Alberta Politics

The Great Constitutional Pipeline War of the Rockies

Fresh from the Alberta NDP’s victory over Saskatchewan in the Fake Trade War on the Prairies, the ongoing political fight over the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby is heating up.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

In the British Columbia NDP government’s most recent move to block the oil pipeline, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman announced new rules today that would limit “the increase of diluted bitumen transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”

A key section of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and 3-MLA Green caucus that props up BC Premier John Horgan‘s minority government states: Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.

“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley read in a statement.

While the pipeline was always going to be politically challenging, with unflinching support in Alberta and unwavering opposition in British Columbia, the Notley government has poured a considerable amount of political capital into the success of pipelines. In a gamble, they even used their much lauded Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy program as a key part of their sales pitch for oil pipeline expansion.

George Heyman BC Environment Minister Pipelines
George Heyman

But opposition in BC remains strong.

“The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens,” Notley said. “It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless.”

I am not a constitutional expert, so I cannot speak to Notley’s claims, but by questioning the BC government’s decision on constitutional grounds, she is pressuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon his delicate balancing act of trying to appease his pro-pipeline ally (Notley), anti-pipeline ally (Horgan), and the 18 Liberal Members of Parliament who call BC home.

Trudeau will be hosting a town hall meeting at MacEwan University in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 1. Maybe someone can ask him a question about this?

The route of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.
The route of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.

4 replies on “The Great Constitutional Pipeline War of the Rockies”

I’m not sure what Lower Mainland opponents of the Trans-Mountain Expansion want to achieve. It seems clear that the inevitable outcome of this intransigence will be a Jason Kenney government in Alberta after next spring’s election. If they’re not fans of the Notley-led NDP, they’ll be even less enamoured of a Kenney-led UCP government in Edmonton, which will be far more aggressive with BC. It doesn’t really matter whether the pipeline makes any economic sense, or whether it contributes to climate change; what matters is that Alberta voters want it to happen, and if it doesn’t happen under the NDP’s watch, they’ll throw them out after one term and vote overwhelmingly for the UCP.

It’s a craven short-term political calculation by Horgan. By doing this, he kills two birds with one stone: 1) he panders to the “No Pipelines Crowd” in the Lower Mainland and on the Island (the folks in the Interior and the Valley won’t vote for him anyways) and 2) he caves to the Greens’ demands and ensures their continued support for his government. (Of course, he could achieve both of these aims without pissing off Alberta and 40% of the Province by cracking down on housing speculation in the Lower Mainland, but I digress.)

BC may have more political clout than Alberta nationally, but if the courts slap down the Government of BC on this one, it won’t matter. In this case all Trudeau needs to do is to step back and just say “the courts will decide”. It gets him off the hook politically fairly easily.

I think Kenney and the UCP are trying to furiously peddle the notion that their victory is inevitable, but as someone once said about what could happen in politics “events”. It is too soon to declare defeat in the pipeline battle and similarly too soon to conclude on the outcome of the next Alberta election. Credible pollsters have expressed much caution about this, although less credible ones have rushed in to make predictions. The era of everyone jumping on the bandwagon of the supposed winners in Alberta may be over anyways and this time Conservatives do not enjoy any advantage of incumbency. Also, a more moderate Conservative leader of another party could take away some support from Kenney, appealing to former PC’s who find him too socially conservative and extreme.

So when can we expect Horgan to unveil the new, made-in-BC vehicle that runs on good vibes and laundered casino money?

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