose the fight over climate change. As more and more people are burned out, flooded out. experience drought, destructive weather or loss of life, Danielle won't have a leg to stand on in the end.

It would be fine to live long enough to say, "I told you so" to Smith once she sees what she has wrought. Unfortunately, there will be a great deal of human suffering before she sees the light.
We need to remove her from the Premier's chair at our earliest opportunity. Unfortunately, we have no way of recalling her, so we have to suffer through almost four more years of juvenile intransigence before we get a chance unelect her.

Where's that Reform "recall" legislation when you need it?
But seriously, knowing that separatism, theocracy and privatization of health care and education are on the agenda along with a bunch of other outrageous, unwanted crap, does anyone have ideas for the unprecedented, which is how to force such incompetent, dangerous clowns out of office?

She will never see "the light" though; anyone who still identifies as a conservative at this point automatically admits to huge areas of incapability.

Don't test me, says Danielle Smith. Well, understandable. She certainly does not look to me as if she could pass a test.

I agree. All the more reason to test her, or more accurately test the calcified hubris too many Albertans have bought into that has anti- everything written on its face.

Appeasing Alberta federally with O&G subsidies and buying a golden pipeline project under the contradiction of a climate aware PM has to stop.

The elder Trudeau never caved to Quebec separatists, who were a far greater threat to confederation than anything Alberta country folk could ever muster beyond vague, foggy concepts elucidated in loud, annoying voices.

Trudeau and the feds need to stand straighter.

Danielle, You don't understand. You coulda had class. You coulda been a contender. You coulda been somebody, instead of a b u m, which is what you are, let's face it. It was you, Danielle. Hey, I hear this is your philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you. Sorry Marlon.

I think it was Tris who spoke of someone "accusing progressives of 'virtue-signalling' when it comes to climate change." I guess that means Smith and the UCP are vice-signalling. It *is* true that Cons and Repubs and far-righters are quite honest about their nefarious goals and intentions. Libs and Dems and other leftwing progressives talk a good talk, we then we just keep doing the nefarious things we say we don't want to do.

Hmmm, somewhere I read that Smith is insisting Alberta doesn't need a Just Transition because they're not going to transition at all. To me, there seems to be a simple solution to all this. Just build a big glass dome over Alberta — with an airlock door in and no door out. It will be the latest in carbon capture and storage technology. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. (Wait, that didn't sound very nice. But then, nor did the oil crisis era Alberta bumpersticker, Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.)


Well, Smith may say she won't allow Alberta to make a transition away from carbon, but that really isn't her call. Alberta will transition when its lifeblood income withers in its export markets. In other words, Smith is economically illiterate enough to not realize that the world economy is far more powerful than her ideology, as repeatedly outlined in IEA reports that she refuses to read, and that provide reams of data on the phenomenal growth in investment in renewables.

That should have been evident when Alberta took a nosedive with the world price of oil in 2014. Funny how the braggadocio ceased for a while then, and was quickly replaced with a double double in hypocrisy: begging Ottawa for more cash for the oil industry while simultaneously blaming Trudeau for everything, including an "unfair" Equalization Program that was last revised under Jason Kenney when he was a paid member of the Laurentian Elite in Harper's government.

It's a bit confusing, isn't it?