Tag Archives: Pipeline Politics

Alberta Separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. It’s embarrassing and a bad idea.

Reading the pages of the Postmedia newspapers or the #ableg hashtag on Twitter you might believe that Albertans from roughneck Fort McMurray to trendy Kensington are calling for Independence and rising up in arms against their political overlords in Ottawa. 

Nope.

A flurry of recent opinion-editorials and columns in the pages of Canada’s Postmedia newspapers have been fanning the flames of discontent and frustration in Alberta. The discontent and perennial alienation from Ottawa is mostly a result of the economic slump and a delay in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but it is difficult to believe that there is any real appetite for Albertans to leave Canada, and the consequences that would follow.

University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz wrote in the Financial Post newspapers this week that an “Albexit” could draw inspiration from the United Kingdom’s disastrous “Brexit” from the European Union. Mintz drew inspiration from another European dumpster fire in 2015 when he penned another cringeworthy Financial Post op-ed predicting that “Alberta is not yet Greece, but it’s heading along that path.”

Three years later, Alberta is not Greece and probably should not be looking to Brexit for inspiration.

The arguments for Alberta’s separation from Canada are so weak and the concept of forming an Alberta Republic is so ridiculous that even the thought of writing this article made me cringe. It is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. But because I am a sucker for punishment, here I go.

Among the many of the disastrous consequences of Alberta leaving Canada would be that it would become virtually impossible to get any new pipelines constructed to the deep water ports that pipeline proponents argue the province’s oil industry needs. 

If you believe it has already been acrimonious to get the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion built in two provinces, just imagine how difficult it would be to negotiate a pipeline project with a suddenly hostile foreign government, whether it be the prime minister of Canada in Ottawa or the president of the Pacific Republic of British Columbia in Victoria. Not to mention the inconvenient fact that the Government of Canada actually owns said pipeline and its expansion project.

Some will argue that the United States of America would open its borders to Alberta or even welcome it as the 51st State, but it seems unlikely that the American government would want to antagonize Ottawa by dealing with a landlocked rogue nation and cause trouble on it’s northern borders.

American corporations already dominate our economy, which saves the US government the messy business of having to govern us. And the likelihood that most Albertans would be inclined to vote for the Democratic Party would also make the statehood route less appealing for many in America’s political establishment.

The Canadian Government saved Trans Mountain by purchasing the pipeline and the expansion project just as Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was preparing to withdraw their application for expansion. The government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid $4.5 billion for the pipeline and project, and it is expected Ottawa could spend another $7 billion on the project after it meets the necessary conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal. 

The Federal Court of Appeal ordered a stop to the project in August 2018 after the National Energy Board and federal government failed to conduct a proper environmental impact assessment of the increase of marine traffic and failed to properly consult First Nations communities along the route in the final phase of the approval process. 

While Trudeau clearly sees the pipeline expansion as a national priority worth spending serious political and real financial capital on, it is unlikely to bring him positive electoral returns in Alberta in 2019. Despite purchasing the pipeline, ensuring it will be built, and announcing $1.6 billion in loans and financial support to the oil and gas industry, support for Trudeau in Alberta has dropped like a lead balloon.

We didn’t ask for the opportunity to go further into debt as a means of addressing this problem,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in response to the federal government’s bailout package.

It is unclear what Alberta’s politicians want to be done in the meantime. Many are calling the pipeline the only solution to Alberta’s economic problems. The big problem with that argument, if you believe pipelines are the solution, is that even if the Trans Mountain expansion project meets the conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2019 it might not actually be finished construction until 2022 or 2023. And even if other failed pipeline projects are resurrected, they might take even longer to complete.

That a Prime Minister named Trudeau is not popular in Alberta is no shock. The ingrained hatred for Trudeau and his father in the minds of many Albertans ensures that no matter what the Liberal government in Ottawa does to support our province, it will be seen as either a failure or a hostile attack.

While separatist sentiments bubble up in Alberta politics every decade or so, the last serious political push happened more than 35 years ago, when Western Canada Concept candidate Gordon Kesler won a February 17, 1982 by-election in the former Social Credit fortress of Olds-Didsbury.

The separatist MLA said at his swearing-in ceremony that he had “a lot of responsibility to those who believe in freedom and free enterprise,” but then spent the next few months in the Assembly railing against the metric system and official bilingualism. He and his party were crushed by Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative juggernaut in the November 1982 general election.

Other separatist parties have come and gone since, but they have all faded in the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

And with provincial and federal general elections expected to be held in the next 10 months, Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and federal opposition leader Andrew Scheer are only too happy to stoke the flames or western alienation and resentment over pipelines, equalization payments, and new energy regulations included in Bill C-69: An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Meanwhile, outside of the margins of conservative opinion writers and anonymous twitter accounts, two recent polls show that while Albertans might be a little angrier, support for separation remains consistently low.

A recent poll conducted by the research company Ipsos found that “Albertans are a little angrier at the moment, but across the west there is little interest in separation and most measures of connection to Canada are consistent with prior polls taken conducted as long ago as 1997.

The level of support for the idea of an independent Alberta is roughly the same as it was in surveys conducted in 2014 and 2016,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “Four years ago, with a Progressive Conservative government in Edmonton and a Conservative government in Ottawa, the findings were similar to what is observed in 2018.”

The vast majority of Albertans remain proud Canadians regardless of which party has been elected to run the government in Ottawa. The frustration felt by many Albertans towards Ottawa over pipelines construction delays and the low international price of oil should not be ignored, but let’s not pretend that separating from Canada is a viable solution to our economic problems, because it’s not.

Alberta threatens to turn off the taps to BC as the Trans Mountain pipeline dispute continues

With little appearing to have changed after Sunday’s pipeline summit in Ottawa, the political dispute over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline continues to escalate.

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

In Edmonton today, Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd introduced Bill 12: Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act. The bill would give the Minister of Energy sweeping powers to “make an order directing an operator to cease transporting natural gas, crude oil or refined fuels in the operator’s provincial pipeline, or by the operator’s railway or commercial vehicle.”

It makes February’s wine boycott sound cute.

Use of the powers included in Bill 12 could have serious political and economic consequences for Alberta and BC. Ceasing the transport of oil and gas to BC could convince BC Premier John Horgan’s government to back down from its opposition to the pipeline expansion, but it could also backfire by escalating political tensions between the two provincial governments.

There is a little bit of irony in the Alberta government granting itself the powers to slow down the shipment of oil and gas to BC. The BC government’s initial move to limit shipments of diluted bitumen 11 weeks ago, a move Notley then described as unconstitutional, is what escalated the current political dispute between the two provinces.

It is not clear whether Premier Rachel Notley‘s government would actually ever use the powers include in Bill 12. But at the rate this political dispute is escalating, I would not be surprised if McCuaig-Boyd started threatening to turn off the taps by next week. It feels very Lougheedian, but without the $100/barrel oil.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

Bill 12 will likely get unanimous support from the Jason Kenney-led opposition, leaving Alberta’s lone Liberal MLA as its only critic in the Assembly.

“The NDP Government wants extraordinary powers to interfere with the oil and gas industry but won’t provide specifics or limitations on those new powers,” said Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann, criticizing the the lack of details in Bill 12.

BC Environment Minister George Heyman says his government could take the Alberta government to court over Bill 12. “I’m not counting on Alberta taking extreme or unlawful actions, but if they do, we’re prepared to defend British Columbia’s interests with every legal means available,” Heyman said.

Hogan says his government will continue with its legal case to determine if the province has the jurisdictional right to stop the project. But it is unlikely the court will rule on this case before the May 31, 2018 deadline imposed by Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc., which succeeded in generating a quick response from the Alberta and federal government.

A political dispute, not a constitutional crisis or a broken country.

As the political rhetoric runs high, it is important to take a deep breath. We are not on the verge of a constitutional crisis, as Notley has suggested. The country is not broken, as Kenney suggested. And we do not need to call in the army to protect the pipeline from eco-terrorists, as former Alberta energy minster Rick Orman suggested on CBC radio this morning.

As David Moscrop wrote in Macleans last week:

“What we’re seeing with the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline debate is democracy, federalism, and the rule of law at work: a divided country working out their opinions on the matter, split jurisdiction actors pursuing their interests, responsive governments keeping their promises, political and legal battles across several sites of licit contestation—and, to boot, a market response of potentially pulling the plug on the project as shareholders vote with their confidence and their dollars.”

BC MPs face civil contempt charges over acts of civil disobedience

Meanwhile, Green Party leader and Sannich-Gulf Islands Member of Parliament Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart face criminal contempt charges after entering a 5-meter ‘no-protest’ zone surrounding Kinder Morgan’s pipeline construction site on Burnaby Mountain. A conviction will not necessarily lead to the two MPs losing their seats in the House of Commons.

Section 750(1) of the Criminal Code, which applies to members of both the Senate and the House, stipulates the following:

Where a person is convicted of an indictable offence for which the person is sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more and holds, at the time that person is convicted, an office under the Crown or other public employment, the office or employment forthwith becomes vacant.

Oil Pipeline still King in Notley’s Interprovincial Agenda

Three years ago this week, Conservative Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford warned that a pipeline bottleneck and a dramatic drop in the price of oil would rob the provincial government of up to $6 billion in natural resource revenue.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Ms. Redford spent much of her two and a half years in office focusing on pipelines, as did her successor Jim Prentice during his short eight months in the Premier’s Office.

One of the jobs Mr. Prentice left when he decided to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 2014 was as liaison between the (now moribundEnbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and First Nations in northern British Columbia. Despite this experience, there was little evidence of pipeline advancement during his brief time as premier before the PCs were defeated in the May 2015 election.

Kathleen Wynne

The politics of pipelines continue to dominate Alberta’s interprovincial agenda under Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government. Riding the success of the National Energy Strategy accepted at the Premier’s Meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer, Ms. Notley secured the tentative approval from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca publisher David Climenhaga noted last week, “Premier Rachel Notley, after less than nine months in office, secured the tentative approval of the premier of Ontario and the enthusiastic endorsement of the prime minister of Canada, both members of a different political party than hers, for a pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for refining.”

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

What we are witnessing is unfamiliar: an NDP Premier advocating for this approval of a privately-owned, privately-operated pipeline that would ship oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a privately-owned and privately-operated refinery in New Brunswick. This is hardly characteristic of the radical marxist socialist extremist that Ms. Notley’s more fanatical critics claim she is.

This pipeline will not save the Alberta government from the revenue shortfall caused by the drop in the international price of oil, which is intensified due as a result of poor long-term planning during the previous 44 years of conservative governments. But it could narrow the price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select and provide a new point of export for Canadian oil while also keeping refinery jobs in Canada rather than exporting jobs to refineries overseas.

Denis Coderre

Denis Coderre

The decision to approve this pipeline will be up to the federal Liberal government, which includes strong representation from Alberta Members of Parliament.

Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault reiterated his support for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline last week. “Our government is committed to ensuring our natural resources have access to market.  This process will include a credible environmental assessment process based on science, facts and evidence,” Mr. Boissonneault said in a statement.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals

Randy Boissonnault

Building a national consensus around climate change and the transportation and export of Canada’s oil will be helpful for future projects. It also gives Ms. Notley an opportunity to highlight her government’s climate change plan, which includes the phasing out of dirty coal fired power plants by 2030, a move that could significantly reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions.

While Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean squabbles with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre over the municipal politician’s opposition to the pipeline, it would appear that Ms. Notley’s quiet diplomacy might be showing results. These type of public spats distract from the reality that Mr. Jean supports TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline but would cheer if Ms. Notley’s bid fails.

If TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline is approved before the 2019 Alberta election, Ms. Notley will be able to make the claim that an NDP Premier was able to accomplish something her conservative predecessors could not: get a new pipeline built from the oil sands to an ocean port.