Alberta premier says no decision on using Sovereignty Act on 'anything' — including 'just transition'

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at a press conference held Tuesday in Calgary. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at a press conference held Tuesday in Calgary. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she still has no plans to use her signature legislation despite a growing litany of provincial grievances against Ottawa, including proposed legislation focused on transitioning oil and gas workers as global economies shift into a low-carbon future.

"We haven't made a decision to invoke the Sovereignty Act on anything," Smith said of using the legislation intended to push back against federal policy Alberta deems unconstitutional or harmful.

Keeping the act as a tool in the province's back pocket was the approach signalled in a December interview with CBC News. At that time, the premier said she did not see anything "imminent" that would have required her to invoke the controversial legislation this spring, though that "could always change."

The past number of weeks have brought forward several points of contention between Alberta and Ottawa, including a proposed gun bill amendment and, in recent days, a decision by Parks Canada to close off access to Moraine Lake for those travelling by personal vehicle.

Still, when asked by reporters at a news conference in Calgary when the Sovereignty Act would stop functioning as a sort of symbolic shield, Smith was noncommittal.

"It depends on how far the prime minister's prepared to go and pushing us," she said.

Smith spoke again Tuesday about her concerns with promised legislation from Ottawa focused on renewable energy jobs.

In recent days, the provincial government has made hay of the phrase "just transition," which had been used by the federal government to refer to the legislation, with Smith on Tuesday suggesting it was little more than "social justice" language that served as code for phasing out oil and gas workers.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has said he now prefers to reference the future legislation using the term "sustainable jobs."

WATCH | Natural resources minister says there's a future for oil and gas production: 

Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage had made a similar case on CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, asserting that the term "just transition" was "polarizing," pointing to its usage by climate organizations and suggesting it signalled the immediate phase-out of the fossil fuel industry.

"We have to see what comes in the legislation. If they don't back away from that international terminology, we know what we're going to see in the legislation," Savage said on Sunday. "It's all the international terms, and restructuring of economies and phasing out fossil fuels."

Savage added that the Alberta government was working "quite well" with the federal government on various technologies, including on carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen and critical minerals.

Wilkinson said the oil and gas sector isn't going to disappear overnight.

"At the end of the day, over the course of the number of decades, everybody recognizes that it's going to take time to reduce and eventually eliminate the combustion of fossil fuels," Wilkinson said.

"But even at that point, there still are uses for hydro-carbons that are not combustion. They don't cause climate change."