Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. The Alberta government’s “Tell the Feds” advertising campaign is attempting to offset a lack of information from the federal government about its electrification agenda. Photo credit: Facebook/Danielle Smith
If you’ve been listening to the radio in Ontario recently, it would be hard to miss an advertising campaign from the Government of Alberta entitled “Tell the Feds”. The ads catch your attention as they talk about a potential quadrupling of electricity bills, the possibility of brownouts and blackouts in future, freezing in the dark and other perils of having an unreliable electricity supply. As Alberta continues to fight with the federal Liberal government over energy policy which is especially punitive to Alberta – although it will also be problematic for other provinces – this campaign is a relatively new way for a province to push back against harmful federal government actions by bringing the general public onside.
What this campaign is referring to is the so-called “electrification” agenda of the federal government. Few Canadians understand exactly what that means, but the dual goal of the policy is to have everything powered by electricity – cars, trucks, factories, homes, farms, buildings, etc. – and to have that electricity generated by non-fossil fuel sources such as wind, solar, nuclear and biofuels. To accomplish this will require a massive increase in the capacity of our electrical grid to be able to service the growth in demand for electricity. Even the rather modest take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) in Canada to date has often imposed demands that our current infrastructure cannot support. For instance, some neighbourhoods have found that if there is more than two EVs on the street charging at the same time it overloads the system.
The whole electrification thrust is an enormous undertaking, which some have likened to the building of the trans-Canada railway or other such huge mega-projects. Despite the immense scope of this plan, the federal government has not been forthcoming with educating Canadians about what is involved, potential costs and impacts on everything from home heating bills to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy. The federal government has stated that it will mandate a net-zero power grid to be achieved by 2035, which is absurdly ambitious to say the least. Many experts believe it is impossible within that timeframe. Even if it were possible, the estimated costs are in the trillions of dollars.
The Alberta government’s advertising campaign is attempting to offset the lack of information from the federal government by educating Canadians about this policy that will have a major impact on their lives and energy affordability. The campaign is running in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the Alberta government estimates it will cost about $8 million.
There are many controversial elements to the electrification project other than cost and the timing within which the policy is to be accomplished. A key issue is jurisdiction. The Canadian Constitution clearly identifies the electricity system as a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The current federal government has made a number of incursions into areas of provincial jurisdiction to date, and it is expected that there will be serious legal challenges to their attempts to prevail over the national electrical grid.
The Ontario government appears to have bought into the electrification agenda to date, yet also seems to be hedging its bets on several fronts. For instance, although several Ontario agencies are talking about electrification goals, the province has not set a timeline for the phasing out of fossil fuels from the electricity grid and is signing long-term contracts that will involve dependence on natural gas plants. Ontario has also recently reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear energy with the announcement in July 2023 of a new large-scale nuclear plant on Lake Huron and plans to build several small modular nuclear plants. Although nuclear energy is emissions-free, many environmental groups continue to oppose it for other reasons such as expense and the belief it is dangerous.
As other countries in Europe and elsewhere start to back off of their initial ambitious net zero targets as the negative impacts on the economy and energy costs become more evident, the question must be raised as to why Canada continues to pursue goals based more on rigid ideology than facts. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith herself has frequently questioned why the federal government adheres to an unrealistic 2035 date for a net-zero electricity grid when many other countries are targeting 2050 or even later. Smith believes net zero is achievable by 2050, and that the federal government should be flexible in its approach.
The bottom line is that political realities are very likely to intervene in the federal government’s current plans for electrification. The Trudeau government will probably be out of power in the near future, and a Conservative government is much more inclined to pursue a more reasonable and realistic energy policy that will combine sensible measures to reduce climate impacts while giving more consideration to the effects on average Canadians and the competitiveness of the economy. Canadians can hope that will be the case, as the continued pursuit of the Liberal goals will create many more serious problems that will more than offset any minimal positive impacts on the climate, as the Alberta ads illustrate.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines & other media on issues such as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship & women business owners. Ms. Swift is a past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the CD Howe Institute, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, SOS Children’s Villages, past President of the International Small Business Congress and current Director of the Fraser Institute. She was cited in 2003 & 2012 as one of the most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network & is a recipient of the Queen’s Silver & Gold Jubilee medals.