Alberta premier wants meeting with Trudeau before 'just transition' bill tabled

Alberta’s premier has asked to meet the prime minister in advance of anticipated federal legislation guiding a transition away from high-pollution jobs.

Smith says Trudeau should develop LNG exports, incentivize conventional oil and gas jobs

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks behind a lectern bearing the provincial logo.
The phrase "just transition" is little more than "social justice" language used as signal that the Trudeau government intends to phase out oil and gas jobs, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith asserted in a Jan. 10 news conference. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's premier has asked to meet the prime minister in advance of anticipated federal legislation guiding a transition away from high-pollution jobs.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made public on Thursday, Premier Danielle Smith asked for a February meeting to reach a joint agreement on proposed pieces of federal "just transition" legislation.

The Liberal government says the bill will lay out a path to help well-paid workers in emissions-intensive industries like oil and gas move to equivalent, greener jobs for the good of the environment.

"It would be premature and ill-advised to signal the end of a vibrant, thriving industry that has the ability to reduce Canada's and the world's emissions through technological innovation and increased exports of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and other clean burning fuels the world so desperately needs," Smith wrote in the letter.

In it, she makes five requests of Trudeau to extend good faith to Albertans, including a promise to incent job creation in conventional oil and gas — not just greener industries and carbon capture, utilization and storage projects.

Smith also wants Trudeau to call the legislation the "Sustainable Jobs Act" and stop using the term "just transition," which stems from Canada's commitment to the international Paris accord to reduce global emissions.

No portion of the act should be designed to reduce Alberta's oil and gas workforce, Smith writes. She also wants Trudeau to work with the province to expand LNG exports to Europe and Asia.

Alberta should also be part of the discussion to set "reasonable and meaningful" emissions reduction targets, she said. She wants Trudeau to pledge he won't impose any targets on any industry.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate, the federal government aims to cut Canada's emissions 42 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

It also aims to reduce emissions from fertilizer by 30 per cent by 2030.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson posted a letter on Twitter, in response to Smith. The letter was from Wilkinson, Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan and Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault. The response thanked Smith for the letter and stated that "much of what you outlined is very much in line with what the federal government will bring forward." 

The post says the federal government looks forward to work with the province, unions and other partners on sustainable jobs.

Smith's letter is a change in tone from earlier this month, when she cited a seven-month-old federal ministerial briefing note to claim the just transition bill was going to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Smith said the plan was worse than she feared and left her with a "pit in her stomach."

The federal government says the job numbers in the document refer to current employment in various industries, and the premier misinterpreted them.

Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said the letter sends contradictory messages by seeming to offer an olive branch while also making demands of the federal government.

'It's a bit odd that the premier is asking the prime minister to work with her on a more co-operative and collaborative arrangement when she has spent much of the last few months telling the federal government to stay out of Alberta's lane and accusing the federal government of interference that is inappropriate," Williams said.

Williams said some of Smith's requests are steps the federal government is already taking, such as investing in hydrogen and carbon capture, and changing the language around the initiative.

Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said her organization would be happy to host the prime minister and premier to have that conversation before an audience of the people working on the nation's energy transition.

"We don't get very far when we want to yell at one another across the country," Yedlin said.

The industry is also waiting for news about the province's plans for investment in carbon capture, she said — and time is running out, as generous subsidies are attracting investors to the United States.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said in a statement Smith's change in tone won't bolster Albertans' faith in Smith to hold productive negotiations.

"Many of the objectives in today's letter are laudable, but Danielle Smith lacks credibility among working people and investors as a result of her combative and inflammatory positioning to date," Notley's statement said.

Notley has also previously said the federal government's emissions reduction goals are unrealistic for Alberta.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.

With files from Francois Joly