Bully governments never work

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is dead-set on imposing rigid, unrealistic climate objectives on the provinces. Photo credit: Twitter/Steven Guilbeault


If we ever wondered what it would be like to put a narrow-minded idealogue into a position of authority, we need wonder no more. Prior to Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s announcement last Thursday of the federal government’s draft regulations on clean electricity, provincial Premiers in Alberta and Saskatchewan had been warning that the federal government target of having a 100 per cent clean (i.e., no fossil fuels used) electricity grid by 2035 was overly ambitious and virtually impossible to achieve with current technology. 

Alberta’s Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe had both said that instead of Guilbeault imposing a hard deadline, the parties should discuss what compromises could be made to ensure climate targets could be met in a reasonable way without imposing severe hardships on Canadians. 

Yet Guilbeault, ever the uncompromising climate zealot, was having none of it. Instead, he announced that all electricity generating facilities must achieve net zero emissions by 2035 or be shuttered. This despite his knowing full well that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Atlantic provinces remain heavily dependent on generating electricity from various fossil fuel sources. 

Guilbeault also claimed that his new rules will only increase electricity costs to Canadians by a very small percentage. That’s exactly what the Liberals in Ontario said too about their Green Energy Act, which ended up doubling electricity costs to Ontarians and bringing in the concept of “energy poverty” for the first time in the province. Canadians should not be fooled again by these claims of minimal financial impact.

Ontario’s electricity system is currently 93 per cent emissions-free. In Quebec, virtually all electricity produced is renewable, and almost entirely hydroelectric. So, Canadians may ask what’s wrong with Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Atlantic provinces that they can’t get with the program? The answer is geography. Some provinces have the good fortune of having abundant hydro-based electricity generation, with landmarks like Ontario’s Niagara Falls and Quebec’s James Bay. 

Not all provinces have been so fortunate, and therefore have had to depend on fossil fuel generation. Wind and solar have in recent years been implemented, but remain unreliable and expensive, continuing to represent only a small percentage of electricity generation in every province. Wind and solar still need back-up with natural gas – even in Ontario – to ensure system reliability when energy is most needed such as very cold winter days for heating and very hot summer days for air-conditioning. 

Political issues are also a factor, as the federal government obviously does not shrink from infuriating residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan, few of whom vote Liberal. But Atlantic Canadians are also up in arms over the federal Liberals’ climate policies, and they do vote Liberal. Recent polls have shown Liberal fortunes declining dramatically in Eastern Canada. Whether or not that will induce Guilbeault to put some water in his climate wine is yet to be seen. 

There are constitutional issues involved as well, since electricity generation falls under provincial jurisdiction. Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have said if the federal government continues to force their agenda on the provinces they will pursue redress in the courts. The last time this happened on an environmental issue concerned the Liberal government’s carbon tax, which was fought by several provinces. 

Canada’s Supreme Court ultimately decided that the tax was constitutional in March 2021. The Court’s decision was 6-3, however, suggesting that a significant number of the judges did not believe the federal government had the right to impose such a tax. The fact the decision was not unanimous indicates that there are still differences of opinion in the judiciary about the constitutionality of the federal government imposing such measures.   

One potential positive is that the federal government will consult on the draft regulations for 75 days before the new rules are imposed. It is possible that the federal government could change their tune and become more flexible on the implementation of the new regime. It is also possible that Canadians will have the opportunity to turf this Liberal government before they have a chance to impose their draconian and extreme climate regimen on the country. Other countries are not as obsessed with drastic climate measures as is Canada. If we continue to follow this path alone our competitiveness will continue to decline, as will Canadians’ standard of living. 

It must be noted that the Canadian electricity grid is currently about 84 per cent emissions-free. So Guilbeault seems to be contemplating punishing a significant number of Canadians to achieve a marginal emissions improvement in the national electricity grid. That is what rigid ideologues do – pursue some randomly chosen goal or deadline with no consideration for the many downsides of achieving the goal, and with no flexibility as to how that goal could be achieved in different ways if some compromises were made. 

The Trudeau government seems to have forgotten that government is elected to serve citizens, not boss them around to their detriment for idealized objectives that are not even reasonably achievable. 

It appears that Guilbeault wants to be a bully, and his Liberal colleagues are enabling him. But bullies always turn out to be cowards when someone stands up to them. Good for Premiers Smith and Moe for doing so. Every Canadian should be rooting for them. 

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