Steven Guilbeault’s colonialist plan for Alberta’s energy grid is a desecration of Canada’s Constitution.
No sensible or humble politician would propose such offensive and illegal overreach. But Guilbeault and his boss Justin Trudeau are marked by ambition equal parts grandiose and blind.
They would be wise to accept the reasonable compromises offered by Alberta. Instead they’re doubling down, acting in plain violation of hard-won provincial rights won by Peter Lougheed for this and other Canadian provinces.
A panel of experts at Policy Options magazine in 2012 voted Lougheed the greatest Canadian premier of the past 40 years for a reason, because Lougheed saw Confederation as a win-win. The country was no longer to be Ontario/Quebec dominating all other regions, but a place where all had rights and could thrive.
Lougheed persuaded other Canadians of the proposition that a strong Western Canada makes for a stronger Canada. He bargained hard to win new constitutional rights for the provinces, all of it meant to secure Alberta’s ability to govern itself. In this way, Alberta would prosper and share its prosperity with the rest of Canada.
This is exactly what has happened, with net transfers from Alberta to the rest of Canada of more than $600 billion in the last seven decades.
Among his many victories, Lougheed fought for and won a new clause in the Constitution, Section 92A, in 1982. It spells out exclusive provincial rights when it comes to natural resources. “In each province, the legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to exploration for non-renewable natural resources in the province; development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province, including laws in relation to the rate of primary production therefrom; and development, conservation and management of sites and facilities in the province for the generation and production of electrical energy.”
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Ottawa has no legal right to put a chokehold on how Alberta manages its electrical grid, but that’s exactly what Guilbeault is doing with his plan to force a net-zero grid on Alberta and other provinces by 2035.
He wants to spell out the rules, the Constitution be damned. He wants things his way, to hell with the social contract forged by Lougheed that has enriched us all.
And yet, for all that, few Canadians are just now complaining about Guilbeault’s move, save for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and an assortment of conservative voices across Canada.
If Alberta is going to beat back Guilbeault’s assault on the Constitution, I reckon we first need to fully understand our rights and believe they’re worth fighting for.
The province can start by focusing its current national advertising campaign on the illegality of Guilbeault’s plan. Most Canadians won’t like to be seen backing a plan that is so obviously unlawful and colonialist.
This won’t be an easy campaign. It’s difficult to move public opinion, and especially to get folks focused on constitutional issues.
It’s not like everyone else’s electrical grid is under threat =by Guilbeault. Most provincial grids aren’t powered by natural gas, but mainly by nuclear and hydro, so most other Canadians won’t face the same issue with brutal costs and deadly blackouts as Alberta will.
That said, Alberta does have one useful tool, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.
Of course, many in the Laurentian elite try to paint Smith as a wingnut and the sovereignty act as pure foolishness. They aren’t disposed to giving Alberta any kind of fair hearing, which should come as no surprise. As another strong Alberta leader, Preston Manning, noted in the 2018 book, Moment of Truth: Thinking about Alberta’s Future, “I think Westerners need to understand that for some people whose history starts well before 1867, we (in Western Canada) are upstarts. Our resources were only given to us out of their largesse, and we should be thankful. These older Canadians who came before us have a colonial mindset. It is this attitude that dominates the Laurentian elite’s thinking when it comes to ‘their’ former territories.”
It’s true that the sovereignty act does not give any special new legal power or constitutional rights to Alberta, but that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to focus Albertans and Canadians on the right issue, the main issue, the blatant illegality of Ottawa’s colonialist intrusion into provincial rights.
The sovereignty act is Alberta’s cattle prod. It sets off folks who fail to respect Alberta’s constitutional rights and who are dead set on a solar and wind grid, no matter how ugly the price or how unreliable the system. If it takes a constitutional crisis to change their thinking, so be it.