Deputy prime minister says there will be disagreements, but she can work with Smith

CALGARY — Canada's deputy prime minister says she is looking forward to working with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, even though the provincial politician has taken a combative tone toward the federal government.

Smith sent a letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as one of her first acts as a member of the legislative assembly following a byelection win Tuesday night in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

Chrystia Freeland, who was in Calgary on Wednesday meeting with business and union leaders, offered congratulations to Smith on her victory.

"I am sure that she and her government and our government will disagree on a lot of things, but I am also sure that there are a lot of things that we will agree on and that we do agree on," Freeland said when asked about Smith's letter.

"One thing I really learned during the NAFTA negotiations is that Canada is strongest, and we're most effective, when we are able to take a 'Team Canada' approach and when we are able to really try to focus on the areas where we agree and work together on those."

Smith's two-page letter, which was posted on social media, calls on the federal government to consider the financial difficulties faced by families and individuals.

"Affordability is the primary concern of Albertans and all Canadians," Smith wrote in the letter. "With inflation surging, many Canadians are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent and utilities, and cover the cost of getting to work.

"Canadians need governments to take immediate action to address this affordability crisis."

Smith said the Alberta government has taken steps to address the rising costs such as pausing the collection of fuel tax and offering electricity and natural gas rebates.

The federal government, she said, should eliminate the federal carbon tax — also described as a price on pollution — and temporarily pause the federal fuel tax.

Freeland, also the finance minister, said the price on pollution is revenue-neutral.

"In all jurisdictions that have a backstop, that money is returned 100 per cent to the jurisdiction," she said. "As people in Alberta know, that means a family of four is receiving more than $1,000 back."

Freeland said the idea of putting a price of pollution also has a strong Albertan connection.

"Preston Manning was an early advocate," she said of the former Reform Party leader. "He saw that, and I think he is right, as one of the most economically effective mechanisms for taking climate action. I agree with that view and that's why our government is moving forward."

Smith is to reconvene the legislature on Nov. 29 and has promised an ambitious agenda that includes help for Albertans dealing with sharp hikes in gasoline and electricity costs.

She has said she would bring in an Alberta sovereignty act as one of her first orders of business in the legislature.

The act as proposed by Smith would allow the province to refuse to follow federal laws and court rulings it deemed to be not in Alberta's best interests and an illegal intrusion into its duly delegated spheres of influence under the Constitution.

Freeland said she has learned not to respond to hypotheticals.

"We will look forward to working with the province of Alberta and we will look closely at any legislation the new premier tables and respond to it when we have something in writing to respond to," she said.

Smith has also promised to reorganize Alberta Health Services by mid-January, increasing the number of surgical procedures while adding more front-line staff to hospitals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press