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Welcome to Alberta, Mr. Trudeau, where if the premier's not happy, nobody's happy

Things didn’t look all that cheerful when Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Premier Justin Trudeau met in Edmonton yesterday (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Welcome to Alberta where, as the prime minister of Canada no doubt discovered yesterday afternoon, if the premier ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!

And, right now, the premier ain't happy!

Old Alberta New Democrats have been familiar with this hurtin' refrain for some time. Don't jump to the conclusion that Justin Trudeau and much of the rest of the country aren't going to have to learn to sing along too.

According to the CBC, Premier Rachel Notley was "visibly frosty" after she left her short meeting with Trudeau at Edmonton's Macdonald Hotel late yesterday afternoon, which had been called to discuss how to get the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project back on track now that a court has thrown a spanner in the works.

Premier Notley wants the pipeline expansion, and she wants it now. And as I am sure the prime minister is learning to his chagrin, if he thought he could sweet talk Notley into signing back onto the federal government's climate plan before she has the pipeline her government has set its heart on, he will be disabused of that notion.

The meeting lasted less than an hour. Nobody has yet reported what was said. Just a bet here, but if someone tells before they're supposed to, it won't be anyone in the premier's office!

Trudeau's problem is that, as long as the rule of law prevails in Canada, there's very little he or his government can do about the ruling of a superior court that has tossed out the process used by the federal government to approve the pipeline expansion project other than go back and do it over the way the court demands.

The good news, if you're a believer in the oversold economic miracle we have been promised this larger pipeline will deliver, is that the judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal in fact provides a roadmap for completing the project in a reasonably timely way.

The bad news for Notley is that that's not going to be fast enough to fit into her government's current strategy for the provincial election expected next spring.

And the very bad news for Trudeau is basically the same. So he's going to be hearing about it.

As conservative political columnist Andrew Coyne pointed out yesterday evening, most of the advice Trudeau has been receiving from his enemies and friends alike on how to get pipeline-laying crews back to work on the pipeline has been fatuous because of that pesky rule-of-law thing.

Some of the ideas, like filing an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada as both Notley and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney have demanded, risk slowing the process down, rather than speeding it up. And forget about using the Charter's Notwithstanding Clause -- it doesn't apply to the Constitutional requirement for consultations with First Nations.

Of course, in the case of the United Conservative Party leader, suggesting additional roadblocks to throw in front of the pipeline actually works as a political strategy. It gives him the appearance of doing something and, if Ottawa takes his advice, he can blame the ensuing delays on the Alberta NDP and the federal Liberals.

Coyne suggested, most likely correctly, that for the prime minister, "the most promising response remains the one he first appeared to favour: follow the course the court prescribed."

That, of course, will satisfy no one in this province, although Trudeau can take comfort from the fact that we all are going to have to share the pain until this is settled.

One of the sad ironies of this affair is that one of the people best suited for the job of leading an honest and comprehensive consultation with the First Nations along the pipeline route is no longer with us.

Former Progressive Conservative Alberta premier Jim Prentice, who though he lost the 2015 provincial election to Notley's NDP government in May 2015 surely still had a role to play in public life, would have been ideally suited to lead a meaningful consultation with Indigenous groups as required by the ruling. He would also have been well placed to build support across the political spectrum for the result. It was on this day in 2014 that he was chosen to lead the Progressive Conservative Party.

After Prentice's death in the crash of a small aircraft in October 2016, the former federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was remembered by First Nations leaders for his efforts to build respectful relationships with their communities, something that is desperately needed now no matter what happens with the TMX file.

Where were yesterday's Postmedia editorials?

Many readers wondered yesterday what was going on with the editorial pages of the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal and other Postmedia-owned daily newspapers across Canada.

Alert former Calgary Herald journalists noticed there was no editorial in yesterday's edition of that paper and no mention of the newspaper's editorial board on the editorial page.

My former Herald colleague Bob Blakey said on his Facebook page that insiders at the much-reduced 135-year-old paper, once proudly the newspaper of record for Southern Alberta, had told him they'd learned of a decision to eliminate the editorial board last week.

He published an image of the page from a week ago, which included a statement that "unless otherwise indicated, all editorials are produced by the Calgary Herald editorial board, which operates at arm's length from the company's news gathering operations," and another from yesterday, in which the space was blank.

Other sharp-eyed journos noted that there were no editorials or references to the editorial boards of the Edmonton Journal (which ran a column about U.S. President Donald Trump by an Ottawa Citizen columnist in the spot usually reserved for an editorial), the Ottawa Citizen, and the Montreal Gazette.

However, Lorne Motley, the Calgary Herald's editor in chief and Postmedia's vice-president of editorial for Western Canada, told me in an email that this report was not correct. "What is true is that David Marsden, editorial page editor, was one of the departures during the voluntary buyout process which the company recently put through. He finished just prior to the long weekend. That is leading to internal restructuring to get that work done, and that is in progress. Certainly no decision has been taken to eliminate (the editorial board)."

Mark Iype, editor in chief of the Journal, said in part in a Twitter direct message: "At the Journal, on days when we decide not to write an editorial, we pick op-eds that we think would be interesting to our readers. Sometimes they come from other papers in the chain. When we do write editorials, the editorial board is listed as usual."

Past efforts by Postmedia and predecessor companies to require local papers to publish editorials written at headquarters or take editorial positions local editorial boards objected to have aroused controversy.

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

Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta

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