Braid: Smith takes energy fight to new level with charge of Guilbeault 'treachery'

When it comes to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, the feeling toward him from many in the Alberta government comes close to hatred.

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“Treachery” is a powerful word. It implies betrayal of the most vile and poisonous sort.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines treachery as “an act of perfidy or treason,” the highest crime against one’s nation.

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Premier Danielle Smith levels that charge at federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault.

Her statement on the outcome of COP28 in Dubai says: “Although he ultimately failed in his ambitions to include language in the final COP28 agreement regarding the elimination of oil and gas production, Albertans will not forget his continued treachery against our province and millions of other Canadians.

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“We once again call on the prime minister to replace this minister immediately, as he continues to damage Canada’s international reputation and sell out the interests and livelihoods of millions of Canadians with his misguided personal obsessions.”

This goes far beyond the usual Alberta-Ottawa charges of unfriendly, unworkable policies.

Smith has slammed a door shut. Agreements on electricity regulation and emissions, unlikely at best before, now seem impossible as long as Guilbeault is around.

Of course, the minister is a handy weapon to employ against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No premier longs more ardently than Smith for a Pierre Poilievre Conservative government.

But the language passes any bounds of restraint. It’s personal. Smith and her circle of advisers simply despise the guy.

Here’s a summary of comments I’ve heard about the minister, paraphrased.

“Guilbeault hates Alberta.” “He detests everything about the province and doesn’t give a damn about the people.” “He’s a disgrace and a threat to national unity.” “His policies will ruin the economy.” “No progress is possible as long as he’s around.”

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UCP politicians say it’s fairly easy to work with Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

They also like Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who was instrumental in the $8.9-billion Dow Chemical plastics plant to be built near Edmonton. Smith praises him effusively.

But with Guilbeault, the feeling comes close to hatred.

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Many Albertans, including MRU political scientist Duane Bratt, are asking if there’s ever been a word as harsh as “treachery,” especially during the epic fight over the National Energy Program in 1980.

I can answer that one, having been there for all the key public events and talks over the NEP, both in Ottawa and Alberta.

No.

The stakes were enormous back then. The battle over energy prices had been going on since 1973 and came to a head with the NEP, which gave Ottawa a measure of control over development, where it happens, and the price of oil and gas.

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Then, as now, the federal Liberals were stomping on provincial rights.

Two key players were then-federal energy minister Marc Lalonde and his Alberta counterpart, Merv Leitch. They had tense meetings after Alberta cut oil shipments to Ontario refiners in April 1981.

But the ministers never voiced personal animosity toward each other. Then-premier Peter Lougheed and prime minister Pierre Trudeau were equally restrained.

During two referendum campaigns on Quebec separation (about breaking up this country, no less) federal politicians didn’t throw around words such as “treachery”.

The Supreme Court, dealing with the terms of separation, did not imply treachery or treason.

Smith is largely right about Guilbeault’s performance. He’s a centralizer who wants to run the whole climate campaign out of Ottawa. He has no discernible respect for the constitutional powers of provinces.

He also seems stubbornly resistant to the plain historical fact that when Ottawa becomes too overbearing, it will get a bloody nose.

That’s happening now in the courts. The polls show that Guilbeault is no help to the Liberals. His autocratic approach ensures the failure of his own climate goals.

Does this make him a treacherous traitor? No, he’s merely a very bad Liberal minister, which history shows is a purely Canadian thing to be.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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