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Candidate's proposal to kick B.C. out of New West Partnership is likely to delight West Coast New Democrats

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Image: Facebook/Doug Schweitzer

Supporters of United Conservative Party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer shouldn't get their hopes up that threatening to kick British Columbia out of the New West Partnership will get that province's NDP-Green governing partnership to change its mind about opposing the Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion project.

On the contrary, B.C.'s new NDP premier, John Horgan, would likely to be delighted to see the province thrown out of the interprovincial trade agreement that got its start back in the naughts when Ralph Klein was the neoliberal Conservative premier of Alberta and Gordon Campbell was the neoconservative Liberal premier of B.C.

That way, someone else could take the rap for something he'd presumably quite like to do anyway.

We all understand Schweitzer's idea is mainly posturing by a long-shot UCP leadership hopeful with a nice smile, no experience holding public office, and only a minuscule chance of winning.

Still, from the UCP perspective it's an opportunity for the Calgary lawyer to be heard pointing out that the pro-pipeline Alberta NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley isn't getting much joy from B.C.'s New Democrats these days with the effort to build social licence for new pipelines to the B.C. coast, where popular hostility to the idea is overwhelming.

But if you're going to run for the leadership of a political party, you have to say something, and what Schweitzer chose to say in a campaign email to the UCP membership late last week was that if the B.C. NDP won't play ball with Alberta on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, which it had just said it wouldn't, it's "time for B.C. to be kicked out of the New West Partnership."

"With the removal of B.C. from the New West Partnership, I would encourage Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to work together to protect our interests under a new deal," he went on. (With whom, one wonders? The Port of Churchill?)

"As BC's neighbour and largest inter-provincial trading partner I hope they will reconsider blocking the development of this pipeline -- for their own economic interests, as well as the interests of Alberta and all Canadians," he said.

The problem is, it's not that easy to make a compelling case there's much economic benefit for B.C. in more pipelines, especially if Alberta won't share royalties from the bitumen they manage to move.

Indeed, there's not actually very much New West Partnership does for either Alberta or B.C. -- not because they both happen to have NDP governments whose voter bases have historically been skeptical about the benefits of such trade agreements, but because they are populous provinces with large resource-export based economies that don't export much to each other.

The New West Partnership got its start in 2006 as the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). It got spruced up a little and renamed in 2010, and Saskatchewan signed up in 2013. Manitoba joined last year after the Conservatives there defeated that province's NDP government.

In reality, there were virtually no barriers to interprovincial trade in Western Canada before TILMA was signed.

What TILMA, and the New West Partnership, are designed to do is to make it harder for provincial governments to enact their own, tougher policies on a range of issues in response to local issues and voter preferences. In other words, to reduce needed regulation to the lowest common denominator.

Needless to say, by giving corporations the ability to sue provincial governments for enacting better environmental standards, for example, protection of the environment is eroded everywhere.

Here in Alberta, the New West Partnership has provided an opportunity for a Saskatchewan brewer of watery commercial beer to try to throw roadblocks in the way of the Notley Government's support for local craft brewers, which has led to a craft brewing boomlet here. So why the NDP here is so warm for the deal is not immediately obvious.

Realistically, there would be essentially no economic penalty to B.C. if it were thrown out of the New West Partnership, and the province's ability to act forcefully to protect its own environment -- clearly a priority with B.C. voters that spans the usual left-right divide -- would be significantly enhanced.

This, in turn, would increase the fragile NDP-Green coalition's mid-term chances of hanging on to power, and Horgan's chances of getting an NDP majority in the next B.C. general election.

So, from Horgan's perspective, what's not to like about being turfed out of the New West Partnership?

Schweitzer seeks socially liberal voters, but his effort will likely boost social conservatism

Doug Schweitzer, whose slogan is "New Blue," has positioned himself as the socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidate to lead the UCP, which makes him the odd man out in the party's increasingly Wildrose-like leadership contest.

I'm sure Mr. Schweitzer is sincere in his belief that strong recent polls notwithstanding, the UCP could lose the next Alberta general election if it doesn't openly support LGBTQ and reproductive rights.

And to his great credit, he had the courage yesterday in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, V.A., to Tweet that "we are better than this alt right hate driven agenda. @TheRebelTV has no place in our new #UCP." This will win him few friends in the darkest corners of the UCP, which include some pretty near the top, where the Rebel's hateful agenda is revered.

But like the candidacy of former WCP president Jeff Callaway, the main impact of the campaign of the candidate who mulled a PC leadership run in 2016 is likely to be to draw votes away from former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, thereby opening the road to avowedly social conservative leadership by frontrunner Jason Kenney.

Kenney, a candidate with views nowadays well outside the Canadian mainstream, was the ultimate winner of the PC race last spring, which was the first step in his "Unite the Right" campaign.

So while Callaway bleeds off some Wildrose loyalists uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a Conservative, Schweitzer can capture the few remaining socially liberal Tory votes, smoothing the way for Kenney's ascension when his loyalists hold true.

Image: Facebook/Doug Schweitzer

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

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