Danielle Smith to invoke Sovereignty Act on Ottawa power rules next week

The Danielle Smith government intends to put its Sovereignty Act into action next week to shield Alberta power companies from the proposed federal clean electricity regulations, CBC News has learned.

The province will use the controversial law to introduce a resolution in the legislature that declares Ottawa’s plan to slash grid emissions an unconstitutional federal measure, and spell out ways the regulations would not be enforced in Alberta, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The resolution will be tabled for debate and approval in the United Conservative Party-dominated legislature as early as Monday, the sources said. The government briefed electrical generation executives about their intentions on Thursday.

After repeatedly threatening to do so, this will be the first time Smith’s government actually puts into place the provocative law it passed last December. Formally called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, Smith devised it as a way to enable the province to “push back against federal interference and encroachment” on provincial jurisdiction.

One of her consistent threats has been to use the act in hopes of thwarting the CER, the suite of regulations designed to implement the Trudeau government’s plan for a net-zero power grid by 2035. The regulations would put clear limits on when and how emitting power sources like Alberta’s natural gas-burning plants can be used starting in 2035, though it does not ban their use.

Defending Alberta’s natural gas plants

The vast majority of Alberta’s electricity currently comes from natural gas, and Smith has vowed to do everything she can to fight Ottawa’s plans, including an $8-million national advertising campaign urging other Canadians to fight too.

Alberta has demanded the federal plan aim for a net-zero grid by 2050 instead of 2035. Canada has committed to its entirely economy being carbon neutral by 2050.

After softpedalling any talk of using the Sovereignty Act during last spring’s election, the government reiterated earlier warnings in the provincial throne speech last month. It spoke of “several motions” that lay out jurisdiction-protecting initiatives “if the federal government continues down its current path.”

Smith reiterated her determination to fight Ottawa’s 2035 regulations on Wednesday. “We know that we have the constitutional jurisdiction, and we know that they’re acting in a way that’s outside their boundaries,” the premier told a news conference.

CBC News has not seen the text of the Sovereignty Act resolution that’s been prepared for release and legislature debate.

It’s not clear the exact way the United Conservatives intend to empower Alberta to inhibit enforcement of federal regulations, since a Sovereignty Act resolution’s only bearing can be on provincial officials and agents of provincially controlled organizations and whether they enforce federal rules or law.

New regs still in draft form

While the Sovereignty Act would allow MLAs and the legislature to deem the federal CER “unconstitutional” or otherwise “harmful” to Alberta, the clean electricity regulations aren’t currently in legal force — they’re only in draft form, with no clear timeline on when final regulations will be released.

However, the first law Premier Smith passed is permitted to be used against any “federal initiative,” even if it is only “proposed or anticipated.”

CBC News asked the premier’s office for comment, but has not heard back.

Smith was emboldened to amp up her language about Ottawa’s “lawlessness” after the recent Supreme Court ruling that much of the federal Impact Assessment Act was intruding on provincial jurisdiction. However, legal experts have said that ruling would have no effect on the grid regulations, which rely on a different sort of federal powers.

The provincial government has not discussed the plan to invoke the Sovereignty Act with Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, nor has it been raised at ongoing Alberta-Ottawa working group meetings, a minister’s spokesperson said. 

“The intention of the clean electricity regulations is to bring clean and reliable power to every region of Canada in a manner that is affordable for ratepayers,” communications director Sabrina Kim said by email. “We continue to engage on the draft regulations in good faith.”

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