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Alberta's Premier Danielle Smith finds unexpected ally in fight with Ottawa

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in Calgary on March 13.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Quebec has emerged as one of Alberta's key allies in the fight against what the western province considers inappropriate interference by Ottawa in the country's affairs, Premier Danielle Smith told The Globe and Mail.

In a wide-ranging discussion that ranged from her frustration with the Canadian government to her pick for the player who will score the winning goal for the Edmonton Oilers should they win the Stanley Cup, Smith said Ottawa's decision to send $900 million to Quebec as part of a housing acceleration program caught her attention last fall.

“I just thought, 'How did they do that?'” Ms. Smith said during the hour-long meeting on Thursday. Ottawa set up the $4-billion pot with plans to fund municipalities directly, angering provinces that felt the federal government was usurping its power by negotiating with cities. Quebec has proven it doesn't have to be that way.

Tensions between Alberta and Ottawa revolve around the province's oil and gas industry and its carbon emissions, but extend to a dispute over school lunch funding. Ms. Smith called Ottawa's desire to negotiate with cities over housing the last straw. So instead of just decrying Quebec's special treatment, Ms. Smith is increasingly turning to the province for tips on how to legally fortify her own province against what she sees as federal government encroachments on her jurisdiction.

After the housing accelerator was announced, Ms. Smith contacted Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs, who informed her that the province has a law that prevents the federal government from speaking directly with municipalities. The minister printed out a copy of Quebec's legislation and presented it to her at the Federation Council meeting in Halifax in November.

The Alberta government introduced a bill in April that would give the province the power to void funding agreements between its municipalities and the federal government.

“I just wrote a letter to Premier [François] Legault thanks his officials for their support in drafting this bill,” said Ms. Smith.

Alberta's law has yet to be reviewed. Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek promised to continue negotiating with the federal government for money to support the construction of the infrastructure needed to solve the housing crisis.

Ms Smith said Alberta will continue to look east.

“You will see that we will tend to follow the same pattern as Quebec when there is a federal program that encroaches on our jurisdiction,” she said. The premier reiterated that she has no objection to working with Ottawa on programs such as school meals or dental insurance, but said the federal government must stop unilaterally imposing policies when they encroach on Alberta's jurisdiction – and ultimately cost the province money.

“The problem is that the federal government stumbles into our area, doesn't talk to us and then comes up with half-baked proposals,” she said. Ottawa then pays “only a fraction” of the costs and expects the provinces to foot the rest of the bill. “We're just not going to do that.”

Ms. Smith won Alberta's 2023 spring election after becoming premier in the fall of 2022 when she was elected leader of the governing United Conservative Party. She campaigned heavily against Ottawa in both election campaigns. She is particularly angry with Steven Guilbeault, the federal environment minister, and this largely defines her difficult relationship with the federal government.

“There are some positives, but the negatives really center around the relationship with Stephen Guilbeault, who is an ideologue,” she said. “We've tried to work with him, but he continues to push the envelope on things that are really damaging to our economy, whether it's the net-zero electric grid, which we can't get to by 2035. Yeah, whether it's net-zero cars, whether it's the emissions cap on oil and gas.”

But Alberta's relationship with the federal Liberals is not “all bad,” Smith said, pointing to the cordiality between herself and the Quebec-born federal minister for innovation, science and industry.

“I actually have a great relationship with François-Philippe Champagne, who I text regularly and meet when he's in town,” Ms. Smith said. “And he's been very helpful and helped us get some big net-zero projects done.”

During the editorial meeting, she also praised the Edmonton Oilers, the only remaining Canadian team still in contention for the Stanley Cup. When asked who would score the winning goal, Ms. Smith skipped Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and instead chose defenseman Evan Bouchard.

“He's doing really well.”