Alberta’s allies in the Kinder Morgan dispute refused to sign a pro-pipeline declaration Wednesday at a meeting of western premiers, with provincial leaders sidestepping the heated feud between British Columbia and its neighbour.
The conference in Yellowknife wrapped up with commitments to co-operate on free trade, cannabis regulation and pharmacare funding.
But Alberta left the meeting without its hoped-for support for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and refused to sign an agreement inked by six premiers and territorial leaders.
Tensions between B.C. Premier John Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley threatened to derail the annual meeting. But the majority of leaders in the room insisted on sticking to an agenda where agreement was possible.
“The Trans Mountain issue clearly has the magnifying glass over it, but we also have other issues that affect our Canadian economic future,” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said.
Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have supported the pipeline project against British Columbia’s objections, but Mr. Pallister said the western provinces need to focus on obstacles to free trade – both international and interprovincial. “We’re taking money off kitchen tables of Canadians every single day because we are not working effectively together as premiers.”
At a closing news conference, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe agreed that free-trade issues were his priority at the Western Premiers’ Conference. He said Ottawa should be stick-handling the dispute over the pipeline – in some other forum. “If there is a path to move forward, the federal government should be the lead in the collaboration in attempting to find that path,” he said.
Ms. Notley refused to attend the meeting, saying she was busy trying to secure a deal to salvage the pipeline project ahead of a company-imposed May 31 deadline.
Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, who attended in Ms. Notley’s stead, told reporters that her province wanted the western premiers to agree that the future of the pipeline is key to economic growth.
“My message on every item on the agenda was that you can’t talk about ways to spend money without talking about how we are going to grow the economy,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get consensus on Trans Mountain today.”
Mr. Horgan went into the meeting as the lone opponent of the $7.4-billion project, which would allow Alberta oil products to reach overseas markets.
But he later told reporters that Alberta’s demand for a pipeline pact failed. “For Alberta, all other issues had to be subservient to that,” he said.
Kinder Morgan has halted non-essential construction on the pipeline and set a May 31 deadline to decide whether it will proceed with the expansion.
The company, along with Alberta and Ottawa, blames the B.C. government for creating uncertainty for the project. B.C. is in court asking for approval of regulations that would allow it to restrict any increase in crude oil shipments for export.
That case is just one of several legal challenges that hang over the project. A federal Court of Appeal challenge led by First Nations is seeking to cancel the federal environmental certificate, which could send the project back to the drawing board.
British Columbia is also suing Alberta for passing a law that will allow it to choke off the supply of fuel to B.C., which Ms. Notley says she is prepared to use. On Tuesday, she complained that B.C. is seeking the power to limit oil exports while insisting Alberta must sell B.C. its fossil fuels on demand. “On one hand, they don’t want our oil, and on the other hand, they are suing us to give them our oil,” she said.
Mr. Horgan told reporters on Wednesday the two cases are different. His government maintains that increased pipeline capacity and tanker traffic moving diluted bitumen pose a risk to the coast. But in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, B.C. argues Alberta cannot punish it for that stand by cutting off domestic fuel supplies. “There’s a distinct difference between those two things. One is diluted bitumen. The other is gasoline or jet fuel to be used by citizens to move around freely,” he said.