The pipeline that tears us apart

One could say British Columbia Premier John Horgan has a gift for bringing people together.

Of course, the people he has brought together are fierce political rivals Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley of Alberta. Kenney, a United Conservative, and Notley, of the NDP persuasion, are finding much to agree on these days. Unfortunately for Horgan, what they are primarily agreeing on are ways to stick it to the BC Premier for his stand on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

There have been numerous developments on the pipeline front in the past few weeks, including the announcement by Kinder Morgan that they were scaling back work on the pipeline until May 31. At that point, the company says it wants a clear signal that the project will proceed…. or else.

So Kinder Morgan is backing out of the room to let B.C. and Alberta fight it out, and wait for the federal government to bring the hammer down.

There is already some speculation that Kinder Morgan may sue Canada to recoup costs if the pipeline doesn’t proceed. They, as a foreign company (based in Houston), could sue Canada under NAFTA, and some say they have a case. As pointed out by CBC News, this is the same step TransCanada took when the Keystone pipeline was rejected by the Obama administration. The suit was only dropped when President Trump reversed that rejection.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that the pipeline was indeed going to go ahead. He’s said that all along. But… he needs to say more. How exactly is he going to enforce the pipeline going through an area where opposition to the project is backed by the provincial government?

Some are floating the idea that the federal government should withhold federal transfer payments, although Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he doesn’t make public threats.

Notley says the federal government needs to take action, adding that if the feds allow their authority to be challenged on this issue, they are provoking a constitutional crisis.

It does appear that Trudeau has been trying to have it both ways on pipelines. He offers support for Trans Mountain — he has to, it’s been approved federally. He also knows that his limited appeal in Western Canada is not going to be bolstered if he doesn’t get this pipeline problem solved. But Trudeau voters are also concerned about the environment, and a great many of them do not want the pipeline built. He’s been able to get away with his somewhat tepid pipeline support so far, but the Kinder Morgan announcement forces Trudeau into more than the odd tweet supporting the pipeline. Trudeau is going to have to do something, take a firm stand, and stop straddling the middle. He called a cabinet meeting this week to discuss the pipeline. The cabinet came out of the meeting with nothing but a continuation of vague promises and no concrete action plan, at least nothing in public.

Notley has also put out there the real possibility that Alberta will invest in the pipeline expansion, causing Kenney to utter the magic words, “I agree with Premier Notley”.

Notley told the Calgary Herald this week that Alberta will buy the pipeline if Kinder Morgan walks, hopefully with assistance from the federal government. The feds are being noncommittal on that idea at the moment. She also intends to introduce legislation in Alberta to reduce oil flows to B.C., which will undoubtedly cause already high gas prices in this province to shoot up.

Meanwhile, Horgan remains unapologetic and says all this talk of economic ruin and constitutional crises is more than a little hyperbolic. “One investment does not an economy make,” he said in the Legislature. He also said he spoke to both Trudeau and Notley and told them more refineries should be built rather than pipelines.

He says he is concerned and surprised at the threat to turn off the flow of oil.

Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson, the BC Business Council and the BC Chamber of Commerce beg to differ. The whole thing makes B.C. look terrible, they say. It indicates that B.C. is not open for business and instead prefers to scare investors away.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver says Notley is engaging in fear-mongering and being irresponsible. He adds that the risk B.C. is being asked to take to move oil is “unacceptable”.

A National Post commentary says B.C. citizens should question their Premier’s judgement.

So we have fear mongering, constitutional crises, unacceptable risk, threats, law suits, government purchase of pipelines and fence straddling, all occurring at once. But here are the burning questions.

Who will British Columbians blame when gas prices rise, Horgan or Notley?

Who will British Columbians blame if the pipeline goes through, Notley or Trudeau?

Who will British Columbians blame if the pipeline does not proceed, Horgan or Trudeau?

Whose political career will survive the fallout?

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