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Federal minister’s Suncor criticism shows ‘utter contempt’ for Alberta, premier says

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.

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.

“Under no scenario will the Government of Alberta permit the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or contemplated oil and gas emissions cap,” Smith said. 

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.”

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 Guilbeault’s office, Suncor and the Pathways Alliance for further comment.

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