If Rachel Notley wants to swell ranks of British Columbia pipeline opponents, she should keep borrowing dumb ideas from Jason Kenney
Rachel Notley has one job: don’t take 50 per cent support in BC for the Kinder Morgan pipeline and somehow turn into 40 per cent – or lower. Threatening to stop oil shipments to the West Coast might do it. One upping Jason Kenney is good politics at home, but west of the Rockies the message was not warmly received, as local media pushed stories of skyrocketing gasoline prices. Turning off the taps is a dumb idea.
“Some people have asked how far we are willing to go. Today, we reaffirm we will do whatever it takes,” Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell read as the Premier and her caucus looked on proudly.
“In the past, when workers in our energy industry were attacked and when the resources we own were threatened, Premier Peter Lougheed took bold action.”
The aforementioned “bold action” was a retaliation in 1980 by Alberta against the federal government of Pierre Trudeau for his imposition of the National Energy Policy, which devastated the provincial oil industry.
Lougheed announced phased in cuts to oil flows to Eastern Canada of 15 per cent. The two governments eventually brokered a deal to end the standoff.
Can Notley actually restrict or stop the flow of oil to BC?
“To retaliate in energy trade, she could create a new system to deny permits for transport of oil and petroleum products to BC, or refuse to transport gas from BC, or cut off import of BC electricity,” constitutional expert James Coleman said in an email.
“All three steps could damage industry in both BC and Alberta. All three would be subject to court challenges that would raise the same issues presented by the BC government’s action.”
Ok, so Notley can turn off the taps.
But why would she want to? There are plenty of other options.
“If there’s just some law on the books that forbids this transport, it’s possible that Kinder Morgan could just ignore it based upon the idea that it’s invalid,” Coleman said in an interview.
Same strategy if BC tries to impose a fine. Ignore it.
And if BC denies a permit, the company can apply to the NEB to issue the permit, just as it has already done when the City of Burnaby dragged its feet processing tree cutting permits back in Dec.
Notley regularly invokes Saint Peter of the Progressive Conservatives when it comes to oil policy, but in this case there is one critical difference: the Canadian government is Alberta’s ally.
When Notley says her government “will not hesitate to invoke similar legislation if it becomes necessary owing to extreme and illegal actions on the part of the BC government,” what she’s missing is that it’s not her job to stop said actions.
The feds hold the constitutional hammer in this case, says Coleman, and thus far the NEB has not been shy about defending federal jurisdiction.
In any event, the issues of restricting dilbit shipments through BC and the NEB issuing Burnaby permits is heading to the Federal Court of Appeal in the near future, the only venue where the National Energy Board – which is a superior court by virtue of federal legislation – can be challenged.
There was no compelling reason for Notley’s earlier ban of BC wines from Alberta liquor stores a few weeks ago and there is no compelling reason today to deprive British Columbians of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Well, no compelling legal reason.
We all know why Notley and Kenney are blustering about turning off the taps: Albertans are frustrated by BC opposition to Alberta pipelines and they love the idea of sticking it to BC. A recent Angus Reid poll even says so: 84 per cent of Albertans supported Notley’s ridiculous wine war.
A very reasonable sounding BC Environment Minister George Heyman was quick to claim the high ground.
“We’ve tried to be the adults in the room here,” he told reporters from his Victoria office.
“I see no reason for the government of Alberta to take any action when all BC has been doing is standing up for our interests. We’re proposing some regulations that are well within our jurisdiction. We’re determined to defend our environment, our economy and our coast line.”
If Notley’s bravado – and Kenney’s obnoxious insistence the whole idea was his to begin with – moves pipeline-supporting Liberal and Conservative voters to side with Horgan and Heyman, then the job of building Trans Mountain Expansion just got harder.
“…it is important that BC and the country know that we will do whatever it takes to make sure our constitutional rights are respected as partners in Confederation,” the throne speech said, but that is not her job, at least not in this instance.
What is Notley’s job?
Don’t make enemies out of supporters. Wherever possible shore up the pro-pipeline team. Don’t give opponents any more encouragement than necessary.
In short, avoid screwing up BC pipeline politics with dumb ideas. Is that too much to ask?