Christy Clark spent another day in Alberta, pounding away at an issue that she believes is a political winner: her threat to kill the Northern Gateway pipeline unless her province sees more economic benefit from the deal.
Speaking to students from the University of Calgary on Tuesday, the B.C. Premier unveiled a new weapon in her Gateway arsenal – electricity. Pipelines need power, she said, and if she doesn’t get what she wants in any prospective deal, then BC Hydro won’t provide Enbridge with the electricity it needs to get the oil to the coast.
Her appearance at the university’s School of Public Policy capped off a two-day visit to the province, which included a brief visit with Alberta Premier Alison Redford that could have an impact on interprovincial relations for some time to come.
If Ms. Redford is feeling a little used after the pair’s 15-minute get-together in Calgary on Monday, few could blame her. After effectively calling for the meeting, Ms. Clark showed up with nothing new to offer. For everything that was accomplished, it could have been handled in a five-minute phone call.
But then, Ms. Clark would not have had the stage that the Calgary meeting presented her. And at the end of the day, that was the most important thing of all – platform and exposure. After it was over, the Premier was able to say that she was there to defend B.C.’s interests and that she wasn’t going to be cowed into supporting a project that will benefit Alberta, Ontario and the federal government far more than her own province.
No wonder both premiers would later describe the meeting as frosty.
There are some simple politics at play here. The pipeline is not popular in British Columbia; neither is Ms. Clark’s government. There is an election in the province in just over seven months’ time.
The B.C. Premier is not going to promote the pipeline in advance of that general vote. Why make her party’s re-election task tougher than it already is? Instead, if she can be seen as a tough negotiator standing up to the petro cowboys next door, this is a good thing.
If Ms. Clark does get a positive bounce in the polls as a result of her Calgary gambit, it will have come at a cost. Ms. Redford was not amused with what took place at her office. It broke the standard rules of engagement between provincial leaders – rules that say you don’t misrepresent your intentions for political gain.
Remember, it was Ms. Clark who wrote to the Alberta Premier suggesting the meeting. It was Ms. Clark who, in her invitation letter, hinted that she might be softening her position on the most contentious of the five conditions she has laid out for the project to go ahead – receiving a fair share of the fiscal benefits.
Until recently, it was assumed that meant B.C. wanted a cut of the royalties Alberta stands to enjoy if the pipeline goes ahead – something Ms. Redford has steadfastly vetoed. In her letter, Ms. Clark said B.C. has never said it wants a cut of the royalties, but she never spelled out other options either. That is why the Alberta Premier reasonably expected Ms. Clark might come armed with a few – or at least begin a discussion on what they might be.
Instead, Ms. Redford heard Ms. Clark reiterate the five requirements she has laid out before. And then she had to listen to the B.C. Premier tell the media afterwards that not much of anything was accomplished. And whose fault was that?
What we are witnessing here is bare-knuckle politics. Everything Ms. Clark says on this file is calculated to within an inch. She has grandly tossed the whole matter into the hands of Enbridge, the government of Alberta and Ottawa and said: If you want this thing so badly, then you figure it out.
If any of the other parties subsequently propose solutions to break the impasse, she can declare victory. It was her uncompromising style that forced others to blink first, she could claim – evidence that she’s the best person to fight for B.C.’s interests on the national stage.
Right now, the Gateway file is in limbo. The environmental review process will play itself out, but any negotiating with B.C. before next May’s election is pointless.
Christy Clark said she was in Calgary to talk to Albertans about B.C.’s Gateway concerns. Actually, she was in Alberta to speak to British Columbians and show them just what a demanding envoy she can be.