OTTAWA, June 15 (Reuters) - The government of Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to work with the newly elected conservative premier of the country's main oil-producing province, Alberta, to fight climate change, a federal minister said on Wednesday.
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson will meet Alberta Premier Danielle Smith on Monday for the first time since she won the election last month after campaigning on a promise to battle Ottawa's climate policies.
In her victory speech, Smith vowed to fight the federal government's proposed oil and gas emissions cap and clean electricity regulations. But on Tuesday she said in an interview with the Calgary Herald that she would "prefer collaboration."
Wilkinson told Reuters in a telephone interview that he "would certainly prefer to collaborate as well."
This first meeting is about "starting that positive conversation about how we can work together," he added.
The conciliatory tone may help Trudeau make progress on his climate agenda after Smith repeatedly attacked the federal government's "job killing" climate goals.
Canada is a laggard when it comes to cutting emissions, and Trudeau needs support from Alberta, Canada's highest-polluting province, to achieve his government's goals to cut carbon emissions 40-45% by 2030. Trudeau has staked his legacy on turning Canada and its oil-rich economy greener.
Smith released Alberta's first-ever climate plan in April, which targets net-zero emissions by 2050, but it does not have interim emissions-reduction targets.
The minister said the government is still working on the precise regulatory framework for a clean electricity grid by 2035 and the oil-and-gas emissions cap, and is looking for "thoughtful input and feedback as we move forward."
During her campaign, Smith railed against the high costs of shifting to a net-zero grid in just 12 years, but Wilkinson pointed toward the federal government's C$26 billion ($19.5 billion) investment tax incentives, introduced in this year's budget, to help utilities transition away from fossil fuels.
Grid reliability and transition costs "are legitimate concerns. And those are the things that I think we can work together on," the minister said. In the future, clean power will be vital to attract business "and that means that the grid is going to need to be clean."
Smith rejects the oil-and-gas cap entirely, saying it is a de facto production cap.
"What we want to do is ensure that ... the emissions reduction cap is technically feasible, but is a bit ambitious," Wilkinson said.
"We are reducing emissions in line with what needs to be done if we are to meet our scientifically driven climate goals. But we need to do so in a manner that is sensitive to regional economies," he said.
The minister's tone is different from the more adversarial one struck by the prime minister earlier this year.
"One of the challenges is there is a political class in Alberta that has decided that anything to do with climate change is going to be bad for them or for Alberta," Trudeau told Reuters in January.
Reporting by Steve Scherer Editing by Denny Thomas and Leslie Adler
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.