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Former B.C. NDP premier's pro-pipeline sentiments boost Rachel Notley's 'social license' strategy

Photo: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

There's more evidence out of British Columbia this week that Rachel Notley's social licence approach to pipeline development continues to work -- this time on the province's New Democrats, who up to now have been taking a hard line against the idea of more pipelines from Alberta.

This is speculative, of course, but if it turns out to be true, you can expect Alberta's political right, increasingly dominated by hysterics, to react with fury, not a more appropriate emotion such as, say, gratitude.

Yesterday, one of B.C.'s former New Democratic Party premiers, Dan Miller, published an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun strongly backing expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and taking up Notley's argument that it's possible to sell Canadian oil abroad and still protect the planet's climate.

This is nothing new, by the way. Miller has stated such opinions on several occasions. But this time, the Sun's veteran political columnist, Vaughn Palmer, found a suggestion in NDP Leader John Horgan's reaction to the argument by the man often identified as the B.C. Opposition leader’s mentor that the NDP might soften its opposition to pipelines from Alberta in return for meaningful guarantees that West Coast waters will be protected.

With a provincial election scheduled in B.C. on May 9, 2017, and at least a possibility Horgan's NDP could defeat Premier Christy Clark's Liberals, who despite their party's name are really conservatives, such a development could turn out to be quite significant for Alberta's New Democrats.

"The Trans Mountain Pipeline is good for our province and our country because it embodies the values that have helped Canada become the envy of the world -- a country where prosperity is widely shared across a vast and varied landscape," Miller wrote.

"Key to the creation of wealth in Canada has been the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments -- a central feature of Confederation,” he went on. "One necessary division of power is to give the federal government responsibility for interprovincial trade, including responsibility for pipelines that cross provincial boundaries. To do otherwise would lead to the kind of balkanization and squabbling between provinces that would degrade and diminish our economy to the detriment of all Canadians."

"Implicit in this understanding in our Confederation is that we cannot deny landlocked provinces like Alberta … the opportunity to export their resources,” Miller said. He noted that "British Columbia has benefited enormously from this arrangement."

The former premier concluded by arguing the Kinder Morgan project will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to B.C., including many jobs, more money for improved government services and, because of the Alberta NDP's cap on emissions, it would not contribute to global climate change.

Many environmentalists, I am sure, will take issue with the final point. Just the same, while Miller was not B.C.'s premier for very long -- six months in 1999 and 2000 following the resignation of premier Glen Clark -- he is not an insignificant figure in B.C. politics.

A former mill worker and Prince Rupert city councillor from the traditional labour wing of the NDP, he has no problem with good jobs based on resource extraction. He has been a New Democrat mover and shaker for most of half a century. And he played a significant role in advancing Horgan’s leadership ambitions. So his opinions matter.

He's pretty tough, too, as I recall. I met him more than once in the late 1970s when I lived in Prince Rupert. I'm not surprised Miller has no qualms about speaking his mind on this topic, though he is doubtless fully aware it would arouse some sharp and unpleasant criticism from people he might normally consider political allies.

So while Horgan has not withdrawn his opposition to Kinder Morgan, the Sun's Palmer saw signs of an opening in the B.C. NDP leader's recent talk of the need to refine tar sands bitumen here in Alberta and to protect coastal waters better.

"A Premier Horgan might take a different view of the Trans Mountain Pipeline were the product upgraded or the coast better protected,” he wrote on Monday. He concluded: "Perhaps those possibilities explain why Horgan's old friend Dan Miller continues to entertain thoughts of voting for him, never mind how they disagree publicly about the … pipeline."

If something like this were to happen, it would save Notley's New Democrats the mild embarrassment of having to tacitly support Clark's Liberals in May, not to mention discipline any staffers who travel to B.C. to support a party that at the moment advocates policies that would hurt the Alberta economy.

Alberta's conservatives, meanwhile, will naturally continue to pray that all efforts to actually get the Kinder Morgan expansion built now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals have approved the project will somehow fail.

From their perspective, nothing would suit them less than the pipeline continuing to move forward, oil prices maintaining the surge that followed news on the weekend several major oil powers would cut production, or anything at all happening that might make it difficult to pass off the fatuous claim the Alberta NDP is secretly in league with environmental "extremists" in the B.C. version of the party. 

Regardless, with the direction and key messages of Alberta's elected conservatives increasingly set by the alt-right extremists at Rebel Media, we should all brace ourselves for more apoplectic outbursts as the conservative opposition looks for dark clouds to overshadow any annoying silver linings that may brighten the still-gloomy provincial economy.

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

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