Last week BC Premier John Horgan said BC would ban any increase in shipments of diluted bitumen (dilbit) to BC until a scientific advisory panel determined whether shippers can adequately prevent and clean up dilbit spills. If the panel decides this isn’t possible, the ban on increased dilbit shipments will become permanent.
This announcement gave our politicians a chance to show us what they’re made of.
Before we examine how Jason Kenney responded, let’s see what the grownups said.
Enough is enough
For Rachel Notley this was the last straw.
She issued a sharp warning–any action to limit the increased flow of dilbit into BC through Trans Mountain was illegal and unconstitutional. She confirmed her government is developing a legal strategy to respond to BC’s actions and called upon Prime Minister Trudeau to make it crystal clear to BC that only the federal government has the power to decide what goes into interprovincial pipelines.
She underlined her displeasure by suspending negotiations with BC to purchase electricity, the loss of this deal could cost BC up to $500 million/year and alluded to further trade repercussions.
Horgan tried to mollify Notley by saying he was simply embarking on a “consultation” which could take one to two years. This just makes things worse because, as Notley pointed out, ongoing regulatory uncertainty is corrosive to business investment.
Come on! Really?
Trudeau stepped up his defence of Alberta’s position by telling 1,700 noisy people, including many belligerent anti-pipeline hecklers, at a town hall meeting in Nanaimo that “It is in the national interest to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and we will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”
When the prime minister of Canada invokes the phrase “national interest” and says the pipeline “will” be built he’s telling BC to back down.
Horgan responded that BC is an equal partner in Confederation (yes, equal with the other provinces, not necessarily with the federal government) and it won’t be subservient (fine, it might not be subservient to Alberta, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subservient to Canada).
The mature response
Notley fired a shot across BC’s bow warning Horgan not to push his luck. Trudeau declared his unequivocal support for Alberta in front of an unruly crowd of BC residents. Both politicians proved they have what it takes to address BC’s position.
And they’ve kept their powder dry. They’ve done nothing to impair their ability to take this issue to the courts if necessary.
Which brings us to Jason Kenney who’s as inept as John Horgan when it comes to the pipeline debate.
Bad Notley, bad Trudeau
To be fair, it’s a hard for Kenney as the UCP Opposition leader to have any impact whatsoever. It’s not as if anyone who counts is listening to him.
So, he pitches his comments to his base.
Unfortunately, his comments demonstrate an appalling lack of understanding of the business/legal environment in which Notley and Trudeau operate.
Kenney argues Notley should have taken a harder line with BC. He wants Alberta to cut off oil flowing to BC so “BC consumers can see what sky-high gas prices look like”.
Not only is this naïve (the backlash would be directed against Alberta, not Horgan’s government), it creates problems under the New West Partnership Agreement which prohibits provinces from impairing their trade relationships, and most importantly, it hurts Alberta producers and shippers by forcing them to violate energy contracts and pipeline transportation agreements.
Kenney professes to support the free market, but his “cut off the oil” solution is the antithesis of allowing the market to operate free from government interference.
Kenney tried to take credit for Notley’s decision to suspend the electricity negotiations, but unlike Notley who suspended negotiations on a potential trade deal with BC, Kenney’s “solution” impacted the existing trade relationship between the two provinces which creates problems under the New West Partnership Agreement.
When all else fails Kenney, like Trump, reverts to conspiracy theories.
Kenney suggests that Notley and Trudeau don’t really want the Trans Mountain pipeline to go ahead. Apparently when Notley says the BC government “doesn’t have the right to re-write our constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have” what she really means is “Well done, John, let’s rip up the constitution”.
Apparently when Trudeau ejects anti-pipeline protesters from town hall meetings he’s really telling them he’s on their side.
Kenney’s conspiracy theory explanations may go down well with his supporters who want to cede from Canada and join the USA, but most Albertans are too intelligent to swallow this hogwash.
Leaders and that other guy
We need leaders like Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau who know how to work collaboratively with their provincial and federal counterparts but are prepared to ratchet up the pressure when it becomes necessary.
We don’t need leaders who try to solve difficult problems with ill-considered, half baked, “we’ll show them” solutions.
Some leaders know how to lead. Others take cheap shots and talk big in memes.
Huffing and puffing can be entertaining but it’s no substitute for leadership.