Trudeau sends a signal to Alberta. Cue the squirm.


Alberta has gotten its own government minister, but the real focus will be on new names for the environment and natural resources and how they enforce the government’s “just transition”

Justin Trudeau has appointed a minister for Alberta and a minister for concerned Alberta.

Randy Boissonnault ends the government’s drought in the fourth largest province, which coincided with the two years Alberta had no MPs Justin Trudeau could choose from.

The Edmonton Center MP will be the Minister of Tourism, a junior portfolio hidden within Canada’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Every Alberta politician should be lucky enough to make regular trips to Banff and Jasper as part of their tenure.

But as with any modern government, the choices that really matter to Alberta are those that govern the oil and gas sector and the carbon it emits per megatonnes. Enter the concern. Enter, literally, the activist minister of the environment. And give the signal to the struggling Alberta.

Steven Guilbeault’s resume is quite well known in the oil-producing province: his extensive experience with the environmental group Equiterre and his campaign against oil pipelines and tar sands, even brought lobbying back into Trudeau’s cabinet. last year against the convicted Teck Resources bitumen mine. Just as there was relief from the Alberta industry when Guilbeault did not receive its coveted environment and climate change file in 2019, there is a lot of anxiety that it got it this time around.

Premier Jason Kenney, whose moribund approval rates suggested he could use an outside enemy to rally the albertines against, said Guilbeault’s activist past “suggests someone who is more of an absolutist than a pragmatist” and predicts that Ottawa it could pursue a “radical agenda that could lead to mass unemployment”.

Trudeau’s appointment of Guilbeault certainly sends a signal and perhaps anticipates this initial shock and concern on the part of the energy sector and its political supporters. The message could be the same for the crowds that gather next week at the climate conference in Glasgow and the crowds that flock to coffee every day in trailers at oil projects near Grande Prairie in Alta. – this same government wants to move forward and faster on reducing emissions. Perhaps taking more of an activist bent. Not an inclination to get arrested to downsize-the-CN-Tower-to-label-canada-killer-climate-killer, as Guilbeault himself did 20 years ago, but there is a directional shift at work here. . Trudeau pushed for a more decisive pre-election approach with stricter emissions targets and election promises to demand more action from the oil and gas sector, towards reducing its overall carbon pollution rather than simply emissions per barrel man. as production expands.

But this is not a government that will suddenly become fully Guilbeault and abandon the federally owned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, and even the new environment minister will have to admit this point. For some parts of the activist world that Guilbeault hails from – a US environmental activist tweeted fondly about the 2001 CN Tower stunt on Tuesday and skyrocketed expectations of the minister – the moderate, pragmatic turn Trudeau ties him to will be frustration.

The moderation will also come from new natural resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson, the Vancouver area MP who has held the role of Environment for the past two years and hails from the tech sector. Kenney also praised him as a “good faith partner” to the Alberta government and industry. Ottawa and the business world increasingly see those ministries of natural resources and environment as tandem files on climate change and regulatory fronts – and with Wilkinson’s move, it further wastes the old days when those two ministers were at odds. among them as cheerleaders and foes of fossil fuel development. Carbon emissions become their common enemy.

Alberta tends to get more cranky about rhetoric than actual politics – testify to long memories of a 2017 City Hall remark by Trudeau that he would “phase out” the tar sands – and this is where Guilbeault’s appointment may stay. as incendiary as it seemed Tuesday. The environment and climate change may require the skillful touch of a diplomat with relevant industry leaders, and there is little to inspire confidence on that front, both because of the history of Guilbeault’s “tar sands campaign” and the his struggles to communicate whatever Bill C-10 would actually change. Expect Wilkinson and Trudeau to have to do quite a bit of round-up, and Kenney to be called regularly to thunder with great, great disdain.

An important test, after Glasgow, will be how Wilkinson and Guilbeault handle their government’s buzzing term: “just transition”. Natural Resources Canada quietly held a public consultation period this summer on this plan to support the fossil fuel sector through a future of decarbonisation without massive disruption and job loss. Like the term “phasing out” that brought Trudeau to such warm waters earlier, a “just transition” is supposed to signal a gradual and measured change. The usual critics overlooked any such nuance and predicted a swift and bumpy government-enforced end to Alberta’s most viable and generationally profitable industry. It will be largely up to Steven Guilbeault to keep a steady and reassuring tone that this is not the case. His past does not suggest that he is perfectly suited for this task, but it is the task he has now.


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