Jack Knox: Threat to turn off oil taps bully-boy rataphooey

Jack Knox mugshot genericNews item one: Jason (Dr. Strangelove) Kenney says he’ll choke off B.C.’s fuel supply on Day One if elected Alberta premier next week.

News item two: Victoria is the second most rat-infested city in B.C.

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Some people would take item two as bad news. It’s not as though the second-rattiest designation is a surprise — after all, Greater Victoria is the province’s third-largest city, and a coastal one at that. Still, rodent ratings aren’t something we’re likely to crow about in the tourist brochures.

On the other hand, rats could prove useful should Alberta, as threatened, turn off the taps.

That is, if Kenney can weaponize oil, we can weaponize Ratatouille.

Imagine, if you will, the effect of threatening to relocate our rodents to Alberta, which proudly boasts of not having seen a rat since Ken Linseman played for the Oilers. “Nice province you got ’ere,” we could tell them in our best extortion-racket Cockney. “Be sad if somefink bad ’appened to it.”

Honestly, this could be the most devastating blow since the 1970s B.C. Ferries promotional stunt in which daffodils were scattered over downtown Calgary from a plane, which seemed like a swell idea until the flowers froze in mid-air and came screaming down like icy spears, shattering on the pavement and scattering panicked pedestrians.

Or — and here’s an even better idea — we could all turn down the volume and stop snarling like belly-bumping bar room drunks.

It would hurt B.C. consumers (not to mention Alberta oil companies) if Alberta does enact Bill 12, which was introduced but never implemented by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government in response to B.C.’s attempts to block pipelines to the coast. The law would allow Alberta to use export licences to restrict the flow of oil and refined product.

B.C., particularly the Interior — the Land Beyond Hope — relies on gas from Alberta. This province consumes about 200,000 barrels of refined product — gas, diesel, jet fuel — a day. About half of that comes directly from Alberta via truck, train and pipeline.

About a quarter of our gas comes from the Parkland refinery in Burnaby, but even that facility is supplied with oil piped from Alberta.

We also get petro products from Washington’s five refineries. They’re supplied mainly by the tankers from Alaska, Russia and elsewhere that slide past Victoria each day, but also by Alberta oil; on average, 150,000 barrels a day, half of the Trans Mountain pipeline’s total capacity, is diverted to Washington via a spur line at Sumas. So, yes, Alberta has Joe and Jane British Columbian over an oil barrel.

The B.C. government shrugs at the turn-off-the-taps threat, though, confident that the courts would chuck out the Alberta law as unconstitutional. That confidence is bolstered by a 2018 ruling in which the Supreme Court of Canada, while dealing with a case involving inter-provincial liquor sales, made it clear that one province may not use trade restrictions to punish another.

To those who indignantly splutter that B.C.’s pipeline opposition punishes Alberta, the reply is that while peeling the petals off Wild Rose Country’s prosperity might be the byproduct of B.C.’s stance, it’s not the intent. Rather, B.C.’s purpose — whether or not you feel the concern is warranted — is to safeguard its coast.

By contrast, Alberta’s law was introduced with the sole purpose of bludgeoning B.C. into submission. Alberta lawyers might argue, perhaps even with a straight face, that their law does not target B.C. in particular, and that its purpose is merely to maximize the amount of money their province gets for oil, but unless it also restricts exports to other jurisdictions, that shouldn’t fool an impartial observer. It would take a monumental act of wilful ignorance to read Bill 12 as anything other than an attempt to starve B.C. into surrendering.

Albertans are angry, so angry that they are willing to hurt themselves to hurt us. We get that. Many British Columbians — probably most, according to the polls — also believe the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion should go ahead.

But while threatening economic warfare on other Canadians might win Kenney the mad-as-hell vote next week (the headline in Wednesday’s Beaverton: “Kenney vows to personally strangle every B.C. resident”) turning off the taps won’t solve anything (particularly with Ottawa poised to give the pipeline its blessing soon, anyway).

Even Trans Mountain supporters will balk if he tries to muscle them, as Notley did with her ham-fisted swipe at B.C. wineries. Bullying doesn’t change people’s minds.

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