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British Columbia Frosty relations: No matter who wins Alberta election, B.C. sees no allies

The corrosive interprovincial fight over the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project has meant that the Alberta NDP, in a tough election battle that will be decided on Tuesday, received none of the campaign support it would traditionally count on from B.C. New Democrats.

Assistance − in the form of veteran campaign workers and strategists − from the NDP on the western side of the Rockies was neither offered, nor sought.

B.C. Premier John Horgan last week could muster little encouragement for his onetime friend, Rachel Notley, in the final days of the Alberta campaign.

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“I didn’t say I wasn’t rooting for her,” was the kindest remark he made during a lengthy media availability on Thursday.

The two New Democratic governments should share many policy objectives, and the alternative − a government led by Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party − seems to guarantee an escalating conflict between the two provinces.

Mr. Kenney says his first priority, if his party wins on Tuesday, will be to enact a law that would give his government the power to restrict the supply of oil and gas to B.C., the so-called “turn-off-the-taps” bill.

That could drive up fuel prices in B.C., at a time when prices are already setting records in some parts of the province.

But Mr. Horgan reminded reporters that it was Ms. Notley who wrote the bill − although she left it on the shelf. He also suggested that perhaps a UCP government in Alberta might not be as intent on punishing British Columbians as Mr. Kenney suggests.

“Hopefully whoever prevails in the Alberta election will focus on those issues that matter to people, not on fighting with neighbours," he said. "During election campaigns, political leaders speak candidly − sometimes hyperbolic and aggressively − to their constituents. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

But fighting with the neighbours was part of the Alberta election campaign, where championing the province’s interests was defined by getting Alberta oil to tidewater. As Alberta confronts high unemployment levels, Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley are battling to be the most trusted leader to get Trans Mountain built.

Ms. Notley, who went into the campaign trailing in the polls, still predicts work on the pipeline could begin later this year. But her fortunes would have been improved had she been able to see the bulldozers rolling before this week’s election.

Her frustration with the B.C. NDP reflects that circumstance.

It is commonplace for New Democratic campaign experts to hop across the country to help each other out. The 2013 election campaign in B.C. saw Alberta New Democrats in key campaign positions − notably Anne McGrath, now Ms. Notley’s principal secretary. The 2015 Alberta election team poached Mr. Horgan’s chief of staff, John Heaney, and Jim Rutkowski, a BC NDP senior communications aide.

But Ms. Notley later concluded that those crossovers were a bad idea, because of the BC NDP’s opposition to expanding the pipeline project, then owned by Kinder Morgan. In the 2017 B.C. election, she publicly discouraged her party workers from volunteering for Mr. Horgan’s team.

“It’s difficult for one to be working for our government and also supporting candidates who would be opposed to the successful construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” Ms. Notley said then.

“We see that as being critical to our economic prosperity and growth in this province. That is the message that has been delivered, and I trust that people will follow it.”

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Last week, a senior adviser to the Notley campaign said that statement precluded any appeal for help in this contest. “I’m quite sure it is zero,” said Cheryl Oates, when asked how many BC NDPers are working on the Alberta campaign. “We didn’t send anyone for their election, so we weren’t in a position to ask.”

Mr. Horgan said he is just being practical by not taking sides. "The outcome of the Alberta election is up to Alberta voters and whoever they choose to run their government, I’m going to have to work with them.”

Meanwhile, his government has an application before the courts, seeking judicial approval of draft regulations that would allow British Columbia to limit any increase of heavy oil being transported through the province, whether by pipeline, rail or highway. It is B.C.'s proposed version of its own turn-off-the-taps legislation.

Working with the next Alberta premier, whether it is Ms. Notley or Mr. Kenney, is not likely to be productive.

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