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Alberta premier fields questions about B.C. politics with aplomb at hospital announcement

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Rachel Notley, Brian Mason, Sarah Hoffman & Supporters (Image: David Climenhaga)

We may have been standing in a field on the south side of Edmonton to talk about a new hospital, but it was the genial ease with which Premier Rachel Notley fielded reporters' questions about the continuing political gong show in British Columbia yesterday morning that really gave the sense grownups are in charge here in Alberta just now.

If Notley doesn't frighten the leaders of the Wildrose Opposition and Progressive Conservative Party, by gosh she should!

If the only thing the crowd of reporters wanted to talk about was what the alliance of the British Columbia New Democratic Party and the B.C. Greens might mean for the prospects of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, and that was okay with Notley and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman too. They were prepared.

The premier dispatched reporters' questions with aplomb, forcefully making the point the pipeline expansion will go ahead -- "mark my words, that pipeline will be built; the decision has been made" -- but also that any change of government in B.C. illustrates why the argument must continue to be made that environmental sustainability and economic growth can go hand it hand.

Of course the idea a healthy bitumen-based economy and a thriving planetary environment are complementary concepts is controversial. This is why nothing would suit British Columbia's many pipeline opponents, not to mention the province's emerging cadre of eco-separatists, better than a conservative government in Alberta that has no plans for building export infrastructure beyond bluster and bullying.

Can you imagine what would happen if a brainiac like PC caucus leader Ric "Knife-in-the-Back" McIver was handling this file?

Notley did sound tough, if characteristically thoughtful, for which later in the day the usually hostile business press would give her an adoring review -- "the Alberta premier is no pushover in showdowns, as oilsands leaders who caved to her agenda found out," the Financial Post gushed, sort of.

But she leavened the vow "we will not stop fighting for this pipeline" with a little dig at the B.C. economy, just true enough to be funny and dangerous at the same time: "The province of B.C. can't grow solely on the basis of escalating housing prices in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland," she reminded all participants in the ongoing debate west of the Rockies.

The premier tapped aside a question about environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, favoured punching bag of the Alberta right, who dared to Tweet her pleasure at the NDP-Green pact in B.C. while serving on the Alberta Government's Oil Sands Advisory Group. What kind of credibility would the process have with our restive neighbours, Notley wondered, if the committee was just an echo chamber?

She dispatched another query about the possibility political aides returning to B.C. with a wry smile -- she'll wish anyone departing bon chance et bon voyage (my phrase, not hers)…next question?

And she summed up, with only a hint of exasperation, "federalism doesn't mean every province without access to a coastline doesn't get to engage in international trade."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in Rome, made many of the same points -- none of which means, of course, that there isn't actually plenty pipeline opponents on the West Coast could do to throw a monkey wrench into Kinder Morgan's and other pipeline plans once they get into government, however much longer that takes.

Oh, and about that hospital, which the premier announced along with Hoffman, Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason and Alberta Health Service CEO Verna Yiu? It's a big deal, actually.

The city's south side has already seen some of the highest recent population growth in the country, and the need for a hospital is undeniable. The project is another example of the NDP Government's commitment to supporting front-line public services when conventional conservative thinking calls for austerity and cutbacks.

The 350- to 500-bed hospital will be located at the intersection of Ellerslie Road and 127th Street -- site of the news conference -- and ground will be broken in 2019 with construction commencing the next year. There's $400 million in the budget now for the project -- enough to get it started, but more will need to be approved to complete it.

The timing is significant, of course, with an election likely to take place between groundbreaking and construction. With Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney lurking in the wings, vowing to undo every single NDP policy and itching to slash budgets, the inference is obvious.

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

Image: David Climenhaga

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