A working understanding of the truce declared by B.C. and Alberta after an entertaining several months of bickering was revealed Tuesday.
It’s formally known as the terms of reference for the B.C.-Alberta deputy ministers working group on energy exports that was created in July.
The main thing is that in the flow-chart diagram showing how it’s laid out, the names of premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford are in the same box. So are the deputy ministers. So are the assistant deputy ministers.
That denotes co-operation, at least on paper, and it’s not something you would have seen last year when it comes to the topic of moving oil to the coast for export.
Eager to be seen as a fighter for B.C. interests, Clark took a tough stance through most of 2012 on the need to be dealt in to the benefits of any planned oil-export projects. It led to months of estrangement between her and Redford.
Observers outside government said it may have been a miscommunication. Clark didn’t specify where the revenue she wanted would come from, but Redford and her government perceived it as a demand for a share of Alberta royalties, which would be a novel twist on Canadian natural-resource development.
The pair played a few games with each other over the course of 2012. They took turns walking out of meetings. They took pointed digs at each other in news releases.
Redford called an abrupt halt to a very brief meeting the two had to go over their differences.
The spring election, however, established that Clark is the real deal and will be around for a while. The tensions started easing, although the definition of “B.C.’s fair share” is still outstanding.
The terms of reference released Tuesday try to address that. They note that the fair share is the most misunderstood of the five conditions B.C. imposed on any oil pipelines.
“It is not about royalty sharing but rather about receiving a fair share of the economic and fiscal benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the levels, degree and nature of the risk borne by B.C., the environment and taxpayers.
“Given the risk to B.C. … B.C. does not believe an equitable distribution exists for fiscal benefits. This imbalance must be addressed.”
The working group’s marching orders are to find a fix for that and present it to the premiers for approval. Officials are directed to “establish the range of views” on the risk-benefit profile for each province.
Then they will identify the means and mechanisms that could be used to produce a fair share for B.C. Then they are to map out a strategy for getting there. That means a lot of dickering in a short period of time over large amounts of money.
They’ll also work on protocols to cover spills, First Nations involvement and transportation.
There’s one reference that makes clear both governments expect Alberta oil to arrive on the coast eventually. The outline of the transportation issue notes the two pipeline proposals on the books, but also cites rail as a viable alternative.
“If pipelines are not developed, rail will step into the void to deliver bitumen to the west coast.”
Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said from Korea Tuesday that rail “makes us nervous and makes communities nervous.” But it’s still on the agenda.
That presumes approval for an oil port, or oil-port expansion. That’s a pretty safe bet, as ports fall under federal jurisdiction, and there’s not much doubt where the federal government stands on the issue.
Coleman will be the guiding hand on the B.C. side. He is also responsible for oil, which is why both oil and gas are mentioned in the terms of reference, despite them being two completely different concepts.
His deputy minister co-chairs the group and his assistant deputy minister is one of the lead hands.
Working out a mutually beneficial arrangement — without, as one observer said, “getting their elbows up” — is the order of the day.
No need for B.C. to provoke any further arguments at this point. The thinking is that Alberta needs access to B.C.’s coast more than B.C. needs exportable Alberta oil.