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Federal minister’s Suncor criticism shows ‘utter contempt’ for Alberta: Premier Danielle Smith

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the federal environment minister’s criticism of a major oilsands company constitutes a “provocative” verbal attack on Alberta’s energy sector.

“Steven Guilbeault has once again shown his utter contempt for Alberta, our economy and our energy workers,” reads a statement attributed to the premier, released on Wednesday.

“Minister Guilbeault’s comments are a continuation of his provocative verbal attacks on Alberta’s energy sector, the most environmentally responsible and ethical energy-producing jurisdiction in the world.”

In an interview with The Canadian Press published on Tuesday, Guilbeault discussed Suncor CEO Rich Kruger’s comments on a recent second-quarter results conference call

During Kruger’s call with investors, the executive said the company must get back to fundamentals, including its “large integrated asset base underpinned by oilsands.”

“Where we stand, is we judge that our current strategic framework is [insufficient] in terms of what it takes to win,” reads a transcript from the call posted to Suncor’s website. 

“The lack of emphasis on today’s business drivers — and while important, we have a bit of a disproportionate emphasis on the longer-term energy transition.”

A man in a suit is sitting in a boardroom with a large painting hanging on the wall in the background.
Rich Kruger is the chief executive of Suncor Energy. During a conference call held earlier this month, Kruger said the company’s strategy at present wasn’t focused enough in regards to financial opportunities in the oilsands. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Guilbeault characterized those comments as “disappointing,” especially in the midst of a summer marked by wildfires across Canada, adding that it had further convinced him of the need for regulation.

Draft regulations planned by the federal government to cap emissions are expected to be published later this year.

Smith has often referred to such plans as a “de facto production cap” and again on Wednesday claimed it would devastate the Alberta and Canadian economies.

Suncor says it’s committed to reducing emissions

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Suncor said a full transcript of the investor call shows Kruger reiterated the company’s commitment to the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of companies representing 95 per cent of oilsands production, and its stated objective to achieve net-zero emissions from operations by 2050.

“To be clear, we aren’t reducing activity on important projects like Pathways, Canada’s largest ethanol plant, investing in sustainable aviation fuels, nor spending less — in fact from 2021 to 2025, we expect to spend approximately 10 per cent of our annual capital budget, on average, on projects aimed at lowering our emissions,” Sneh Seetal wrote in an email.

“What we are doing is focusing our activities on reducing our emissions, not necessarily growing new business lines. By doing so we intend to get a better result in reducing our emissions. Ensuring we have the highest performing base business is compatible with making progress on decarbonization — in fact, it’s necessary.”

In 2021, the oil and gas industry was the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country, accounting for 28 per cent of total emissions.

In her statement, Smith said that “under no scenario” would the provincial government “permit” the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or the contemplated oil and gas emissions cap. 

She further added, “Albertans are proud of our environmental leadership and do not deserve the irresponsible, destabilizing, investment-repelling and ill-informed comments of a federal cabinet minister intent on destroying one of Alberta’s and Canada’s most critical economic sectors.”

Lori Williams
Mount Royal University political science assistant professor Lori Williams says while private conversations between the provincial and federal governments may have been productive to date, divisive public statements may make that work more difficult. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Despite the fiery comments, Smith said the provincial government stood ready to commence the federal-provincial working group “in good faith” to align efforts between Ottawa and Alberta. 

Earlier this year, the province released an “aspirational” plan to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2050, with a goal to do so “without compromising affordable, reliable and secure energy.”

In a response to a request for comment from CBC News, a spokesperson in Guilbeault’s office wrote that the creation of a cap was in the minister’s mandate letter and was a platform commitment.  

“This is not a threat or a surprise. The minister [took] exception to the remarks of the Suncor CEO in relation to de-prioritizing investing in long-term decarbonization projects and the jobs that come with them,” wrote Oliver Anderson. 

“The government of Canada has been very clear, the cap is going after emissions, not production.”

Still, the two statements from Smith and Guilbeault illustrate the difficulties of finding common ground when making public statements that are “so incompatible,” according to Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“These kind of public statements sort of seem to be moving the parties apart, rather than bringing them together. And I think the loser in the long run is certainty and stability,” Williams said.

“A lot of people who are involved in all aspects of energy — whether it be oil and gas, or new technologies for carbon capture and storage, and so forth — a lot of them are now in a climate of greater uncertainty.”

CBC News has reached to the Pathways Alliance for further comment.

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