PHOTOS: Yoga enthusiasts on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, probably focusing the energy of the cosmos to make Alberta’s bitumen go away. Below: The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton at about the same time of year. There’s nobody on the lawn because it’s too darned cold. Below the lovely architecture, a steely-eyed Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and a smiling B.C. Premier John Horgan.
Those of us who are Albertans understand intuitively why Premier Rachel Notley and others in the Alberta NDP Government may have been privately less than enthralled by the prospect of British Columbia’s New Democrats forming a government in the province to our west.
Premier Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan, after all, once worked together in B.C. and both understand the politics of that province perfectly well.
So Alberta’s premier knew on the day last June when former B.C. premier Christy Clark’s very conservative “Liberal” government fell on a vote of confidence that Mr. Horgan’s NDP, with its need to keep in mind the wishes of Coastal B.C.’s huge small-g green constituency, might very well be much harder to work with on the pipeline file, which is a matter of political survival here.
When Mr. Horgan’s B.C. NDP worked out a deal to govern based on the votes of four Capital-G Green Party MLAs, Ms. Notley had no choice but to smile and utter words of congratulation to her friend and former colleague.
But nothing about what has happened since – including Tuesday’s announcement by B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman of B.C.’s plans to regulate the flow of bitumen from Alberta – can have surprised Premier Notley.
Judging from the reaction since Tuesday, however, it may be harder for those Albertans who are inclined to support Premier Notley’s government to understand that the same phenomenon may work in reverse on the other side of the Rockies, if not for exactly the same reasons.
A couple of Alberta commenters on this blog, for example, have warned that if the B.C. NDP won’t work with Ms. Notley’s Alberta NDP, they will find Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party much harder to deal with. This is true only in one sense. In other ways, the opposite is so.
Notwithstanding the two NDP governments’ fraternal feelings and roughly similar social goals, Mr. Horgan’s government may have concluded it is much easier for his party to live long and prosper in Victoria with a Conservative like Mr. Kenney leading the government in Edmonton.
Ms. Notley, after all, has tried hard to achieve what used to be called “social licence” for Alberta’s need for some kind of infrastructure to export its diluted bitumen – on which, despite the many environmental risks it poses along the way, Alberta’s economy will for the foreseeable future depend. We can argue about decisions past Alberta governments should have made to diversify the province’s economy, but the harsh fact remains that in 2018 we go to market with the economy we have.
As such, and combined with her ability to be an effective spokesperson in British Columbia for Alberta’s economy and its principal industry, Ms. Notley’s potential for success represents a greater threat to Mr. Horgan, facing Liberal opponents on the right and Green opponents on the side of environmental purity if not exactly the left, than Mr. Kenney likely would.
Yes, Mr. Kenney would bluster and shout, and try to shove whatever the fossil fuel industry wants up the noses of Coastal British Columbians. But despite the weakness of its constitutional tools, as accurately observed by Ms. Notley, any B.C. Government has lots of effective political tools to apply in response to Alberta’s demands for a pipeline unpopular with Coastal B.C. voters. And many of those tools would work better against a clear environmental villain like the blustering, bullying, climate-change-denying UCP.
Were Alberta not now governed by New Democrats, Mr. Horgan could respond to Conservative bloviations as Alberta Conservatives have traditionally responded to positions taken by politicians in Quebec. Who in Alberta can forget the fake outrage ginned up by former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean every time former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre opened his mouth to say something uncomplimentary about TransCanada Corp.s now-abandoned Energy East Pipeline?
Say what you will about Alberta’s Wildrosers and Progressive Conservatives, though, they weren’t all dummies. They knew perfectly well that this belligerent nonsense was just for home consumption. Indeed, it probably helped the Quebec politicians in the Albertans’ crosshairs.
Right now, both NDP premiers are also playing to their home audiences. Insiders have to know that while it is probably politically essential, Premier Notley’s Jason-Kenney-like insistence that B.C.’s action constitutes “an attack on Confederation” is hyperbolic nonsense.
As noted, B.C.’s Constitutional case is a weak one, but it is not totally without merit on its arguments about what level of government is responsible for environmental regulation – a topic that didn’t really figure into the division of powers by the Fathers of Confederation in 1867.
But even if a provincial government is completely wrong about the constitution this hardly constitutes a threat to Confederation, because the ultimate decision will be made by the courts. This, in fact, is one of the reasons we have a Supreme Court of Canada. As an experienced and talented lawyer, Ms. Notley certainly understands this, despite her current political need for hyperbole.
Moreover, as a reader from the West Coast points out, none of Mr. Heyman’s arguments deal with the unquestionable Constitutional rights of B.C. First Nations, who live on on un-ceded land. Neither Alberta nor Ottawa can argue they have no right to assert their arguments against pipelines in the courts if they wish.
Beyond bluster, there’s not really very much any Alberta government on the left or the right can do about British Columbian intransigence on the pipeline file.
Ottawa would have to assert the Peace, Order and Good Government provisions of the Constitution if Alberta tried some of the nonsense suggested by pipeline enthusiasts on the political right in this province, among them Mr. Kenney himself. In fairness, I’m sure the UCP brain trust is not that dumb, whatever they may say to fire up the home team.
However, it is obvious that there’s nothing B.C.’s most radical Greens would like better than a real fight over a pipeline, because they know that in the long term they could win it, especially if the energy industry is as fragile as it increasingly seems in a world edging toward a post-carbon future.
The reality is that Ms. Notley’s approach is still more likely to work than Mr. Kenney’s, but it will take time she may not have because impatience with the rest of Canada is always such a powerful motivator to Alberta voters.
So it is quite likely from the B.C. NDP’s perspective, and certainly from the point of view of the hardest-edged West Coast greens, that there are significant advantages to having a government in Alberta led by climate ignoramuses, climate change deniers and obvious bullies like Mr. Kenney.
To them they can say “¡No pasarán!” and see their support at home strengthen and their chances of success increase.
NOTE: The Energy East Pipeline was a project of TransCanada Corp. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this post.