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With or without the Trans Mountain Pipeline, Canada needs pharmacare

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As the Alberta Government's fight with British Columbia over the Trans Mountain Pipeline takes on comic opera proportions, Premier Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party and Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party Opposition appear to be struggling to see which one can come up with the most ridiculous things to say about it.

I know, I know, I'm being facetious about The Most Important Economic Issue In Canadian History -- whether or not there's actually a business case for the plan to expand the pipeline, something even the Texas-based company that claims to want to build it seems to have its doubts about.

As has been observed here on several occasions before, if the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project is so essential to the economic survival of Canada, then the Government of Canada should build, own, and operate it. Surely the foo-fah we've been living through is proof there are jobs the private sector just can't do properly.

That unorthodox if obvious observation notwithstanding, even if the economic case for the pipeline holds water, there are no excuses for Premier Notley and her deputy to claim that Canada can't afford a national pharmacare plan without the economic benefits of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline.

"If we want to make sure Canadians get the medications they need, we need to be able to pay for it," Premier Notley said on Tuesday. "So while they are at the premiers' meeting talking about how they are spending that kind of money, I'll be in Alberta figuring out how we can earn that kind of money."

"Although the issues discussed at the Western Premiers Conference are important to Canadians, it is Alberta's view that the Trans Mountain pipeline must be built if the country and its provinces are able to fund Canadian priorities, such as pharmacare," Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said yesterday at the premiers' meeting in Yellowknife, where she was representing Notley as the premier sat out the summit.

Excuse me? As Hoffman surely knows -- she is, after all, also the Minister of Health -- creation of a national pharmacare plan will save Canadian taxpayers somewhere between $4 billion and $11 billion a year, as well as saving many lives, improving tens of thousands more, and easing an unjust financial burden on the most vulnerable Canadians.
So, with or without the TMX, Canada needs pharmacare!

That kind of disappointing malarkey is the sort of thing we'd expect from Kenney's B-Team UCP Caucus, not from New Democrats. But it is a clear symptom, to borrow a phrase from Peter C. Newman, of the distemper of our times. In the NDP's defence, from a political perspective, this will almost certainly play well to the home audience.

CBC Edmonton headlined the story yesterday, "Alberta fails to gain unanimous support for pipeline at western premiers' meeting," emphasizing what you might call the local angle over the more important story -- a national program with plenty of popular support that Canadians desperately need and neoliberal politicians and their paid lobbyists are desperately seeking an excuse to scuttle.

No one should be shocked B.C. Premier John Horgan wasn't likely to experience a flash of light on the Road to Yellowknife and suddenly support the pipeline, which he ran against and managed to form a government in part by sticking to that position.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace, presumably knowing how annoying this would sound to Albertans who are used to commenting self-righteously about Quebec's high taxes and "wasteful" social programs, observed that "if the Alberta government is worried about revenue maybe they should look at bringing their tax regime in line with the rest of the country and stop relying on a volatile source of revenue like oil."

Albertans should expect to hear that a lot more in the months and years ahead.

As for Kenney, if he had just kept his own counsel, I suppose, the UCP might have chalked this up as a minor victory of sorts, or at least preserved its dignity.

Instead, the Opposition leader was soon assailing the premier for adopting just the sort of tactics he's been demanding.

The thing about Kenney is, no matter how confrontational the tactics adopted by the NDP, they're never going to be confrontational enough for him and the UCP's red-meat base.

"Instead of confronting the premier of British Columbia and telling him we'll make good on our promise to turn off the taps, instead of rallying the support of other western premiers ... our premier is hiding out in Edmonton," he complained to a group of reporters in Calgary.

Well, we all remember how well that worked when Kenney's old boss and inspiration Stephen Harper told a smirking Vladimir Putin to "get out of Ukraine."

As one Twitter wag calling himself Supreme Conservative of Alberta put it: "ATTENTION: This week we are all using our A (Blue) Meme packages condemning @RachelNotley for NOT attending the Premiers meeting in Yellowknife. Do NOT use the B (Red) packages that condemn her for attending the conference."

If you ask me, it's hard to say who's winning the race to make the most ridiculous statements about the pipeline.

The Alberta Party, I suppose.

Despite B.C.'s need for Alberta oil, its pipeline opposition is not 'ironic'

Albertans chuckling at concern in B.C. about the economic impact of Alberta cutting off their still-essential oil supplies while at the same time they oppose a vast increase in shipments of bitumen through their province by pipeline and other means need to remember that British Columbians didn't choose these supply arrangements. They had them thrust upon them by history and Confederation.

Indeed, you can make a historical argument that British Columbia didn't really choose Confederation -- but it got it regardless, rather as Newfoundland did 78 years later, and for much the same reasons.

Opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline by people who nevertheless need some oil from Alberta themselves may be a forlorn hope, but it's not "ironic" and it's not inconsistent. It's recognition of a world economy transitioning away from fossil fuels.

From a policy perspective, I am sure one of the impacts of this brouhaha is that future B.C. governments will make a priority of ensuring as little dependence as possible on Alberta for anything. The B.C. governments in question won't need to be New Democrats to act this way, as the lessons of 2018 will be plain to all.

Image: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

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

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