The political battle between Canada’s two westernmost premiers spilled into a Calgary courtroom on Friday as lawyers from B.C. warned a law allowing Alberta to restrict oil exports would cause significant pain to the province if it were ever used.
B.C. has requested an injunction against the legislation, known as the turn-off-the-taps law, which was proclaimed only hours after Premier Jason Kenney was sworn into office in April. In response to concerns from B.C., Alberta’s lawyers said that oil is still flowing and the law is not meant to target B.C. despite public pronouncements from Mr. Kenney that the law is designed to do exactly that.
Alberta’s Premier has said he could use the law if B.C. Premier John Horgan obstructs pipeline construction, including the Trans Mountain expansion. Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Hall has promised to return a decision quickly on the injunction request following the one-day hearing.
“The Alberta government has said in its legislation and its statements that, ‘We’re going to lay some hurt on B.C.’ So there is a very serious danger to B.C. that they won’t get their gasoline,” said Justice Hall, adding that he’s concerned the Alberta government could invoke the legislation before a long weekend in the summer to maximize pain.
Despite repeated assurances from Alberta’s lawyer that the province’s energy minister has not shown any interest in using the law soon, the judge said the legislation now “hangs over the head like Damocles’s sword.”
Gareth Morley, a lawyer for the B.C. government, said the law is unconstitutional and should eventually be struck down. B.C. has also filed suit against the law in the Federal Court. “We’re here because British Columbia’s vital interests are at stake,” Mr. Morley said.
According to Evan Dixon, a lawyer for the Alberta government, the legislation is not designed specifically to harm B.C. Most of the morning in court was spent arguing over whether B.C. has the right to apply for an injunction in Alberta’s courts. The oil-rich province said its neighbour should not be given standing in Alberta because it is not directly affected by the law.
In response to the lawyer from B.C., Mr. Dixon told the judge that the B.C. government has no proof Alberta intends to use the legislation against the province. “He must prove that the alleged harm will occur in the future, that it is probable and it is the type of harm that ought to be prevented by an injunction,” Alberta’s lawyer said.
"It so clearly is aimed at B.C. that everyone calls it the turn-off-the-taps legislation,” replied the judge, referring to a term only used in reference to exports to B.C. "Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Albertan. But the law is the law. I don’t like to hear Alberta say to me: ‘Oh, no, this isn’t aimed at B.C.’ when it so clearly is. It’s like you’re saying, let’s play fool-the-judge.”
More than half of B.C.’s gasoline and diesel is sourced in Alberta and much of the rest is produced outside of Vancouver from crude oil shipped from the Edmonton-area on the Trans Mountain pipeline. Alberta’s lawyer said that if B.C. were concerned about damages from an interruption of oil supplies across the Rocky Mountains the province would have sought to buy its gasoline elsewhere. The judge questioned whether the Alberta government really wants B.C. to stop purchasing the province’s oil products.
“The context is Alberta wants pipelines built and B.C. says, ‘Over my dead body will that pipeline be built.’ And they are, in Alberta’s view, interfering with the construction of a very necessary pipeline. And Alberta says: If you’ll bully us we’ll bully you,” Justice Hall told both lawyers.
The law was originally passed by Alberta’s previous New Democrat government in May, 2018, and ministers at the time said the threat of an oil-starved Vancouver would help mollify B.C. opposition to new pipelines. B.C. lawyers had sought to block the law at that time but the request was turned down because the law was not proclaimed. Mr. Kenney put the law into force during his first cabinet meeting.
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