The federal Conservatives now have a solid and continuing lead over the Trudeau Liberals, even though Leader Pierre Poilievre isn’t very popular with most Canadians.
The lead holds in spite of the Conservatives’ solid backing of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the current battles over federal clean fuel regulations.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, also partly reliant on fossil fuel power, have their own serious problems with the federal plan. Agreement on what Ottawa wants is far from nationwide, or even region-wide.
One upshot of these polls is that the Alberta UCP feels free to flail away at Ottawa with no fear of hurting the federal Conservatives. They think the whole federal climate change agenda is weakening under the pressure of inflation, taxes, the housing crisis and other economic woes.
Some Alberta rhetoric is every bit as angry and apocalyptic as the reaction to the Liberal National Energy Program in 1980-81.
The clean fuel rules “are unconstitutional, irresponsible and utterly out of step with reality,” Premier Danielle Smith said Monday.
“If they become the law of the land, these regulations would crush Albertans’ finances, and they would also cause dramatic increases in electricity bills for families and businesses across Canada.”
Smith said Alberta’s cost would be $200 billion to $400 billion for transforming the electricity grid to meet Ottawa’s specifications by 2035.
“This nonsensical plan by the federal Liberals will strain our family finances as food and shelter keep getting more expensive.
“Families shouldn’t have to bear the burden of skyrocketing power prices. And this plan will make it more difficult for businesses to break even, let alone to survive.
“Ottawa strategy seems to be to placate the environmental extremists while throwing regular Canadians under the bus.”
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Smith said the existing grid has experienced severe system strain much more frequently than in past years. (One of a provincial politician’s deepest fears is widespread blackouts.)
Her actions don’t always seem logical. Shutting down renewable energy projects for six months just as the federal rules came out doesn’t quite fit the narrative of dire shortages. Power is power, even if the source isn’t entirely reliable.
The premier also says that if there’s no agreement with Ottawa, Alberta will simply opt out of the federal regulation. That would be unprecedented. What would it mean for power imports from other provinces, which Smith supports?
More crucially, how would Alberta get new investment for natural gas production to provide the “base load” Smith says is crucial?
Maybe it couldn’t, and the government would have to provide public financing for natural gas production.
That’s not something most conservatives would like, although there is a precedent; during the 1980s crisis, the province bought gas wells to prove a legal point.
Federally, the Conservatives who mostly side with Smith lead by 38 to 31 per cent, according to the Angus Reid Institute. The Liberal-ally NDP stands at 18 per cent.
The latest bitter uproar would seem to put the two Prairie provinces and two Atlantic provinces in conflict with climate-change opinion in the “hydro” provinces — Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, B.C., Yukon, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Those provinces don’t need to worry about getting their electricity grids to net-zero. They’re nearly at the 2035 target already. The clean fuel regulations proposed last week are no issue at all.
Poilievre marches in lock-step with the opposition provinces, while constantly sniping at the federal climate agenda, carbon taxes, the dubious inflation record and government inefficiency.
And yet, he’s doing well in every key area except Quebec.
In voting intention, the Conservatives are running ahead of the Liberals in all four western provinces; and, crucially, Ontario.
Quebec is the usual Conservative wipeout at 22 per cent and the Atlantic provinces have the Liberals ahead by 44 per cent to 38 per cent.
It’s becoming clear that Poilievre, for all his confrontational, conspiracy-minded, anger-stoking rhetoric, is making inroads into the priceless trove of centrist voters.
Smith always follows her own heated rhetoric by saying she wants a co-operative solution with Ottawa.
As a federal election draws closer, and Poilievre holds the lead, you have to wonder if she’d rather wait, and talk.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald