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Frenzy over Trans Mountain court decision engulfs Alberta politics and media

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley speaks to media. Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

Funny, isn't it? Less than six months ago, tout le monde political Alberta was demanding harsh application of "the rule of law."

This was nearly universally interpreted to mean that no legal challenge or protest against the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project could or would be tolerated.

The government of British Columbia's determination to exercise its right to mount a legal challenge against the TMX Project, then being proposed by Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc., was excoriated as a violation of the rule of law by Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, and many others.

To a significant degree courts in British Columbia have complied. "Camp Cloud" has been dismantled, its protester-residents scattered. Anti-pipeline protesters who violate the injunctive no-person's land around the Trans Mountain terminal in Burnaby, B.C., are being sent to jail, albeit not for as long as some intemperate Alberta politicians demand.

But now that the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the federal cabinet order allowing construction of the now-federalized TMX to proceed immediately -- the rule of law in action, whether you like the ruling or not -- where are the cries for the application of this fundamental part of our democratic system?

There's plenty of noise, but not a peep about the rule of law.

Where we used to hear that thanks to the rule of law we were all going directly to heaven, we are now being told that because of the rule of law we are all going direct the other way!

As a result, we are now experiencing a full-blown elite tantrum in response to the court's unanimous decision in Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada, an appeal by a coalition of First Nations governments, coastal municipalities and environmental groups of the 2016 federal cabinet order authorizing the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the pipeline to proceed.

Some of the nonsense being said and written is pretty breathtaking.

Kenney -- the Alberta Opposition leader who once proclaimed "the rule of law must be enforced" and "it's time to stand up for the rule of law in Canada" -- now assails the Appeal Court judges for being "out of touch" and "living in an academic bubble" because they didn't deliver the decision he wanted.

According to Postmedia's National Post (and all its little local National Posts), assassins are gunning for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, Westerners are alienated and rightly so, and layoff notices are coming soon.

According to The Globe and Mail every Albertan -- every single one of us! -- will be impacted by this court decision, and it won't be pretty. (This one's behind the National Website's paywall, so I won't bother with a link. Suffice it to say the story doesn't live up to the headline.)

No need to go on at length, except to note that according to a lot of media, it's all Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's fault.

No one has told us yet to light our hair on fire and run into the streets, but such a journalistic injunction would be no surprise in either local or national media.

It is an astonishing thing, especially here in Alberta, to see the oil industry not get its way, immediately and enthusiastically, no matter how outlandish its demands. So it is possible that a motivating factor for the media frenzy yesterday was merely shock that something so unexpected could happen.

Another motivation for this full-blown media swivet is certainly the triumph of political aspiration over economic reality. Doubtless to conservative publications like The Globe and Mail and Postmedia's newspapers this looks like a rare opportunity to gin up some support for the pathetic Andrew Scheer and his disunited Conservative Party.

But there is no question that progressive politicians are stoking this frenzy too.

Premier Notley, notably, announced her government would pull Alberta out of Ottawa's climate plan as a result of the court decision and drop plans to implement the next step in the province's controversial carbon tax.

Tzeporah Berman, the outspoken B.C. environmentalist and public activism tactician once hired by the Alberta NDP to be co-chair of the Oil Sands Advisory Group, reacted strongly to that on social media: "The courts ruled in favour of Indigenous rights and acknowledged the risk to the dwindling Orca population and so Notley ... pulls out of the climate plan? 'What?! We are going to acknowledge Indigenous rights and protect the whales? Well screw the climate then.' …"

That's harsh, especially since the Premier's decision is probably a political necessity in Alberta now. But it's hard to argue with the fundamental logic of Berman's analysis.

It says something that amid all the brouhaha both the media and the Alberta government seem to have completely forgotten this weekend was the 113th anniversary of the day Alberta became a province in Confederation!

Yet the reality is that this is far from the end of the world. The Asian price differential the expanded pipeline is supposed to help Alberta bitumen fetch is, charitably, only a theory -- if one on which optimistic government budget forecasts are based.

The court ruling that has everyone in such a lather is not a closed door, but a legal roadmap on how to get the project built. The court even offered a way to do the job in a reasonable time frame. Cabinet has the right to "specify a time limit within which the board shall complete its reconsideration," Justice Eleanor Dawson wrote.

My crystal ball tells me TMX will be completed … and the economic impact will turn out to be a disappointment.

But be that as it may, this is how the rule of law works. If you don't like it, don't demand it.

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

Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

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