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Thomson: Notley threatens to escalate trade war if no solution found

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2018-02-13 Graham Thomson, Edmonton Journal
021218-trade_war-1 © Larry Wong  

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of or Microsoft.

She called him a thief.

A toolbox thief, to be exact.

It was a tongue-in-cheek comment and Premier Rachel Notley delivered it Monday with a bit of a smile — but there is real frustration and simmering anger whenever Notley talks these days about the B.C. government, and her old friend, Premier John Horgan.

During a news conference Monday, she pointed to his election promise last year to use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the expansion of the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline that would pump more of Alberta’s oilsands bitumen to the West Coast for shipment overseas.

Notley said Horgan has run out of legal tools and is desperately trying to steal federal powers.

“I’m suggesting that it should be a toolbox that’s legal, not a stolen toolbox, (not) a toolbox that belongs to a different level of government,” said Notley.

When she talks of Horgan and his threat to limit Alberta’s ability to ship its energy products to market via a federally approved, interprovincial pipeline, the words “illegal” and “unconstitutional” are not far behind. 

The war with B.C. is no laughing matter, even though Notley seems able to keep a sense of humour with her “stolen toolbox” comment about the escalating crisis.

And Notley is the one escalating it.

She has called off negotiations to buy B.C. electricity, boycotted B.C. wine, formed a blue-ribbon “retaliatory” task force, and is now about to launch a webpage where Albertans and others can go online to show their support for Kinder Morgan’s project.

Notley is the one ramping up the war, but it’s a defensive posture against Horgan’s first shot fired two weeks ago when he threatened to limit bitumen shipments from Alberta through B.C.

Horgan said he was just looking at how best to protect B.C.’s environment and he has not actually enacted any regulations that would stop construction of the expansion.

In other words, he hasn’t done anything that could be deemed illegal or unconstitutional. But that’s a bit rich coming from somebody who made an election promise to do everything possible to stop the project.

In that context, Horgan’s actions can be seen as a passive-aggressive way of saying he’ll do whatever he can to delay construction of the pipeline until the company gives up and cancels it.

On Monday, Notley said she’s giving time — days not weeks — for federal officials to work out a solution with B.C. officials. But it will have to be a solution that removes the threat of B.C. delaying the project.

“We don’t seek an escalation, but if B.C. continues to insist that they have rights to attack Alberta’s economy that they don’t have, we will have no choice but to respond,” said Notley.

Feeling a bit left out of the limelight, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is urging Notley to recall the legislature for an emergency debate.

Notley dismissed that out of hand, saying the UCP and NDP are on the same page and a debate would be unnecessary: “What we need to do is not be talking to each other inside this building, but rather speaking to people across this country about the import of our position.”

Notley didn’t say so, but she also doesn’t want to share the limelight with Kenney.

This is about her positioning herself as champion of Alberta. She doesn’t want Kenney stealing any of the glory.

And, even though they might agree on supporting the pipeline, Kenney would be sure to pivot any legislative debate into an attack on Notley’s carbon tax. He’ll just have to wait to do that until the spring session of the legislature starts March 8.

By then, Notley is hoping the trade war will be long over and the pipeline expansion will be happily moving towards construction.

Or else Notley will be using every tool in her own toolbox to fix Horgan’s wagon. You have to wonder if one of those would be following Kenney’s advice to invoke the “nuclear option” of turning off the petroleum taps to B.C.


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