David Staples: Fighting words: Kenney says some of Trudeau’s ‘just transition’ schemes are from ‘cloud cuckoo land’

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According to the federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “just transition” is a fair and caring program that will kindly shepherd oil and gas workers through a difficult time.

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According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the federal program is bonkers.

“Cloud cuckoo land,” as Kenney puts it.

The notion is to transition highly paid workers in wealth-creating industries like oil and gas and train them for greener jobs. As the federal government defines it: “Just transition is an approach to economic, environmental and social policy that aims to create an equitable and prosperous future for workers and communities as the world builds a low-carbon economy. No worker or community can be left behind, so government climate action must be focused on those workers.”

But another way to look at the “just transition” is to see it as a clever slogan. It will make progressive voters in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal voters feel good and see themselves as righteous as they back the federal Liberals in adopting one harmful and ill-advised policy after another that will kill off lucrative jobs while driving out even more investment dollars from Canada and doing little to cut emissions.

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In a year-end interview with Kenney, the premier made clear just how unrealistic he sees the Liberal plan.

“Some of this stuff informing this ‘just transition’ is from cloud cuckoo land,” he said. “It doesn’t add up.

“There’s nothing just about putting people out of work and there’s nothing realistic about strangling the largest part of Canada’s economy that employs half a million Canadians and is the largest source of government revenues and the largest export industry in the country. It’s bananas to suggest that it is possible.”

Alberta accepts the need to reduce emissions, Kenney said, adding the government is supporting billions of investments in green and clean tech, including plans to have the Fort McMurray oilsands net zero by 2050.

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Alberta is also open to new wind and solar power generation, Kenney said, and has seen large new investments in renewable power generation.

That said, there’s no way for Alberta to maintain itself as an energy super power through electrical power.

“At the end of the day Alberta is a captive electricity market,” Kenney said. “We do not and will not be exporting electricity — and it  doesn’t matter how it’s generated — to other parts of the world. But we do export upwards of $150-billion worth of oil and gas. You cannot replace a $150-billion export industry by just us selling electricity to ourselves. The notion you can turn every petroleum engineer and roughneck into some guy installing solar panels is crazy. It’s economically illiterate. It’s energy illiterate.”

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Without a far sounder plan and without Alberta’s cooperation, there’s no way forward for the Liberals, Kenney made clear.

“We keep saying to this federal government — and I hope (anti-nuclear and anti-oil and gas Environment Minister) Steven Guilbeault turns out to have matured since his radical days at Greenpeace — but if they actually want to achieve their increasingly stringent emissions targets, they have to work with us, with the oil and the gas, or they have no hope of doing it. And that means embracing transition technology like CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and storage), like clean hydrogen, like gas co-generation, like exporting LNG to the rest of the world.”

Of course it’s one thing to bash the Trudeau Liberals and all their iffy ideas on industrial policy, it’s another thing to build a national consensus for a more reasonable and successful policy. Kenney said he demonstrated during the COVID pandemic he can work with the federal government.

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“We’re keen to work with the federal government to develop a common sense path to ensure meaningful emissions reductions but also a future for the largest industry in the country. We’re coming down to short strikes on some of these issues but that’s where their ambition will really be tested.”

The premier pointed out that the United States had huge success under former president Donald Trump in cutting emissions by switching from coal to gas power generation, and also by greatly expanding CCUS through an investment tax credit. “Our message to Prime Minister Trudeau is to be at least as ambitious about this as the Trump administration was.”

It’s safe to say not everyone is going to like Kenney’s fiery anti-Ottawa rhetoric here. But he was elected to be Alberta’s loud and ornery voice against overly aggressive and misguided federal policy. And just maybe there are enough other sensible Canadians out there that his message will make some difference.

dstaples@postmedia.com

twitter.com/davidstaplesyeg

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