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Christy Clark hopes climate deal means support for Alberta hydro link

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark arrives to meet with Canada's provincial premiers and prime minister at the First Ministers' Meeting in Vancouver, B.C. on March 3, 2016.

BEN NELMS/REUTERS

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is hopeful the agreement between the provinces and Ottawa on creating a joint approach to fighting climate change will open the door to federal help in ensuring Alberta can better tap into British Columbia's power supply.

Ms. Clark made the comments on Thursday after the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met to discuss clean growth and climate change. Her hopes are linked to a commitment in the communiqué, issued by the leaders, to "foster dialogue and development of regional plans for clean electricity transmission to reduce emissions."

B.C. is already selling hydro to Alberta through a pair of lines, but Victoria has a greater ambition to spend $1-billion – partly funded by Ottawa – to bolster capacity so Alberta can rely on the hydro and reduce its reliance on coal-fired power. Coal is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to climate change.

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While discussion around the meeting was focused on a Canadawide agreement on carbon pricing and provincial opposition – especially from Saskatchewan – to a proposed national carbon tax, Ms. Clark suggested there was support for the enhanced hydro link between B.C. and Alberta.

"There are still conversations to have about it, but I'm hopeful we will be able to make progress," she told reporters following the meeting.

B.C.'s Liberal government sees the hydro exchange as one among many green infrastructure proposals that the province can advance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including an east-west subway in Vancouver, light rail in Surrey and even public charging stations for electric vehicles that could help.

On Thursday, provincial officials said the hydro link would cut three to six megatonnes of carbon emissions – the largest initiative among those B.C. has tallied as possible contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"That is a very significant change. That would be part of British Columbia's contribution, part of Alberta's contribution and part of the federal government's contribution," Ms. Clark said

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who was unavailable for comment following the meeting, has yet to fully support the idea. However, she and Ms. Clark talked about the hydro proposal during Thursday's meeting held behind closed doors, according to a B.C. official.

MLA George Heyman, speaking for the Opposition NDP in B.C., suggested Ms. Clark was pushing the idea to justify the controversial $9-billion Site C hydro-electric dam project in northern B.C.

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"She's locked into the project and trying to convince people there's a market for the power," Mr. Heyman said.

However, the B.C. government has said it would like to move on the Alberta issue well before Site C is completed within a decade.

Thursday's meeting saw the creation of working groups to look at several issues, including the controversial option of carbon pricing. Ministers are to review the reports and get back to the provinces ahead of a further first ministers' meeting in October.

The federal government had talked about a possible $15-a-tonne carbon tax, and Ms. Clark said B.C., with its $30-a-tonne tax, is well positioned to manage any such levy.

"We are already far ahead in terms of the rest of Canada in our carbon price," she said.

Asked what was new and relevant out of the first ministers' meeting, Ms. Clark pointed to agreement on exploring carbon pricing.

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She also said it was notable that for the first time since she was sworn in as premier in 2011, Canada's premiers and territorial leaders had sat around a table and talked about climate change.

"This is not the end. I understand that. But I hope Canadians will look and say, 'They got together. They made progress. It's a start and you can only get to the end if you have a start.'"

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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