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Trudeau defends environment minister in face of Smith’s calls to remove him

After meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, Premier Danielle Smith acknowledged to reporters that she told him she believes Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa could be “greatly improved” if he removed Steven Guilbeault from his position as Canada’s minister of environment and climate change.

“I think he knows that Minister Guilbeault is not my favourite minister, but I did let him know that I have a great relationship with several of his other ministers,” she said at an afternoon news conference in Edmonton. “I did feel like I should tell him in person what I’ve been saying publicly, just so that there wasn’t any miscommunication on that.

“I do feel like our relationship would be greatly improved if we had a different point person in that file who is a little more pragmatic, and someone who was willing to work with us, like some of the other ministers are.”

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Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks at an announcement in Toronto on Tuesday, Dec.19, 2023, where he outlined the details of his plan to eventually phase out the sale of gas-powered vehicles in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Hours earlier, Smith met with Trudeau in Calgary to discuss a broad range of issues, including a planned carbon price increase. It was a meeting she said she personally requested with him. Shortly after that meeting, Trudeau took questions from reporters and was asked about the discussion of his environment minister and whether Smith was persuasive with her comments.

“I have tremendous faith and confidence in my environment minister, and if people are having trouble getting along with him, maybe they need to look at their own approach to these big (environmental) issues as opposed to looking at what he’s talking about, which is consistent with building a better future for everyone,” he said.

Guilbeault has served as the federal environment minister since before Smith became premier of energy-rich Alberta in October 2022. Since then, she has vocal in her criticism of a number of Guilbeault’s policies, ranging from Ottawa’s price on carbon, the speed at which the federal government wants provinces to have net-zero electricity grids, to an emissions cap for the oil and gas sector.

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Comments made by Guilbeault earlier this year suggesting Ottawa plans to “stop investing in new road infrastructure” also drew sharp criticism from Smith when he made them, though the environment minister has since walked back those words.

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On Wednesday afternoon, Smith shrugged off Trudeau’s defence of his minister and the suggestion that she and other critics of Guilbeault should look at their own approach to environmental issues.

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“It’s, you know, admirable that he’s defending that member of his team, but I think that the reality is somewhat different,” she told reporters. “We’ve got an environment minister who’s lost in court on the Impact Assessment Act, and rather than accept that, seems to be trying to find a workaround on it. (He) lost (in court) on plastics, (and) rather than accept that, is appealing it. (He) went to COP(28), didn’t tell any of the delegations there what he was going to announce there — dropped a bomb on us on an emissions cap for oil and gas, emissions cap for methane, and has, you know, basically, announced that he doesn’t want to build any roads anymore, which he had to walk back.

“So I would say that the evidence demonstrates that there’s an environment minister who has been given pretty free rein to trample the Constitution and interfere with national unity and also interfere with investment.”

A statement from a spokesperson for the minister’s office said Smith “continues to show more interest in picking fights than in working together to build a stronger, more prosperous Alberta.”

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“The federal government was elected by Canadians on a commitment to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector,” the spokesperson said. “We consulted widely once elected and continue consulting before implementing anything. By contrast, Danielle Smith sprung a moratorium on renewables on Albertans and industry, imposed it unilaterally without consultation, and misled Albertans about the reasons for doing so.

“Since then, she has only continued a de facto ban on renewables with overly punitive red tape and restrictions. Our government has been at the consultation table in the spirit of collaboration, and has never stopped offering financial support to help develop Alberta’s economy in a way that is sustainable and creates good paying jobs for Albertans. We will continue to do so.”

Smith added that she believes Guilbeault is a lawmaker “that is not following the rules, and I’m going to keep pushing back against that.”

“I will work with the ministers that I can and hopefully find a workaround, but it would be a lot more constructive in our relationship if we actually had somebody who is pragmatic on the other side of the table.”

During her news conference, Smith noted that she is pleased with the federal Liberal government’s ability to collaborate with Alberta on a number of issues, even if there continue to be disagreements.

“We’ve got common cause for sure on the issue of hydrogen and how to be able to get that as the the new fuel of the future to the market,” she said as one example.

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She noted that François-Philippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, has been particularly helpful for helping to advance economic development in Alberta with regard to a number of major projects.

While Trudeau was dismissive of Smith’s comments about Guilbeault when he spoke with reporters, he also spoke of finding ways to work collaboratively with Alberta on a number of fronts.

“I’m so glad to be back here at Alberta, where people are so focused on building a smarter future, and building a better opportunity for everyone here, because it spreads right across the country,” he said. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to move forward on a number of significant issues with Danielle Smith’s government here and with partners across the country.

“We’ll continue to look for areas of common ground where we can make a positive impact on Canadians. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments from the federal government has been flowing to Alberta over the past year, just in specific world-leading companies that are creating solutions for the future.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau, Smith enjoy friendly meeting in Calgary, agree to disagree on carbon pricing'

Trudeau, Smith enjoy friendly meeting in Calgary, agree to disagree on carbon pricing

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