The acrimonious relationship between Alberta and British Columbia over oil-sands pipeline projects appears to have eased as the two premiers have cheerfully agreed to meet in an attempt to find common ground.
The warming of the previously “frosty” tone between the two western provinces comes after B.C Premier Christy Clark’s surprisingly strong election win last week – a victory Alberta Premier Alison Redford cannot ignore.
Ms. Redford has invited both Ms. Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for a meeting of the western leaders in Alberta. No date or agenda has been announced, but a spokeswoman for the Alberta Premier said it would provide an opportunity to “refocus” on areas of common interest.
“I’m certainly, obviously, open to a meeting,” Ms. Clark told reporters on Thursday after a session with B.C. Liberals, adding, “There is nothing firm about it yet.”
Ms. Clark, who now has four years to work on the B.C. economy, appeared conciliatory and confident.
“A lot of things change when you get a mandate from the people,” she said.
She said she looks forward to a positive relationship, particularly among the three westernmost provinces.
The three premiers have met before as part of the so-called New West Partnership, which is designed to find ways to improve the economy, create jobs and remove barriers to the movement of trade, transportation and people among provinces.
But that was before, as Ms. Clark once described it, things got “frosty” last year with Alberta during talks about pipelines that would carry Alberta crude through B.C. During the recent election campaign, Ms. Clark took that a step further, telling voters that B.C. does not need to help get Alberta oil to market because it has its own natural gas resources.
During an editorial board meeting with The Globe and Mail a week before the election, Ms. Clark said the biggest barrier to expanding oil pipelines across her province would be lack of adequate oil-spill protection for the coast. Her priority, she said, is to develop a liquefied natural gas industry in B.C.
“That’s something we can do and we don’t need the federal government and we don’t need Alberta,” she said.
She also said she would stand up for B.C. interests even at the risk of alienating her fellow premiers. “Tough luck,” she said. “I’m not sitting around the premiers’ table to be popular with my colleagues.”
Bruce Cameron, a Calgary pollster with Return on Insight, chalked up Ms. Clark’s tough talk to electioneering, a tricky tactic because it could anger a large base of business investors that B.C. must court to grow its energy industry.
“The political rhetoric has to really be toned down,” Mr. Cameron said. “It is certainly in both of their interests, I believe, since they both have several years ahead of them as the premier of each province to find some common ground.”
At the same time, Ms. Clark benefits from an Alberta business community breathing a sigh of relief that an NDP government next door did not happen.
“There’s a real opportunity for B.C. to use the election of the Liberals as a bit of a tonic,” Mr. Cameron added. “Many people in Alberta who were looking at the outcome – [an expected] NDP victory – with a lot of trepidation.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expressed relief that the two premiers are looking for ways to renew talks on what it would take to get Alberta oil to overseas markets.
“It’s encouraging to see two premiers engaging on this important issue,” said Geoff Morrison, a spokesman for CAPP. “It’s an issue of importance to all Canadians because of the economic benefits.”
Ms. Clark’s government gave up its authority to conduct joint environmental reviews on the pipelines – both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan have proposals on the table – but last summer, the B.C. Premier laid out five conditions for her government’s support.
Post-election, she reiterated those – they include revenue sharing, environmental protection and First Nations consultations – and said none has been met.
Cal Dallas, Alberta’s Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, shrugged off the notion of icy relations, although he was hard-pressed to settle on another adjective to describe the relationship.
“It’s about re-engaging,” Mr. Dallas said in an interview.
He too attributed all the posturing to a long, hard-fought provincial campaign.
“When the two premiers get together, they’ll start having a conversation about tomorrow and beyond and will not be spending a lot of time revisiting the dynamics of the British Columbia election and a variety of things that are now, in my mind, in our past.”