On pipelines and politics, Alberta’s Notley is the clear winner

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley should consider sending John Horgan a case of Okanagan pinot noir when their pipeline fight concludes. It would be the least she could do given the political gift he bestowed on her.

If it wasn’t apparent earlier it is now: Ms. Notley is not just winning this tussle, she’s mopping the floor with B.C.’s NDP Premier. She called a momentary truce this week to give the federal government a chance to bring the B.C. government to its senses. The Alberta Premier needed a rest anyway, exhausted as she likely is from flailing away on her hapless opponent for well over a week now.

For those just joining us, B.C.’s Environment Minister George Heyman announced a couple of weeks ago that the province was going to commence more studies on the impact diluted bitumen would have on the environment in the event of a spill. Additionally, he said the government would consider restricting the flow of oil through the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline until it was satisfied any leaks could be adequately cleaned up.

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It was this last provision that caused Ms. Notley to lose it. She asserted, quite properly, that B.C. had no constitutional authority to restrict oil or any other product from moving through a federally approved pipeline. (The federal government quickly concurred). She viewed the move as a provocative attack on her province’s economy, launching a boycott of B.C. wine in response. She has promised more sanctions unless Mr. Horgan gets a grip soon and rescinds the threat.

The entire affair has been an unexpected boon to Ms. Notley, who has been widely hailed for the tough, uncompromising manner in which she has stood up for her province. She is a skilled politician who knows she is on the right side of this argument; she knows, too, she has everything to gain by tightening the screws on B.C. further if Mr. Horgan refuses to back down.

Meantime, her greatest rival, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, has been relegated to the political sidelines. There is little for which he can criticize his adversary and it is no doubt killing him to see her growing in stature before his very eyes. He must know that his go-to line about Ms. Notley refusing to stand up for Alberta’s interests now rings hollow.

The federal government, meantime, is left to try to clean up this mess. It’s still trying to figure out why the B.C. government would announce these measures when its court application to have the federal certificate approving the pipeline revoked is still pending. The best explanation anyone can come up with is that it was a sop to environmental groups angry with the New Democrats for approving the controversial Site C hydro-electric project – in other words, a move intended to convince tree huggers everywhere they are still on their side.

The problem is it wasn’t thought through. Not for a second did B.C. anticipate Alberta would react in the manner in which it did. Now everyone in the government is looking at one another wondering how the heck they’re getting out of this mess.

This would classify as the first serious misstep of the Horgan government, which has had a solid start since assuming power last summer with the help (in most cases) of the three-seat Green Party. It certainly demonstrates some inexperience and naivety. A government should never introduce inflammatory measures without clearly considering all of the possible ramifications – something that was not done here.

If Mr. Horgan is hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bails him out, he is sadly mistaken. At least, the Prime Minister is not going to give the province anything that would allow the B.C. Premier to say it was leveraged out of Ottawa in exchange for dropping the pipeline threat. That would look horrible and the Prime Minister’s Office knows this.

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As for Ms. Notley, well, she may well be hoping this doesn’t end any time soon. While basking in the glow of rave reviews, she has established a high-powered panel to recommend to government what further retaliatory trade actions might look like. The woman means business.

Many people will say Ms. Notley got lucky here. But good fortune occurs when preparation meets opportunity.



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