Edmonton

Opinion | Ottawa has climate-change questions, does Kenney have answers?

Alberta premier-elect Jason Kenney insists he is taking climate change seriously but his party's election platform suggests otherwise.

A UCP government in Alberta will have to address climate change

A climate-change showdown is likely coming between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta's Jason Kenney. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press, CBC)

Say hello again to climate change.

Oh, it might not have been discussed much during the Alberta election campaign but that doesn't mean it went away.

Just because Albertans voted for a political party that has promised to shred the NDP government's climate leadership plan, scrap the provincial carbon tax, and lift the emissions cap on the oilsands, doesn't mean we get to ignore climate change.

It's still with us as a real-world problem. The global climate is still unhappily warming bit by bit thanks to human emissions of greenhouse gases.

And it's still with us as a political issue. Just wait for the federal election campaign to heat up, so to speak. And just wait for political allies in the fight against a federal carbon tax to begin disagreeing, maybe even squabbling, over which provinces should bear the brunt of Canada's commitment to the Paris Accord to reduce our emissions.

'It's getting personal'

And just wait for Ottawa to start playing hardball with a Jason Kenney-led provincial government that has promised to fight against a federal carbon tax and help federal Conservatives defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For the federal Liberals, it's getting personal.

We're already seeing the federal government begin what looks suspiciously like a passive-aggressive campaign against Alberta's UCP government before it's even sworn in.

First we had Trudeau tell Kenney in a diplomatic post-election congratulatory phone call that any federal decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion had been delayed until June.

Then we had federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi — the only cabinet minister from Alberta — tell Postmedia in an interview early this week that Kenney's plan to lift the cap on the oilsands might mean Ottawa will clamp down on oilsands emissions via federal regulations.

And then Sohi followed up by telling reporters Thursday that maybe Ottawa won't make a final decision on Trans Mountain in June after all.

"No, I cannot commit to that because it's not my decision," said Sohi. "It's the decision of the cabinet."

Headed to divorce court

Kenney might very well get a honeymoon period with Alberta voters but he seems already headed to divorce court with the federal government.

And then there's potential trouble brewing in Kenney's bromance with Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

They're allies in the fight against a federally imposed carbon tax but they might yet butt heads over which province should do more to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips made a point this week of referring to a new report indicating his province has reduced emissions by more than 20 per cent from 2006 to 2017 while the rest of Canada continues to increase.

"Families in Ontario have already paid a significant cost for these efforts, yet the federal government continues to ask us to pay more than our fair share," said Phillips.

What Phillips didn't say was that when he mentioned the "rest of Canada" he was really talking about Saskatchewan and Alberta — where emissions increased 14 per cent and 18 per cent respectively from 2006 to 2017.

Phillips is obliquely telling Ottawa that if it wants to meet its Paris Accord targets it needs to get tougher with provinces where emissions are rising the fastest. It would seem Ontario is playing its own passive-aggressive campaign against Alberta when it comes to climate change policy.

Giant step backwards

Meanwhile, Kenney insists he is taking climate change seriously but the platform he announced during the election campaign doesn't take climate change seriously.

Besides promising to scrap Alberta's carbon tax, lift the cap on oilsands emissions and shred the NDP climate plan, he will end the phaseout of coal-fired plants and stop subsidies for renewable energy sources.

He will have a tax on large emitters and will make sure coal-fired plants ramp down emissions so they're on a par with plants that burn relatively clean natural gas.

Overall, Kenney's plan is a giant step back to the kinds of regulations introduced under the Ed Stelmach PC government of a decade ago.

Like Stelmach, Kenney is interested in carbon capture and sequestration as a possible solution where emissions of carbon dioxide are captured in the smokestack and pumped underground. Stelmach offered $2 billion worth of subsidies on CCS experiments. So far, only one has worked at a small scale. Premiers since Stelmach have rightly turned their backs on CCS as being too complicated, too controversial and too expensive.

If CCS is your answer to climate change, you're asking the wrong question.

But as we saw during the Alberta election campaign, the United Conservative Party didn't ask many questions, if any, about how Alberta should do its part to tackle human induced climate change.

The federal Liberal government will now be asking Alberta that question — and if Kenney wants to see Ottawa approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion he'd better come up with some answers.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.  

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