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A bill to squeeze B.C. introduced in Alberta Legislature -- but can it pass constitutional muster?

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Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McQuaig-Boyd looks on as Premier Rachel Notley speaks about Bill 12 yesterday (Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr).

Is it just me, or is almost everyone from Alberta quoted in the media sounding a little overwrought these days?

Yesterday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Energy Minister Margaret McQuaig-Boyd rolled out Bill 12, rather tendentiously dubbed the Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act, the sole purpose of which seems to be to squeeze residents of B.C.'s Lower Mainland till their pips squeak if they and their NDP government won't get out of the way of Alberta's demand for a fat new pipeline to carry our diluted bitumen to the Pacific Ocean, and pronto.

"We are very committed to putting pressure on B.C. to come around and focus on what this pipeline actually means," said Premier Notley, who is also a New Democrat. This was presumably a reference to what she thinks will happen to gasoline and heating prices in the Vancouver area if Alberta launches the trade sanctions it's been threatening against the province next door, which Bill 12 is intended to allow it to do.

Notley also told her news conference Alberta has a legal opinion saying the bill won't violate the interprovincial trade provisions of the Canadian Constitution, the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement or interprovincial trade deals.

I don't know who the government's lawyer is, but it's pretty hard to believe legislation that permits Alberta's energy minister to treat companies and jurisdictions arbitrarily and differently, launch trade boycotts of vital materials to other provinces, and fine companies that won't co-operate with its embargoes up to $10 million a day won't quickly run afoul of all three.

At any rate, we know the government's lawyer can't have been Joe Arvay, Q.C., the well-known B.C. legalist who handled Alberta's "Enron Clause" case that ended last month with a quiet settlement with Calgary-based Enmax Corp. Arvay is otherwise occupied these days, writing up the reference question for the B.C. government about whether it has jurisdiction over what goes through Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline and what environmental controls it can place on the project. The impact of the reference question on Kinder Morgan's sense of "certainty" is the proximate cause of this 10-week interprovincial pipeline brouhaha.

The question is taking a long time to draft, but at least we're likely to know what it is before May 31, the day on which Kinder Morgan has said it will pull the plug on the project if it can't get an ironclad guarantee it can be profitably completed.

For her part, Notley suggested that's also the date the taps may start being eased shut on the flow of resources to B.C.

Meanwhile, Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney, who for weeks has been screaming at the government to do something just like this, appeared to be getting cold feet yesterday, now that there's actually something on paper. Ummm, Kenney said, he'll be reserving judgment until after his United Conservative Party Caucus mates can take a good long gander at the wording.

"We certainly accept the goal but we have to do our due diligence as the opposition to make sure the bill doesn't go farther than it needs to," said Kenney, obviously ready to duck and cover. Well, maybe he'd just had a blistering call from some oil company executive who wasn't going to be told by any elected politician to whom he can peddle his dilbit.

As a legal strategy, I'm sorry to have to tell you, Bill 12 sounds like it's on life support before it's even had first reading. But -- who knows? -- as a political strategy maybe it'll work around here, regardless of the constitutional and inter-jurisdictional niceties, if Notley ends up looking tougher than Mr. Self-Declared Tough Guy himself.

Maybe this realization is what caused former Progressive Conservative Party MLA, energy minister and two-time failed leadership candidate Rick Orman to go right over the top, as it were, and demand yesterday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau call out the army to crush B.C.'s "eco-terrorists." This really is the term Orman used to describe well-behaved B.C. protesters like Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Meanwhile, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman sounded as cool as a cucumber on CBC's As It Happens last night, calmly explaining that B.C. is doing nothing not allowed by the Constitution (a fact that is impossible to dispute despite a lot of hyperbole about the rule of law on this side of the Rockies), will obey the rulings of the courts when its pipeline question gets before them, and will continue to look out for the province's environment.

He said he expects to disclose his government's legal strategy within a few days.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby reminded Alberta that his government is pretty confident discrimination against another province of the sort proposed in Bill 12 really is unconstitutional and B.C. expects to take legal action against Alberta if it follows through on its threats.

It's safe to say this is not the last time we're going to be writing about this.

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

Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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