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Flooding in B.C. won't help Alberta's case for Kinder Morgan

As fear rises in British Columbia along with the province's record floodwaters, the likelihood that B.C. voters will connect the dots between man-made climate change and "natural" catastrophes is rising too.

Politically speaking, this is not exactly good news for the determined advocates in Alberta and Ottawa of aggressive westward pipeline expansion, or the many Albertans whose passionate support for such projects veers toward climate change denial.

It may be good news for B.C. Premier John Horgan, though, as he seeks a way to resolve the mixed signals sent by British Columbia voters -- whom a recent Angus Reid Institute survey suggests like the NDP leader personally, but are less comfortable with his government's efforts to slow down Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion plan.

The needle on pipelines may move a little, though, in sync with the water level -- not to mention the forest fires that haven't yet started to burn, but probably will soon. This is likely whether or not Ottawa offers to help with cash and soldiers.

From the standpoint of political impact, the danger of flooding is now moving from B.C.’s Interior, where public opinion leans in favour of pipeline expansion, into the Lower Mainland near Vancouver, where opposition is entrenched and determined. This may well weaken province-wide support for Kinder Morgan and strengthen it for the NDP's resistance to the $7.4-billion megaproject.

Unseasonably high temperatures have caused rapid mountain snow melt, resulting in rising waters near the mouth of the Fraser River, which runs right through the Lower Mainland. Evacuation alerts have now been issued for homes in the populous region.

The location of the rising water renders ineffective a traditional tactic used by friends of the fossil fuel industry who would prefer the public doesn't ponder possible connections between bitumen extraction in Alberta and global climate change. That is, what might be called the NRA Strategy of suppressing the obvious by arguing "now is not the time" to use tragedy or disaster to make a political case.

The NRA is the National Rifle Association south of the Canada-U.S. border. It trots out this argument every time there’s a school shooting in the United States. As far as the NRA is concerned, of course, now is never the time to talk about shooting tragedies.

The NRA Strategy was employed effectively by supporters of bitumen extraction and transshipment two years ago in May 2016, when fire appeared likely to engulf Fort McMurray, the principal service centre for Alberta's oilsands region. More than 80,000 residents were forced to flee their homes.

But try as pipeline advocates might, that’s not going to cut it when the potential for catastrophe is in a region where the people impacted don't make their living mining fossil fuels.

As University of British Columbia climate scientist Simon Donner observed during the Fort Mac Fire in 2016, it makes a difference where the disaster is. "It's one thing to talk about the proximate causes of the fire," he told CBC’s The 180 on May 6, 2016. "But it's another thing to get into the ultimate causes: what we need to do about climate change, at a time when people’s homes are literally being destroyed by a fire."

When the problem's in an area where opposition to bitumen mining and shipment is strong, though, no one will be persuaded. This is especially true when, as Donner observed in 2016, some people using the NRA Strategy really mean "let's not talk about climate change at all."

Indeed, the effect is likely to be the opposite in circumstances like those now affecting British Columbia.

Presumably, this means that were it not for the Kinder Morgan's looming shakedown deadline in two weeks, the Canadian and Alberta governments would have nothing to say about this matter this week.

Alas for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley -- both of whom have sunk a lot of political capital into Kinder Morgan -- the Texas-based company has threatened to pull the plug on the megaproject if it doesn't receive a profitability guarantee.

Hence federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's promise to the corporation last Wednesday that Ottawa will cover any losses it may suffer as a result of court challenges by the B.C. government.

As was observed in this space, one wonders when we're going to hear the fossil fuel industry’s friends in government start to say that democracy has simply become too important to be left in the hands of voters.

Meanwhile, forest fire season is barely under way in B.C.

Bill 12: Likely unconstitutional, but weirdly a blow for economic democracy

It seems hypocritical of Alberta’s NDP government to threaten a likely unconstitutional trade boycott in response to actions by British Columbia's NDP government that Alberta complains are unconstitutional.

Such is the state of Confederation in 2018, however.

Last week, Alberta passed legislation that supposedly gives the province the power to shut off the supplies of gasoline to British Columbia if that province continues to challenge the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in the courts. Senior elected officials in the Notley Government insist they’re confident the law can pass constitutional muster.

That is not so clear, however. What is very clear from a constitutional perspective is that, as inconvenient as it may be to Alberta’s government, B.C. has the right under the Canadian Constitution to use the courts in this way. So it may take a while, but expect fallout.

To his credit, Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann, the last Alberta Liberal standing in the provincial Legislature, possibly ever, voted against this legislation. But then, it's easy to stand up for a principle when you’re about to retire anyway and your party is on its way into the history books. Since the vote had nothing to do with women’s reproductive rights, the United Conservative Caucus was in the Chamber, ready aye ready to support the NDP.

If there is one positive thing that can be said about this legislation, it is that it clearly asserts the right of Canadian provincial governments to overrule the wishes of corporations to do as they please, not to mention the terms of the internal and external "trade agreements" designed to enforce those corporate "rights."

So while Bill 12 -- officially known as the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act and colloquially as the Turn-Off-The-Taps Law -- is probably doomed to fall before the inevitable court challenge and compensation demands from British Columbia, it does stand up for economic democracy in an unexpected and backhanded way.

Bizarrely, this appears not to have occurred to the dogmatically market-fundamentalist UCP Caucus led by Jason Kenney.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Flickr/bcgovphotos

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