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Pipeline battle heats up between B.C., Alberta

Premier John Horgan expressed surprise Thursday at the blowback his government is getting by proposing regulations that limit oilsands bitumen shipments through British Columbia. “We’ve not put in place anything at this time,” Horgan told reporters.
John Horgan
B.C. Premier John Horgan

Premier John Horgan expressed surprise Thursday at the blowback his government is getting by proposing regulations that limit oilsands bitumen shipments through British Columbia.

“We’ve not put in place anything at this time,” Horgan told reporters. “We’re going to put in place a scientific panel to look at the potential consequences of a catastrophic (bitumen) spill. I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I’m surprised at the response we’re getting from Alberta.”

Horgan made the remarks as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped in to turn up the heat on pipeline politics and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley began to take action on her threat of a legal challenge and possible trade retaliation if B.C. goes ahead with the regulations.

“Sabre rattling doesn’t get you very far,” was Horgan’s response to the suggestion of trade retaliation.

While Kinder Morgan wasn’t mentioned in B.C.’s proposed measure, it was viewed as a direct challenge to the company’s $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project aimed at more than doubling its capacity to transport Alberta oil to the coast.

On Thursday, Notley announced her government will suspend talks on buying electricity from B.C. as the first step in her retaliation. She said her government is “prepared to do what it takes to get this pipeline built — whatever it takes.”

Trudeau stepped into the debate by reiterating his position that “the pipeline is going to get built.”

“We will stand by our decision. We will ensure that the Kinder Morgan pipeline gets built,” Trudeau said on an Edmonton radio call-in show.

The proposed regulations under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act, include a potential ban on increasing shipments of oilsands bitumen through the province unless the government is satisfied a spill of the material can be cleaned up.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman unveiled the proposal Monday, which will lead to his ministry drawing up a five-point position paper that will be put out for public consultation.

In the 2017 election campaign, the NDP said it would block the Trans Mountain expansion. Horgan has since softened that stance, vowing to use every tool possible to protect B.C.’s interests with respect to energy projects.

Trudeau said Canada needs to get Alberta’s oil safely to markets other than the United States and that the federal government has done the research and has spent billions on spill response. “The Kinder Morgan pipeline is not a danger to the B.C. coast,” he said.

While it is normal for provinces to have differences, Trudeau said it is the federal government’s job to step in and protect the national interest, “and that’s exactly what I am going to do,” without elaborating on what steps he might take.

Speaking after Trudeau’s remarks on radio, Notley said the prime minister didn’t speak strongly enough in defence of the project.

At a town-hall meeting in Edmonton Thursday night, Trudeau faced questions from a man worried about stalled oil pipeline projects that he said are needed to help the economy and create jobs. As the man spoke others in the crowd held up yellow signs that read “Albertans Against Kinder Morgan” and “No Jobs On A Dead Planet.”

The prime minister told the crowd that Canada must be able to get its resources to new markets. But he said it also needs a world-class plan to protect the oceans and a climate-change plan to reduce carbon emissions.

“You cannot have any one of them, unless you have all three of them,” he said.

Saskatchewan’s incoming premier Scott Moe has also expressed support for the project and criticized the move by B.C., as have opposition party leaders in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Other displays of support for Kinder Morgan’s project emerged Thursday.

The owner of Fort McMurray restaurant Asti Trattoria said in a post to its Facebook page that it will remove all B.C. wines from its wine list and hoped that other establishments will follow suit.

Horgan said his the government is simply developing a document for public consultation and “there’s nothing (for Notley) to take to court.”

Questions are being raised about B.C.’s jurisdiction to craft new regulations that might restrict an already-approved project that is in federal jurisdiction, but Horgan argued he is simply acting in B.C.’s public interest, which is his role as premier.

With files from The Canadian Press