For those of us used to listening to Alberta politicians on the topic of pipelines, British Columbia Premier John Horgan made for a refreshing change yesterday, sounding remarkably like the grown-up as he responded to Premier Jason Kenney's proclamation into law of the NDP's unconstitutional bill to shut off the oil and gas taps to B.C.
Subtly undercutting the new Alberta premier's claimed reason for proclaiming the act by noting his explanation in a phone conversation that it was just a sop to his base, a genial Horgan told reporters in Victoria without bluster that "our lawyers today filed two actions in court to strike down the bill because we believe it's unconstitutional."
Premier Horgan also used his news conference in the legislature's rose garden to ratchet up pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, the proximate cause of Alberta's ongoing temper tantrum, to help reduce gasoline prices in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Horgan, celebrating the fifth anniversary of his leadership of the B.C. NDP, noted that if there's no intent by Alberta to use the legislation immediately, as Kenney told him in their call, then the B.C. government's legal action can't be described as provocative.
"During the call with the premier, I made it clear to him that my job, as is his, is to protect and defend the interests of the province that I represent, and I fully intend to continue to do that," he said. In other words, Kenney ought not to expect his blackmail effort to work very well.
Be that as it may, Horgan noted, "at no time over the past two years have we disrupted or delayed the permitting process in any way beyond those delays that would be required to protect the interests of British Columbia."
"From the beginning, I have been using existing court actions to ensure that British Columbians' interests are protected," he continued, comparing British Columbia's reference case on environmental regulation of the Trans Mountain pipeline to that of Ontario and Saskatchewan (loudly supported by Kenney during the Alberta election campaign) against Ottawa on the carbon tax.
In other words, it's that rule-of-law thing again that Kenney used to talk about so much. As an aside, isn't it the moral equivalent of obstruction of justice for one province to threaten to cut off essential supplies to another if it won't knuckle under and cease using its legal right to access the courts? Just wondering.
In response to a reporter's question, Horgan also called BS on the claims of Alberta politicians, and not just Kenney and his United Conservatives, that high gasoline prices in British Columbia have anything whatsoever to do with the Trans Mountain pipeline or the speed at which it is being completed.
"Looking at the materials that were put before the National Energy Board, the TMX proposal did not contemplate increasing refined product in any way," Premier Horgan noted.
"In fact, quite the opposite … there is less refined product coming into the Lower Mainland now with the existing pipeline and no commitment from TMX to do something about that with the twinning of the pipeline," he said, kicking the can on opening up more capacity in the pipe to increase the supply of refined products to B.C. to the pipeline's current owner, which, you know, is the Government of Canada.
"I'm trying to take steps working with the owners of the pipeline, the federal government, to try and see some way that we can reduce the export of diluted bitumen and increase refined product coming into the Lower Mainland. That will help stabilize prices as other refining capacity comes back on stream."
That will also make some Albertans crazy, since we have persuaded ourselves that increasing the supply of bitumen by shipping it to additional markets will also increase the price it fetches, something many of us were taught in economics 101 is not the way things work.
"It's undeniable that there is more bitumen coming in and less refined products coming in," Horgan added, comparing the current use of the existing line to that in earlier years, "and the consequence of that is that prices are going up."
This makes the position Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finds himself in slightly more interesting, it seems to me. By acting on what Premier Horgan is saying, the PM can infuriate Alberta but lose no votes because there are essentially none here for him anyway. Or he can infuriate the voters of B.C.'s Lower Mainland, enough of whom are actually inclined to vote for his Liberal Party to possibly give it another term in government, and thereby lose the election in the fall.
As Horgan put it: "You own the pipeline. Get some gasoline into that pipeline."
What would you do in the PM’s shoes?
At any rate, Horgan's collected response to Kenney makes it worth listening to the entire news conference, which is easily done thanks to CBC Edmonton.
Meanwhile, Kenney appears to want to channel Vladimir Putin, the master of the natural gas taps to Europe.
There may indeed be an argument for Canadian refineries east of the Lakehead to buy more "ethical" Alberta oil, as we Albertans keep insisting they should, but giving Alberta governments regardless of their political stripe the opportunity to turn the taps on and off to achieve their policy goals doesn't seem like strong long-term argument for achieving this goal.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post is also found on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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