Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is skipping the annual gathering of Western premiers, saying she will not engage on any other issue while British Columbia is opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline project.
“It would be surreal and exceptionally tone deaf for anyone to think we could politely discuss pharmacare and cannabis when one of the players is hard at work trying to choke the economic lifeblood of the province and the country,” Ms. Notley wrote in a Monday night tweet.
Her refusal to attend the conference is the latest chapter in the public feud between Ms. Notley and British Columbia Premier John Horgan, whose government has mounted a legal challenge to the Trans Mountain project. In response, Alberta has threatened to curtail energy shipments to its western neighbour.
Ms. Notley also said she does not have the time to travel to Yellowknife for the premiers’ meeting given the looming May 31 deadline for Kinder Morgan to decide on the fate of the project. “With 10 days remaining before Kinder Morgan’s deadline, my only priority is to make sure the pipeline gets built so I won’t be going to the Western Premiers’ Conference this week,” she tweeted.
Mr. Horgan’s spokeswoman fired back, saying there are larger issues to be discussed at the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, beyond the pipeline project that has caused a divide between the neighbouring NDP governments.
“We’re not a one-issue province,” Jen Holmwood said.
Ms. Holmwood said Mr. Horgan thinks it “vitally important” to be at the talks to deal with such shared issues as pharmacare, other health-care issues and affordability.
“He’s going there to talk about a variety of issues. While the pipeline is a big issue, it’s not the only issue,” Ms. Holmwood said.
The NDP government in B.C. came to power last year − supported by the Green Party − after an election campaign in which it committed to working against the pipeline expansion owing to environmental concerns.
Cheryl Oates, a spokesperson for Ms. Notley, said in an interview that the Alberta leader is focused on doing what she can on Trans Mountain. Instead, Alberta’s Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman will attend.
“We only have a number of days until the deadline Kinder Morgan has set and so Premier Notley’s only priority is ensuring the pipeline gets built,” Ms. Oates said.
“She will be staying in Alberta and continuing to talk to the federal government and Kinder Morgan to ensure we get a deal and construction resumes this summer.”
From the north, the host of the Western Premiers’ Conference, Bob McLeod, was diplomatic in response to Ms. Notley’s pending absence.
“Premiers always have to juggle a number of competing priorities and commitments and I respect Premier Notley’s decision to focus her attention elsewhere,” the Premier of the Northwest Territories said in a statement issued on Monday.
It would be surreal and exceptionally tone deaf for anyone to think we could politely discuss pharmacare and cannabis when one of the players is hard at work trying to choke the economic lifeblood of the province and the country.— Alberta Premier Rachel Notley
“Alberta will still be represented at the meeting and I look forward to a good discussion with all jurisdictions in attendance.”
In a statement, the communications department for the Trans Mountain project said it would not comment on consultations around the project until they are terminated or reached a “sufficiently definitive agreement on or before May 31 that satisfies the objectives that we discussed and or as may otherwise be required by applicable laws or stock exchange rules.”
The statement said it remains focused on two objectives: “the ability to construct in BC and to protect our shareholders.”
In April, after mounting opposition to the project from the B.C. government, environmental groups and protesters, Kinder Morgan halted all non-essential spending on the $7.4-billion plan to twin an existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. It gave Ottawa until May 31 to meet its conditions to proceed with the project.
Last week, the federal government said it would indemnify the project against costs incurred if the B.C. government delays or obstructs the project. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, last week, said he’s confident the expansion of the pipeline will help Canadians secure higher prices for oil exports.