Western conservatives’ efforts bridging the east-west divide (Part 1)


On autonomy, Premier Danielle Smith reasons that what is good for Quebec should also be good for Alberta. Pictured: Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. Photo Credit: Danielle Smith/X. 

As a progressive ideologue whose government is single-mindedly pursing a globalist’s climate policy agenda, even at the expense of Canada’s resource industries’ competitiveness and the country’s prosperity, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is today recognized as having opened a chasm of frustrations and misunderstandings between the country’s east and west. This Trudeau has alienated western Canadians, remarkably, to a much greater extent than his father did decades ago with his introduction of the notorious National Energy Program. 

In the face of a growing agitation with the Trudeau government, and with a seemingly insensitive mindset in Ottawa, there is a movement of western conservatives (both small “c” and capital “C”) who are intent on addressing the fault lines in our country’s unity that have been deliberately and cynically drawn to divide regions and peoples. Alberta and Saskatchewan have proactive provincial governments that are forcibly questioning the Trudeau Liberals’ constitutional overreach in their exercise of power. There are also oil and gas industry leaders as well as grassroot groups who are presenting the view of a stronger, promising Canada with a stronger western presence. 

For eastern Canadians, perhaps the most recognizable champion of western interests today is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. With her outspoken criticisms of the Trudeau government, much of the Ottawa press corps commentary paints Smith as unnecessarily adversarial. Yet, Smith is more determined than pugnacious with her arguments to overturn the prevailing Laurentian biases found throughout Ottawa, in the national press corps, and at the core of the Trudeau Liberals. 

Smith — the politician — has been described as everything from a libertarian to a populist; in a 2023 Calgary Sun interview she identified herself as a “caring conservative.” She leads a newly re-elected United Conservative Party that won last year with the promise of better defending Albertan autonomy. As Premier she has certainly kept that promise, jumping at every opportunity to defend the oil and gas industry from Ottawa’s underhanded regulatory regime. When Trudeau surmises there is no business case, no future for Canadian natural resources, Smith will insist the world is in need of more Canadian oil and gas, LNG production, and green technology expertise. She advances factual analyses that enhance arguments for Canada’s environmentally responsible energy industries and resources to fuel global needs.   

Trudeau’s and Smith’s difference of opinions is central to a number of high profile policy standoffs between Ottawa and Alberta in the past few years. Here are four such instances where the Trudeau government’s attempted overreach has had divisive results. 

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment – The Trudeau government’s 2019 Impact Assessment Act (IAA) is better known in Alberta as the “no more pipeline act.” The legislation provides the framework for an assessment and approval process for the environmental sustainability of major resource and infrastructure projects. In October 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decisive ruling that the IAA is unconstitutional with respect to federal overreach into provincial jurisdiction.  Alberta heralded the court’s findings, yet Trudeau ministers refused to accept the ruling and maintained they were pressing forward with their assessment process. The ensuing impasse regarding the unconstitutionality of the law has produced a chill on the development of major projects.
  2. Employment Transition Plan – Early in 2023, the Trudeau government introduced “Just Transition” labour legislation to provide encouragement and support for Canada’s 185,000 workers in the fossil-fuel industries to transition to the renewables energy sector, and to service jobs. However, westerners employed in the oil and gas sector quickly opposed the labour retraining measures seeing them as a threat to their well-paying jobs and the continued production of oil in Canada. The Alberta Premier led the critics, stating the federal plan was “ill-conceived and short-sighted.” Smith claimed, “When I hear the words ‘Just Transition’ it signals eliminating jobs, and for Alberta that is a non-starter!”
  3. Net-Zero Electricity Target – Later in 2023, federal and provincial tension rose concerning federal government draft clean electricity regulations that, without due provincial consultations, set a target date of 2035 to get the country’s electricity generators to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Being greatly reliant on natural gas for reliable and affordable electricity supply, Alberta claims the federal targets are unattainable. Just this week, a federal report acknowledged the “daunting” challenge Alberta would face with the 2035 clean electricity targets, and this has Alberta renewing their call for the federal government to abandon its “reckless” net zero electricity policy. 
  4. Oil and gas emissions cap – Alberta is also leading the criticism against the Trudeau government’s plan to introduce an oil and gas emissions cap designed to throttle production. The provincial government recently issued a statement: “Only an out-of-touch federal government would sacrifice Canadian livelihoods knowing its actions will end up increasing global emissions.” This week, Smith was speaking at the Global Energy Show in Calgary where she said that Alberta “is not going to be phasing out oil and gas production. We are working on phasing out emissions.” She would later underscore the point that Alberta’s largest companies have made their own net zero commitments: “When it comes to the issue of emissions reduction, we’ve got this… It’s not necessary for the federal government to create uncertainty by putting in arbitrary timelines that are unachievable.”

In an April exclusive interview with Rick Bell of the Calgary Herald, Smith stated she was not going to tolerate Trudeau and his ministers encroaching on provincial jurisdiction. Smith is insistent that the Trudeau government respects the constitutional divisions of power, “He is the one who punches us in the nose and we just punch back and we’re going to keep on punching back until he recognizes he’s got to treat us in a different way.” 

The conservative leader has proven she is more than just idle threats when it comes to fighting over jurisdictional authority. The Smith government passed the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, developed to protect the province from federal laws and policies that the Alberta legislature deems to be unconstitutional or harmful to Albertans or the province’s economic prosperity. The Act empowers the provincial government to direct “political entities” — including municipalities, school boards, municipal police forces, and regional health authorities — to not enforce “federal rules deemed harmful to Alberta’s interests.”

In the Alberta Legislature, Smith argued the need for rebalancing the provincial-federal relationship: “It’s not like Ottawa is a national government. The way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions. They are one of those signatories to the Constitution and the rest of us, as signatories to the Constitution, have a right to exercise our sovereign powers in our own areas of jurisdiction.”

Lest federalists levy suggestions of some separatist intent, Smith has explained on numerous occasions that the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is about asserting the province’s rights within Canada — a self-governance model of a “Nation within a Nation,” similar to self-governance in La Belle Province. Smith reasons that what is good for Quebec should also be good for Alberta. (In fact, she applied this reasoning yet again this week when additional federal funds were handed to Quebec to cover the cost of services to new immigrants with no mention of funds for other provinces also experiencing mounting service costs from increased immigration.) 

Don Braid of the Calgary Herald assesses Smith’s systematic approach to federal-provincial relations in placing Albertans on a surer footing when it comes to defending their interests within Canada’s confederation. Braid writes of Smith: “She tackles the cases one by one, goes to court, insists her measures are fully constitutional, and in general sounds like the latest in a long line of boiling mad western premiers. But in the background, the UCP is building its sovereign Alberta in a way no government has done before. It’s laying the foundations brick by brick, from the ground up, preparing the province, Quebec-like, for the fullest degree of independence possible.”

Conservative Danielle Smith: a bridge architect who is providing westerners with a way back to a fair and functioning federal-provincial relationship. 

Next week: A grassroots conservative group raising awareness – and hope

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