West guards energy riches: Stelmach warns premiers off cash grab

The premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan scuttled notions of a national cap-and-trade program Wednesday, warning other provincial and territorial heads they consider it a thinly-disguised attempt to siphon their provinces' petroleum riches.

"There's only one inter-regional transfer of wealth in this country and it's called equalization," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach warned. "There won't be another one from the province of Alberta, and that's as straight an answer as I can give."

Although climate change is high on the agenda for the Council of the Federation's three-day meeting in Quebec City, attempts to find common ground among the 13 leaders derailed at the onset.

The two Prairie premiers placed themselves firmly at odds with Canada's most populous provinces, Ontario,

Quebec and British Columbia, which, along with Manitoba, support a national or international carbon trading market aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, whose province is reaping the benefits of a burgeoning energy industry and other surging natural resource activity, vowed to battle alongside Alberta.

"We will fight aggressively against any initiative that would redistribute not just wealth, but opportunity, and threaten our 'have' status," Wall said.

"(Our prosperity) is good for the country," Wall said.

Prosperity, however, is only touching parts of the country these days.

As Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland contemplate what to do with huge budget surpluses and travel the country -- even the world at times -- to find workers to fill a bounty of jobs, recession fears are stalking other regions.

Ontario, home to roughly 40 per cent of Canada's population, is grappling with the loss of tens of thousands of auto industry jobs and the possibility of becoming a have-not province.

Although the federal equalization policy, which provides struggling provinces payments to provide comparable levels of public service, is not slated for discussion in Quebec City, talks on climate change are increasingly intertwined with worries about the economy.

Calls for harmonized greenhouse gas regulations are likely to remain unheeded in the fallout.

"Climate change requires a pan-Canadian approach -- not stop-gap measures, province by province," said Paul Moist, national president of the country's largest union, CUPE.

"We're worried. We can't have 10 versions of climate change plans."

Yet that is actually what's emerging in the absence of strong federal government leadership on the file, charged a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation on Wednesday.

The conservation group's climate change report card gave top marks to British Columbia, which recently introduced a carbon tax at fuel pumps and a cap on emissions from industrial stacks.

Manitoba ranked highly, too, and Quebec and Ontario garnered praise for their policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and proposed cap-and-trade system.

Alberta -- which produces the most greenhouse gases in the country -- rated dead last, according the Suzuki foundation. Saskatchewan was also cited as an environmental laggard.

"The worst offender (Alberta) has skyrocketing emissions and no plans to decrease them anytime soon," the report said.

Alberta Environment spokeswoman Kim Capstick dismissed the report card's assessment of the province's climate change performance.

She noted it failed to mention the province's blockbuster announcement last week to commit $2 billion to developing large-scale projects to capture carbon emissions and permanently bury them deep underground.

Another $2 billion has been set aside for transit projects encouraging Albertans to drive less.

"Once again we are not being given credit for the incredible work that is happening here, and I'm curious as to why," Capstick said.

Stelmach brought Alberta's carbon-capture plan to Quebec City, while Wall has details of a massive pilot project in Weyburn, Sask., where more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been injected into an oil field since 2000.

The pair are expected to deliver presentations on carbon sequestration technology to their provincial and territorial counterparts today.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, though, expressed doubts Wednesday that the technology is the best answer to Canada's growing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Carbon capture is something I remember President Reagan talking about," McGuinty said in Quebec City.

"Billions and billions have been invested in this worldwide, and we're not there yet."

Meanwhile, labour mobility and trade is also expected to grab the spotlight today at the Council of the Federation conference.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan is warning major changes to Canada's internal trade rules are afoot.

He said the premiers are on the verge of signing off on new rules that could give businesses the right to sue governments for policies that hinder profits.

Calgary Herald, Thurs July 17 2008
Byline: Lee Greenberg and Renata D'Aliesio

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