‘Stepping back from the brink’: Alberta, B.C. move to cool down trade war
“In a small way today, B.C. blinked,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said after B.C. softened its stance on the most controversial of a five-point plan to boost oil-spill preparedness on the West Coast. As a result, she said, Alberta would lift its ban on B.C. wine.
B.C. Premier John Horgan denied that he was backing down from a fight with Alberta when he announced earlier Thursday that his government would proceed with the first four points of his environmental protection plan but send the fifth and most controversial point – restricting the flow of diluted bitumen from Alberta – to the courts in a reference case.
“I believe we have the jurisdiction to proceed in all five areas,” Horgan said, but added that the courts would decide before the province proceeds with any restrictions on the movement on crude oil. B.C.’s move is widely seen as a move to prevent the proposed $7.4 billion expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline through the province.
Horgan’s attempt to straddle both sides of the issue led to both pro-pipeline and anti-pipeline groups claiming a win.
“Today’s announcement adds another legal barrier that could affect Kinder Morgan,” West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer Eugene Kung said in a release.
But Notley, who has advocated in favour of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, said environmental groups were “spinning” the B.C. government’s announcement, which she viewed as a victory for Alberta.
“They’re stepping back from the brink and abiding by the law,” Notley said of Horgan’s government.
She said B.C.’s threat to restrict oil movements across the province created uncertainty for Kinder Morgan and the general investment climate in Canada, but she said she felt confident the reference case would reinforce Alberta’s and the federal government’s position.
“It’s been fairly clear to us as well as the federal government that this is a breach of B.C.’s jurisdiction,” she said of the bitumen restrictions.
She said the reference case would likely not affect any construction timelines for the expansion project, which oil producers say is needed to diversify exports away from the United States.
Trans Mountain said it “is pleased that the Province of B.C. is no longer proposing regulatory restrictions be placed on the expansion of diluted bitumen shipments and we will review any further information we receive about the consultation process or the next steps the province outlined.”
Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party opposition, said in a release that “it would be wrong to let up the pressure” because B.C.’s government is still hostile to the pipeline, which has yet to be built.
However, Notley’s repeal of her government’s ban on B.C. wine and Horgan’s decision to send the controversial “point 5” plan to a reference case marks a de-escalation of the trade war that had threatened to boil over into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Tensions between the two provinces had risen in recent weeks after B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman first unveiled the government’s controversial plan.
Notley blasted the plan at the time, calling it “both illegal and unconstitutional” and immediately cancelled talks to purchase electricity from B.C.’s under-construction Site C hydroelectric dam and implemented the wine ban.
Horgan described Alberta’s retaliatory measures as “disproportionate and unlawful.”
In the middle of the fight Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that deputy ministers from federal and provincial governments were meeting in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Horgan said Thursday he invited Ottawa to join the reference case his government will submit to the courts but it declined to join in.
“We made overtures to the federal government, they were disinclined to join us,” Horgan said., adding, “we’re going it alone.”
For her part, Notley said that she herself would purchase B.C. wine again.
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