British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks to media in the rose garden of the Legislature Building in Victoria yesterday (Photo: Premier John Horgan Flickr account).

CALGARY – For those of us used to listening to Alberta politicians on the topic of pipelines, British Columbia Premier John Horgan made for a refreshing change yesterday, sounding remarkably like the grownup as he responded to Premier Jason Kenney’s proclamation into law of the NDP’s unconstitutional bill to shut off the oil and gas taps to B.C.

Subtly undercutting the new Alberta premier’s claimed reason for proclaiming the act by noting his explanation in a phone conversation that it was just a sop to his base, a genial Mr. Horgan told reporters in Victoria without bluster that “our lawyers today filed two actions in court to strike down the bill because we believe it’s unconstitutional.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Premier Horgan also used his news conference in the Legislature’s rose garden to ratchet up pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, the proximate cause of Alberta’s ongoing temper tantrum, to help reduce gasoline prices in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

Mr. Horgan, celebrating the fifth anniversary of his leadership of the B.C. NDP, noted that if there’s no intent by Alberta to use the legislation immediately, as Mr. Kenney told him in their call, then the B.C. government’s legal action can’t be described as provocative.

“During the call with the premier, I made it clear to him that my job, as is his, is to protect and defend the interests of the province that I represent, and I fully intend to continue to do that,” he said. In other words, Mr. Kenney ought not to expect his blackmail effort to work very well.

Be that as it may, Mr. Horgan noted, “at no time over the past two years have we disrupted or delayed the permitting process in any way beyond those delays that would be required to protect the interests of British Columbia.”

“From the beginning, I have been using existing court actions to ensure that British Columbians’ interests are protected,” he continued, comparing British Columbia’s reference case on environmental regulation of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to that of Ontario and Saskatchewan (loudly supported by Mr. Kenney during the Alberta election campaign) against Ottawa on the carbon tax.

In other words, it’s that rule-of-law thing again that Mr. Kenney used to talk about so much. As an aside, isn’t it the moral equivalent of obstruction of justice for one province to threaten to cut off essential supplies to another if it won’t knuckle under and cease using its legal right to access the courts? Just wondering.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mr. Horgan also called BS on the claims of Alberta politicians, and not just Mr. Kenney and his United Conservatives, that high gasoline prices in British Columbia have anything whatsoever to do with the Trans Mountain Pipeline or the speed at which it is being completed.

“Looking at the materials that were put before the National Energy Board, the TMX proposal did not contemplate increasing refined product in any way,” Premier Horgan noted.

“In fact, quite the opposite … there is less refined product coming into the Lower Mainland now with the existing pipeline and no commitment from TMX to do something about that with the twinning of the pipeline,” he said, kicking the can on opening up more capacity in the pipe to increase the supply of refined products to B.C. to the pipeline’s current owner, which, you know, is the Government of Canada.

“I’m trying to take steps working with the owners of the pipeline, the federal government, to try and see some way that we can reduce the export of diluted bitumen and increase refined product coming into the Lower Mainland. That will help stabilize prices as other refining capacity comes back on stream.”

That will also make some Albertans crazy, since we have persuaded ourselves that increasing the supply of bitumen by shipping it to additional markets will also increase the price it fetches, something many of us were taught in Economics 101 is not the way things work.

“It’s undeniable that there is more bitumen coming in and less refined products coming in,” Mr. Horgan added, comparing the current use of the existing line to that in earlier years, “and the consequence of that is that prices are going up.”

This makes the position Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finds himself in slightly more interesting, it seems to me. By acting on what Premier Horgan is saying, the PM can infuriate Alberta but lose no votes because there are essentially none here for him anyway. Or he can infuriate the voters of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, enough of whom are actually inclined to vote for his Liberal Party to possibly give it another term in government, and thereby lose the election in the fall.

As Mr. Horgan put it: “You own the pipeline. Get some gasoline into that pipeline.”

What would you do in the PM’s shoes?

At any rate, Mr. Horgan’s collected response to Mr. Kenney makes it worth listening to the entire news conference, which is easily done thanks to CBC Edmonton.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney appears to want to channel Vladimir Putin, the master of the natural gas taps to Europe.

There may indeed be an argument for Canadian refineries east of the Lakehead to buy more “ethical” Alberta oil, as we Albertans keep insisting they should, but giving Alberta governments regardless of their political stripe the opportunity to turn the taps on and off to achieve their policy goals doesn’t seem like a strong long-term argument for achieving this goal.

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  1. I think you’re giving Vlad a bad rap. Ukraine was getting a bargain price for the gas they took out of the trans-Ukraine pipe and was way behind on the payments. If BC was doing that with the the TMX, Alberta would have a valid complaint.

  2. It seems a bit ripe for Horgan to claim in court filings in Alberta that it is unconstitutional for our provincial government to control the flow of oil products flowing out of Alberta to BC, having previously filed a lawsuit in BC seeking to control the flow of Alberta’s oil products through and out of BC. To many it seems that Horgan is sucking and blowing while attempting to have his cake and eat it. This is naturally infuriating to many Albertans, which is part of the reason Kenney’s blusterous approach to the pipeline issue was so successful in the provincial election.

    I’m also not sure how these threats to turn off the taps will affect the mindsets of Canadians outside Alberta, if the Alberta government attempts to market itself as the main supplier of oil products to the rest of Canada, replacing “unethical oil”. We’re hardly holding ourselves out as a reliable supplier of oil products if we keep on threatening to curtail supply during disputes with other provinces.

    1. I don’t think that’s what British Columbia is arguing in either case. It is arguing, in the case of Alberta’s threat, that it violates the inter-provincial trade provisions of the constitution. So Alberta can restrict outflows, but not where they go. The consensus among constitutional experts seems to be that this is a strong case. And whatever the reasons for the original talk by B.C. to put environmental controls on the contents and operation of a federally regulated pipeline. The consensus among the same experts seems to be that that’s a weak case. DJC

  3. So far it is a very civil, civil war and it might be smart for the genial Mr. Horgan and Mr. Trudeau to keep it that way. Mr. Kenney is looking for someone to demonize for Alberta’s troubles, which are basically low oil and gas prices, added to by lack of pipeline capacity. Even if the second problem is immediately solved, the first will not be. Mr. Kenney tends to ignore or dismiss the first more important and intractable problem. I suppose it is difficult for a conservative to whip up anger against “the markets”, although Premier Aberhart did just that years ago, but that was a very different time for Alberta.

    My advise to Mr. Horgan and Mr. Trudeau would be to not play Kenney’s game. Sound reasonable and pleasant and public opinion in Canada will tilt towards you, rather than the sometimes raving lunatic from Alberta. I am sure much of the rest of Canada has almost had enough of Alberta’s incessant whining already – we still have a much higher than average income and labour participation rate than most of Canada. If you want to see economic hardship, go to somewhere like New Brunswick, where many people get by on less than that the monthly payments for a new big blue truck and always have. Unfortunately, they are not blessed with an abundance of oil, like Alberta has.

    The Federal Conservative’s oil uber alles approach is also not going over well in key provinces they need to win in the next election, such as BC and Quebec. However, I suspect Mr. Kenney does not really care much about the Federal Conservatives winning an any upcoming Federal election, at least not until he can somehow stage manage his return to Ottawa. Yes, Alberta’s interests may appear to be in conflict with that of BC and Ottawa, but really nothing would probably suit Kenney better than if Mr. Trudeau won a second term now. There may be some drama and apparent conflict, but sounding reasonable will take the air out of Kenney’s over inflated balloon of outrage, which is probably due to disappear soon anyways and to be forgotten just like the grassroots guarantee or Mr. Aberhart’s funny money.

  4. This article demonstrates the kind of honest truths that anyone sharing a Postmedia editorial mindset refuses to recognize. Kudos on the parallel with Putin.

  5. The source of BC gas price hikes: the lack of competitive markets… citizens gouged by oligopoly and collusion.

    excerpt: Lee told PressProgress “There is limited competition in the refining industry for Vancouver consumers.” With just 4 refineries — run by Parkland, Shell, Imperial and Suncor — supplying BC with fuel, they can gouge customers without fear they’ll take their business elsewhere.

    “We’re looking at over a billion dollars a year of excess profits that are being harvested out of the region,” Lee told Chek News.

    Additionally, the four refineries are closely-linked with other parts of the supply-chain, further diminishing competition, Lee said. “Those four companies also have linkages to the retail side, either as direct owners or through long term supply contracts.”

    Lee described the refineries as an oligopoly — where the market is dominated by a small number of very powerful firms.

    Lee told PressProgress government action is one of the only real ways to keep prices in check. “Minimally we need some government investigation of industry practices as a lot of key information is hidden away,” he added. Currently, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Quebec have some form of gas price regulation.

  6. Well, Putin is a bad analogy, I think. Russia’s about-to-be-opened Nord Stream gas pipeline through the Baltic increases supply to Germany and Western Europe, while avoiding the nutbars in Ukraine through whose territory the current pipeline runs and which siphons off some for free. Kenney is threatening to pump less gasoline to BC through the federally owned ex-Kinder Morgan batch pipeline which strikes me as the opposite tack. Why the feds would ever agree to such BS is beyond me, so it likely won’t happen no matter what Kenney proclaims. Internal trade in Canada between provinces is bad enough as it is because every tinpot provincial government protects its turf, the most obvious case being beer and alcohol.

    If one looks at the NEB webpages, 3.6 mmb/d of light and mostly heavy crude oil were exported from Canada in 2018 almost entirely to the US. From 2010 to 2107, production increased by 47%, mostly bitumen. It increased by 6.5% from 2016 to 2017, and by a further 8% from 2017 to 2018, while Notley all the while gave us the fandango that things were getting worse. Presumably the royalty scheme is so buggered that instead of a per barrel equivalent royalty for flogging off public assets, it’s tied to the selling price instead. Whose fault is that?

    With those kind of increases, whose benefit seems to have eluded Alberta entirely, any chance of Canada reducing its global GHG emissions as we committed to is nil. So Kenney swanning about uttering further non-truths is more than a sane person can endure without spitting back. (About the way I feel about the NEB webpages whose organization is so poor and scattered, trying to find the same info two days in a row is an exercise in pure annoyance)

    Oil imports are over 50% from the USA, light crude oil that Quebec and NB refineries can actually process since none are fitted with cokers. The remainder is from all over the place, wherever the refineries can get a cheap ship load of suitable grade.

    I’m not sure where the mindset that Canada owes Alberta a special living comes from, but the self-entitlement attitude is grating. Especially considering the huge increases in production this past decade when the opposite impression is given pubicly by Alberta.

    so 800K were imported. 54% was US product

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