Who blinked? Doesn’t matter: There are plenty of reasons to doubt B.C. and Alberta’s differences are settled

Posted on February 23, 2018, 1:03 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: A map showing the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Below: B.C. Premier John Horgan, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta Opposition leader Jason Kenney, and B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman.

No sooner was a truce declared in the Alberta-British Columbia war of wine and oil yesterday afternoon than claims of victory were proclaimed.

“In a small way today, B.C. blinked,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters yesterday afternoon.

Thanks to that B.C. blink, Premier Notley explained, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will start buying B.C. wine again.

The supposed blink, in Alberta’s reading of the affair, was B.C. Premier John Horgan’s statement yesterday that his province won’t try to put any restrictions on pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta to the West Coast until B.C.’s constitutional reference case has determined if the province has any jurisdiction to regulate what gets piped through its territory.

Not sure how this is a blink, since he said basically the same thing at a news conference two weeks ago, but politics is 90 per cent perception, so that may well be how it turns out to be remembered.

So, is that the end of this saga of two warring western NDP governments?

Don’t count on it.

Let’s review the key events till now:

Back at the end of January, with B.C. Premier John Horgan abroad touting the quality of B.C. wine among other things, his environment minister announced the province was contemplating restrictions on diluted bitumen coming through existing and planned pipelines from Alberta to British Columbia.

The restrictions would be in place, George Heyman said, until the behaviour of spilled bitumen could be studied and understood, and a new scientific panel the government would appoint could make recommendations.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project of Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc., which is hotly opposed on the B.C. Coast and approved by Ottawa through a highly controversial process, was the proximate cause of the dispute. The B.C. NDP’s reliance on three Green Party MLAs to remain in power, increased pressure on the Horgan Government to act.

Mr. Heyman’s announcement caused the bitumen hit the fan here in Alberta, where there is now a nearly universal elite consensus that we must have a pipeline to tidewater. But the fact the NDP is trailing the Opposition United Conservative Party led by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney in public approval put similar pressure on the Notley Government.

Premier Notley hotly declared B.C.’s move unconstitutional and illegal. Constitutional experts generally agreed, although since B.C. hadn’t actually announced a policy – just talked about it – there wasn’t really anything to test in the courts.

On Feb. 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped into the fray declaring unequivocally that the pipeline would be built. Shortly thereafter, he took off on a distracting Asian trade mission of his own.

Ms. Notley then began to channel Margaret Thatcher in the hours after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. On Feb. 6 she announced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission – Alberta’s government-owned booze wholesaling monopoly – would retaliate with an embargo of wine from B.C. Potentially, that could have resulted in a $70 million annual hit on the B.C. wine industry.

That move got rave reviews in Alberta – much to the distress of Mr. Kenney’s UCP, which had been making hay claiming the NDP wasn’t being tough enough with B.C.

One newspaper columnist even called Ms. Notley Alberta’s Iron Lady! (Which makes Mr. Kenney, an actual admirer of Mrs. Thatcher, what? The Iron Maiden?)

The next day, Mr. Horgan gave a news conference at which, as noted, he didn’t say anything much different from what he repeated yesterday. Whatever had been proposed earlier by Mr. Heyman – who was there only to answer technical questions, the B.C. premier pointedly noted – there was no suggestion in Mr. Horgan’s remarks B.C. would attempt to restrict diluted bitumen until the courts had determined if the province had jurisdiction to do so.

“We are currently in court with respect to the Kinder Morgan process, the pipeline, and until we get a resolution from the Federal Court, that is an open question,” Mr. Horgan said at the Feb. 7 newser. “When it comes to our right … to consult with British Columbians about putting in place protections for our environment and our economy, I see no grounds for the premier (of Alberta) to stand on.

“I would suggest that issuing a press release talking about our intention to consult with British Columbians is not provocative, it’s not starting anything!”

As the dust begins to settle for the moment, it’s not clear just yet if B.C.’s complaint to a Canada Free Trade Agreement panel, which Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous had basically promised to ignore, will proceed.

And even though Ms. Notley got pretty much what Mr. Kenney demanded, pretty much the way he demanded it, you can count on him to continue to complain loudly the NDP isn’t doing enough, and isn’t being tough enough. Ho-hum

Meanwhile, in Coastal B.C., opposition to pipelines from Alberta is so strong any government ignores it at its peril. So Mr. Horgan’s shaky government – unlike the strong, stable majority the NDP has for the time being in Alberta – will continue to depend on the three Greens for survival.

And the price of oil will continue to do what the price of oil is going to do, without much consideration of the preferences of Alberta or Canada, or their politicians.

As for Mr. Trudeau’s recent talk about Canada’s climate change strategy depending on B.C.’s co-operation with Alberta’s pipeline desires, the country cannot meet its Paris Agreement commitments if the rate of oilsands growth contemplated by Ottawa and Edmonton continues. This has been noticed in B.C.

So the uncertainty about the future of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline – and, indeed, Alberta’s entire Athabasca bitumen sands industry – is going to continue for a long time yet.

And that means it will only take the perception of a setback for Wine War I to be followed by Wine War II.

23 Comments to: Who blinked? Doesn’t matter: There are plenty of reasons to doubt B.C. and Alberta’s differences are settled

  1. rumleyfips

    February 23rd, 2018

    Looking at the map you provide, it looks like the pipeline guys chose a route that will do the most damage possible and affect the most people possible ( in BC and Washington ) in the event of a spill. Did they do that just to punish the people of British Columbia ?

  2. Ron

    February 23rd, 2018

    Apart from the absurdidty of expanding one of the dirtiest CO2 producing fossil fuel boondoogles in the world …. while the Artic melts and the cold polar vortex freezes everyplace that is not at record warm temps ….
    We folks who live in Vancouver (who would like our city and ocean inlet not to kill us) have an idea to resolve this: Well, how about a nice bitumen processing plant in downtown Calgary? Think about that for a minute!

    yuo ain’t seen nothing yet…

  3. Bill Malcolm

    February 23rd, 2018

    I don’t get the commentary here. Thatcher was a repulsive deep conservative – I lived in London when she was on the ascendant, a complete anti-union derp with outspokenly right wing views. Along with idiotic “economists”, she ushered in the “trickle-down” theory, wherein oh-so-wise rich people, supposedly superior in intellect and bulging with brains, were going to usher in prosperity by investment in industry. Instead, privatization was a giveaway to them; they promptly invested in cheap overseas production and ruined the rail network. This led to the neoliberal nightmare of today, where Western government is essentially run for business idiots, banking graspers and special interest groups – definitely not for us the people. It is a complete farce, backed up by a complaisant media.

    Notley is about as social democrat as Blair was. Comparing her to Thatcher shows that she has no interest but her own, no fundamental political theory/ethic/principle beyond remaining in power for her own glory, while the crowds cheer her steely resolve. You want steely resolve of a useful variety? Corbyn brushes off continued dirty tricks the Tories in the UK and their press lay on him. There’s a person with real principles, not some provincial hack.

    What a complete waste of time Notley is! Let’s summarize the common philosophy she and that rich man’s poodle Trudeau have espoused: Alberta/Canada has to sell more tar to the world so it can become richer so that it can afford to implement better environmental controls in the future.

    That is not philosophy, it is idiocy of the lowest order. It doesn’t make one iota of sense. It’s about as stupid as Trump arming schoolteachers – zero sense utter BS. Then we have the Alberta attitude, where deeply flawed thinking is of the opinion that Alberta is the main driver of Canada’s economy. Sorry, 10% of the population cannot do that except in daydreams. For as long as I can remember, Alberta has been complaining it doesn’t have enough influence in confederation, whine, bleat. Here’s a tip – grow the population and engage them in pursuits not so detrimental to our common environment. When there are 10 million, you can start throwing your weight around.

    Apparently, according to received wisdom in Alberta, BC HAS to allow shipment of diluted tar across its territory and through its coastal waters. Trudeau claims the feds are ready for cleanup in the ocean. Sure, like they’re ready to dispatch a well-capping ship from Norway that takes two weeks to get to a spill off my Nova Scotian shores for busted wells soon to be drilled by the notorious BP here. As for land spills in BC, I guess BC is on its own cleaning up Alberta’s problem – cheap low grade uncleaned diluted tar, whose effects are not known.

    We are talking low grade minds at work here, totally suborned to business. There are no social democrat philosophies at work, mere money-grubbing and self-aggrandizement.

    Makes me want to puke, frankly. Notley will obviously do anything for a buck and to stay in power. The NDP has allowed its federal wing and new leader to sit around on their hands doing nothing and might as well bay at the moon for all the interest the average Canadian has in them. The Liberals are bought and paid for by business. The Conservatives are beyond redemption. Not much joy in the land.

    You say your blog is about Alberta. Well, when Alberta affects me, I want to chime in with my two cents worth, please and thankyou. And just because the zealot Kenney is lurking waiting to charm unthinking Albertans into voting him Imperator is no reason for Notley to abandon social democrat principles. Apparently, however, she never had any to begin with.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 23rd, 2018

      Bill: You are always welcome to chime in with your two cents’ worth on this blog. Albertans would do well to pay attention to the sentiments expressed by British Columbians on this blog and in other forums that discuss these topics. DJC

    • Michael Brayall

      February 23rd, 2018

      As an Albertan who is a pretty strong socialist, I hope to Gord that Notley does everything in her power to win the next provincial election, even if she has to stoop to pandering a little (or a lot) to Big Oil. Electing the UCP is a one-way ticket to the dark ages, which unfortunately, could happen even with Notley’s best efforts.

      I agree with many of your points regarding the “idiocy of the lowest order” but you will find very little agreement from residents across the province because oil production unfortunately still drives the Alberta economy. I am of the opinion that public opinion will likely never change on this issue without regional catastrophe and the only way that incremental improvement on Alberta’s environmental record will occur due to outside pressure (i.e. current pipeline dispute). I do think it is naive to think that Notley doesn’t also partially understand this even if she is unable to implement useful environmental policy and have a chance of staying in power.

      • Political Ranger

        February 24th, 2018

        Oil production DOES NOT drive the economy in Alberta, Michael. At best it contributes perhaps 10% to provincial GDP.
        The belief, on the other hand, does drive economic perceptions. Unfortunate, as you say, because belief in yesterday means you are never ready for today. From a policy perspective this fully explains Alberta governance for the past 35 years.

    • Farmer Brian

      February 23rd, 2018

      Bill, as an Albertan whose family has farmed the same land 112 years I think it is unfortunate that you believe I have no concern for the health of the land. Farming is a multi-generational undertaking and I certainly want my kids to be able to farm the same land their Grandfather did. I would certainly agree that politicians will do or say whatever is necessary to stay in power. As for political leanings you and I would fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation.

      At present Alberta is beholden to one customer for our oil, the U.S. As such they are able to buy our oil at a large discount, refine it and then make a large profit selling it at world price. Hence we are essentially subsidizing U.S. businesses and consumers at a great cost to Canada. Obviously the question is why aren’t we refining the oil and capturing this increased value? Certainly some refining is done in Alberta, my assumption is that we are far enough from the markets that will consume it that it doesn’t make business sense. If you look across North America very few new refineries have been built in the last 30 years, existing ones have increased their size and efficiency. Why do counties like Saudi Arabia export so much oil instead of refining it, there must be a reason. Mayor Nenshi of Calgary just returned from Korea where he was on a fact finding mission related to hosting the Winter Olympics in 2026. While there he talked to oil refiners very interested in our Alberta oil.

      I certainly realize nothing I say will change your mind and I appreciate that. Just keep in mind as your tap your computer key or your tablet that it wouldn’t exist without oil. Enjoy your day

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        February 24th, 2018

        Farmer Brian wrote: “At present Alberta is beholden to one customer for our oil, the U.S. As such they are able to buy our oil at a large discount…”

        This oversimplification doesn’t stand up. AB’s sour heavy crude is discounted for quality (refining costs), distance, and pipeline constraints (notably, restrictions on Keystone after last November’s spill.)
        Economist Robyn Allan gives the lowdown on the AB discount in today’s Calgary Herald:

        “Allan: The discount for Alberta oil isn’t always that steep”

        “If offshore markets promise higher prices, any reasonable businessperson would expect AB’s producers would have used it. They didn’t.”

      • Bob Raynard

        February 24th, 2018

        Hey, Brian,

        I want to pick up on a point you made the other day about not thinking we could be fossil fuel-free in 32 years.

        When your great grandfather first started farming in 1906, it was right on the eve of the start of car-culture, but it definitely had not started yet. Henry Ford had just opened his Canadian plant 2 years earlier, and in 1908 the government of PEI actually banned cars from the island because they were so noisy and smelly. (PEI apparently had non-smelly horses). At that point in the car’s development gasoline had just started to emerge as the fuel source. A few years earlier gasoline was considered a long shot, as steam and electric were considered the front runners.

        Fast forward 32 years to 1938 and our culture was completely car-centred.

        Given the fact that both electric cars and renewable power are already starting to appear, it really isn’t that big a stretch for our society to completely switch to batteries charged with renewable energy. Yes there are definitely hurdles to overcome, but if you consider the hurdles early car users had to overcome it is not as far fetched as people think.

        • Farmer Brian

          February 26th, 2018

          Bob, I certainly agree that electric powered car technology is improving at a rapid rate. Personal transportation is only one aspect of our use of fossil fuels. What about asphalt and concrete, certainly important building blocks in the urban environment. While concrete is not made from a fossil fuel, it takes intense heat and its production is C02 intensive. Look at our houses, vinyl siding, vinyl windows, asphalt shingles, ICF block foundations and all electrical wiring has a plastic coating. All of our consumer electronics contain plastic.

          My son finishes concrete as well as farm. I was somewhat surprised to find that his concrete supplier was starting to buy concrete powder that was manufactured in China because it was cheaper. The same thing has been happening with fertilizer. Now I am curious from an environmental standpoint, if we apply a carbon tax on industrial emitters in Canada and it makes our domestic producers of say concrete and fertilizer uncompetitive and they shut down and all the concrete and fertilizer must be imported is the extra fossil fuels burnt transporting it across the ocean from China better for the environment?

          As a farmer I look at my land base and try to decide the most economical beneficial way to farm the different qualities of land. Some is more suited to grass or hay production, some is better land and suited to producing crop. When I look at Canada I see a country blessed with many natural resources. Albertan’s have developed many industries related to oil. We build oil rigs, down hole tools, we have pioneered many production techniques. Many on the left promote shutting this down, no more exploration, no more pipelines. They promote replacing all these jobs and revenue with renewable energy. Canada has I believe 3 small solar panel manufacturers in Ontario, a couple of manufacturers of small windmills big enough to power one’s house. So the windmills will have to come from the U.S., or Spain or Denmark. The solar panels probably from China. And this is to produce something we are already producing, electricity. With oil we already have manufacturers of oilfield equipment, world leading technology, we get royalties from the oil(maybe not enough), plus we have a commodity to sell. When Rachel Notley became premier she realized this and even though she promotes renewable energy she also lobbies for new pipelines. Enjoy your day

    • Jerrymacgp

      February 24th, 2018

      Sir: the issue is not whether the world needs to wean itself off of fossil fuels if we are going to slow, even stop and maybe even reverse anthropogenic climate change. No reasonably educated and informed individual could disagree with that. The real issue here is, do we have to throw tens of thousands of Alberta families onto the unemployment rolls, and throw the entire Alberta economy under a (no doubt electrically powered) bus, to do it. Those who would argue to shut down the oilsands tomorrow morning, which seems to be the position of hardcore pipeline opponents, would seem to be of that opinion.

      However, the Notley government’s opinion is that there needs to be an orderly, gradual shift away from fossil fuels, and that those tens of thousands of families need to retain the ability to earn a living while that shift happens. In addition, the world isn’t yet ready to go cold turkey on oil. Since that remains a reality, why shouldn’t Alberta be able to sell its product to those markets that still want it, instead of simply going elsewhere while our economy craters.

      Finally, I recently heard from a farmer, that their ability to export grain and oilseeds overseas has been hampered from time to time by the use of rail to ship oil to the coast for export. Not only is this hard on our agricultural sector, it’s hard on the ecology. While the risk of a freight train derailment is unaffected by the cargo being hauled, several dozen rail cars full of grain being spilled on the ground has far less impact on the environment than the same amount of oil or dilbit.

      • Sam Gunsch

        February 25th, 2018

        re Jerry Macgp says: ‘Those who would argue to shut down the oilsands tomorrow morning, which seems to be the position of hardcore pipeline opponents, would seem to be of that opinion.’

        That ‘shut down tomorrow’ characterization is just full on total unsubstantiated BullShit.

        Jerry, I thought you were better than that. FFS

        Pipeline opponents and oilsands opposition have consistently said the ethical and financially responsible public policy would be to ‘stop expanding’ the oilsands. Moratorium on expansion has been advocated for almost a decade now by academics, independent experts on climate change, the full range of enviro groups, First Nations.

        Drinking the AB petro-Kool-Aid has apparently spread far and wide.

        • Jerrymacgp

          February 25th, 2018

          Mr Gunsch: you may disagree with my perspective, and I can deal with that… but the FFS was unnecessary.

          Best Regards.

    • anon

      February 24th, 2018

      Bill: Here is a first rate mind speaking at MIT last month.

      Denial is not just a river in Egypt. There is no point to rational discussion in Alberta. Nobody listens and very few care. 80% support for Notley attacking BC for the “thought crime” of talking about looking at DilBit shipments.

  4. Scotty on Denman

    February 23rd, 2018

    Living on the Coast, I can tell you there’s just no way in hell is Horgan ever going to roll over on TMX unless the courts force him to—and that can be a bit of a long, drawn out process (never mind the First Nations’ opposition which may avail the courts from another constitutional angle and have been waiting in the wings this whole while).

    Meanwhile I’m sure he’s happy to help Premier Notley look tough on this file. She needs the boost and this looks like it’ll work right through to the next Alberta election.

    Oh, let’s toast those rascally Dippers!

    • Kang the barbarian

      February 23rd, 2018

      Are you saying this is a scam being pulled by the two Dippers to get Notley re-elected? It sounds too clever by half.

      How about this? While everyone is fascinated by those two neo-con dippers pretending to fight over a pipeline of dubious value, is the real game the next Alberta election or is it being played out in the Peace country for water?


      Without KMX the Kochs will continue to have cheap diluted tar so they can make jet fuel, and the US will have another part of the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) in place. All the important people are happy.

  5. Geoffrey Pounder

    February 23rd, 2018

    “One newspaper columnist even called Ms. Notley Alberta’s Iron Lady!”

    Earlier, Notley in all her humility compared herself to Nixon.
    Amusing that progressives don’t seem to spot the irony/incongruity.

    Notley gives herself too much credit. She hasn’t changed any opponent’s mind on pipelines. She hasn’t convinced any scientist that boosting emissions is a rational response to climate change.
    Where are Notley’s converts in BC or federal NDP ranks? She studiously avoids meeting with local communities, opposition groups, and opposed First Nations.
    She preaches her pipeline rhetoric to choirs of business elites, who are already in her corner.

  6. David

    February 23rd, 2018

    I’m inclined to agree with Premier Notley that the BC Premier blinked, but I would also agree that it doesn’t matter. This is a deescalation of trade war and Premier Notley has suspended the ban on BC wine, not rescinded it. I think she made it quite clear, the ban could come back at any time if she felt it was needed. I suppose if we want to use military terminology this is equivalent to a truce, which may or may not last. Also, the BC government has not accepted the pipeline and it definitely will not as long as it relies on the support of 3 Green MLA’s to stay in power. Opposition to the pipeline in BC has not diminished either, although it is also fair to say that opinion across the province as a whole is quite divided or mixed with some polls showing a majority of BC residents support it.

    If opposition to the pipeline is strong in parts of BC, so is support in most of Alberta. Over the last several years, Alberta has watched Plan A and Plan B disappear with the Northern Gateway Pipeline not being approved and the pipeline to Eastern Canada being cancelled possibly because it was no longer economical. The Kinder Morgan Pipeline has a last stand feel for those that support it, so where they might not have been as vocal as the opponents on the two previous pipelines this one will be a greater battle between two opposing sides.

    While the Federal government has been patient and showing restraint, I don’t think it is taking kindly to BC potentially blowing up its carefully crafted climate change plan. I suspect it was Federal pressure, as much as or perhaps more than Alberta’s wine ban, that caused BC to blink. The money lost by not selling oil on the international markets reduces Federal and of course Alberta revenues. It does not have much of an impact on BC.

    I think in the end, like many intractable sibling squabbles, this one between Alberta and BC may end when the Federal government tires of it and realizes it must act to protect its own plans and interests. Of course the Feds are probably trying to carefully figure out the least politically damaging way to do this, but as anyone who has had a parent who shouts “ENOUGH!” knows that is a sign the battle is over and sometimes that comes quickly and unexpectedly.

    • Sassy

      February 24th, 2018

      Great article!

      The Tyee opinion piece states there is no waiting Asian market for dilbit. In the comment section, someone linked to a 2013 Canadian report – The Economics of Petroleum Refining.

      “In China alone, there are currently more than 30 planned projects representing a potential five Mb/d of new
      refinery capacity. Projects vary between 100 and 400 thousand barrels per day (Kb/d) and are usually structured as a joint venture between a foreign crude exporter and a local company. The focus is on large, efficient
      facilities with complex conversion capacity capable of processing heavy crudes, either through ‘greenfield’ sites
      or expansions/upgrades of existing facilities”. http://www.canadianfuels.ca/website/media/PDF/Publications/Economics-fundamentals-of-Refining-December-2013-Final-English.pdf

      If some of these 30 refineries were built/expanded in the past five years, why are we not told of the joint ventures signed between Canadian crude exporters and the Chinese refineries? It seems we are being deceived and any dilbit transported to the coast would only go onto tankers to the U.S. market.

      The Tyee article fits nicely with the recent Robyn Allen opinion piece https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/02/21/opinion/kinder-morgan-blame-pipeline-schedule-neb-filings-reveal. She provides evidence that Kinder Morgan is playing games with THEIR delays to the project, misleading both the public and investors.

      One does begin to wonder who (if anyone in a leadership position) has the best interests of the Canadian public.

  7. anonymous

    February 24th, 2018

    “Koch is also long on the richest – but also the dirtiest and most carbon-polluting – oil deposits in North America: the tar sands of Alberta. The company’s Pine Bend refinery, near St. Paul, Minnesota, processes nearly a quarter of the Canadian bitumen exported to the United States – which, in turn, has created for Koch Industries a lucrative sideline in petcoke exports. Denser, dirtier and cheaper than coal, petcoke is the dregs of tar-sands refining. U.S. coal plants are largely forbidden from burning petcoke, but it can be profitably shipped to countries with lax pollution laws like Mexico and China. One of the firm’s subsidiaries, Koch Carbon, is expanding its Chicago terminal operations to receive up to 11 million tons of petcoke for global export. In June, the EPA noted the facility had violated the Clean Air Act with petcoke particulates that endanger the health of South Side residents. “We dispute that the two elevated readings” behind the EPA notice of violation “are violations of anything,” Koch’s top lawyer, Mark Holden, told Rolling Stone, insisting that Koch Carbon is a good neighbor.”

    Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone.


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