Calgary MP Len Webber must apologize for linking pipeline approval and BC opioid crisis

Len Webber
Len Webber, former Alberta PC MLA, currently MP for Calgary Confederation.

“If you’re willing to make it easier for us in Alberta, we can make it easier for you to put in safe injection sites throughout the country.” – Webber

If you’re an Alberta Member of Parliament, like Calgary’s Len Webber, not antagonizing BC voters ahead of building a crucial West Coast pipeline seems, well, obvious. Unfortunately, deliberately or not, Webber stepped squarely in the middle of a political cow patty over his comments last week linking the BC opioid crisis to approval of more pipelines.

len webberOver 900 BC people died of drug overdoses last year, which is the eighth leading cause of death in the province. Fentanyl, in particular, is ravaging drug users, especially youth. The issue is a crisis and citizens expect their provincial and national governments to do something.

What they don’t expect is their elected representatives to horse trade over dead kids, which is what Webber tried to do in a Feb. 9 session of the Standing Committee on Health, which was considering Bill C-37, amendments to the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.

Don Davies, NDP member for Vancouver Kingsway, was one of several committee members to propose that the process for approving safe injection sites, which have been very controversial in the lower mainland, should be as “streamlined, effective, and efficient as possible for an applicant. The end goal, in my view, is to get supervised consumption sites up and running as fast as possible to save lives.”

len webber
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Webber used his lone comment during the meeting to compare safe injection sites with pipelines.

“I don’t support what you’re doing here, Mr. Davies, in your motion or your amendments. However, I am making again the comparison between pipelines and safe injection sites. I may not have explained it quite clearly, but you know what I’m thinking here. It’s very onerous for pipelines, yet you want it to be very simple for safe injection sites,” Webber said.

“If you’re willing to make it easier for us in Alberta, we can make it easier for you to put in safe injection sites throughout the country.”

In a statement posted to his website today (his office staff said he would not be doing interviews on the issue), Webber claimed his real problem was NDP “hypocrisy.” To wit, that the “burden of proof” rests with the government for safe injection sites but with corporate applicants in the case of pipelines.

The Calgary Confederation MP thinks this is unfair.

What it really is, is a false equivalency. Society doesn’t expect drug addicted citizens to make a case for treatment; the very nature of their disease precludes them from doing so in most cases. But pipeline operators seek permission to build energy infrastructure for private and public benefit; they logically seek approval from public regulators that act on behalf of the governments that own and have jurisdiction over the resource.

len webber
Dr. Hakique Virani.

Tying illegal treatment to pipelines is crass, cold-hearted, and politically stupid, for three reasons.

One, Alberta has its own opioid crisis. Almost 350 people died in 2016 from fentanyl overdose alone.

“This is an unmitigated public health crisis to do with drug poisoning,” Dr. Hakique Virani, a clinical assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Alberta, told CBC. “It’s important, right now when we’re in the midst of a huge public health crisis, for people to feel like we care.”

Webber’s message is that Alberta cares more about pipelines than addicted youth.

Two, Alberta just had the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline to the West Coast approved in late Nov. by the Trudeau government, as well as the replacement of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which added an extra 370,000 b/d of crude oil transport capacity. And the Liberals have just begun a “modernization” of the NEB and Environmental Assessment Agency to restore public confidence in the pipeline review process.

In the face of this largess for the Alberta oil and gas industry – and the provincial economy – now seems like a very odd time to carp about pipeline approvals being “extremely onerous.”

Three, BC voters go to the polls in May to elect a new provincial government and the Kinder Morgan pipeline will be front and centre during the campaign. The Christy Clark Liberals supported the project in the end, after some deft stickhandling in both ends of the ice during the National Energy Board review. But John Horgan’s NDP are steadfastly opposed.

Anyone want to bet against Webber’s comments being brought up regularly during the campaign?

len webberLet’s call this what it really is: red meat for Conservative voters back in Calgary, where energy boosterism is rampant, and far too many Albertans think the Trudeau Liberals are the Second Coming of the National Energy Program.

In this day and age, with most Canadians on social media, did Webber honestly think his comments weren’t going to leak out to the public and be heard in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes? You know, places where Alberta hopes more pipelines will be built?

Webber says his thoughts “were poorly articulated and have left the wrong impression with some people who have not followed closely the full business of our Committee.” He points that he was the first member to ask that the opioid crisis be studied by the committee and that he’s very concerned about its impact across the country.

Fair enough. But what he didn’t do was apologize. He should do so immediately. And he should make clear to British Columbians that he takes their province-wide “public health crisis” seriously and will do what he can as a representative of the Canadian people to support efforts to address it.

Failing to own up his mistake could – and likely will – damage Webber’s reputation and impede Alberta’s case for more energy infrastructure.

len webber

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