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British Columbia What Alberta doesn’t understand about B.C. in the Trans Mountain dispute

Regardless of how the great Trans Mountain pipeline dispute is finally resolved, regardless of which side wins, the path to a final outcome will be forever marked by the bitterness and recriminations that the project created.

There seems little question now that relations between British Columbia and Alberta will fundamentally change, at least for a while. If for some reason the pipeline was not to get built, the war between the two provinces would drag on for years.

Premier Jason Kenney, were that scenario to arise in a year’s time, would stoke anti-B.C. anger inside his province to unforeseen heights. The counter-resentment it would cause is unimaginable. The crisis it would create for the country is difficult to overstate.

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This week, the temperature in the dispute was ratcheted up a notch. The Alberta government introduced Bill 12 – the benign-sounding Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act – which was another shot across the bow of the B.C. government. Under the legislation, Alberta could effectively turn off the gas and oil taps to B.C., creating untold economic havoc.

The B.C. government said it was unconstitutional. The Alberta government said: Get stuffed.

Meantime, Ottawa announced that it was prepared to take a financial stake in the pipeline, if nothing else to make the troubled project more attractive to a buyer should Kinder Morgan decide to cut its losses and sell. In announcing the move, Finance Minister Bill Morneau had harsh words for B.C. Premier John Horgan, whom he accused of essentially holding the project hostage.

Meantime, back in B.C. …

A camp set up by demonstrators opposed to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline stands outside the Kinder Morgan Inc. oil storage facility on Burnaby Mountain above the harbor in Vancouver.

Jeremy Hainsworth/The Associated Press

While polls indicate that a majority of residents believe the pipeline should be built, a majority are equally worried about the impact a spill could have, about the risk the province is taking on. They also appreciate the impassioned fight Mr. Horgan has mounted in defence of those concerned about a catastrophic spill.

It is a resistance that was first enunciated by former B.C. premier Christy Clark, in her five conditions for pipeline development. Those conditions changed many things.

People in Alberta can laugh at the Left Coast, and deride the tree huggers and the café socialists loitering in coffee shops that dot the Vancouver landscape, but refusing to understand the environmental sensibilities of your neighbour isn’t helpful.

I dare say Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who called Mr. Horgan one of the worst politicians in Canada, wouldn’t be thrilled about the prospect of double-hulled barges on the Bow River transporting bitumen. In fact, no one in Calgary would, including the suits in the oil and gas towers downtown.

I realize that’s a fabulous scenario, but it does drive home the point that Alberta is assuming zero risk here. None. It’s furious at a Premier who is sticking up for his province, which is ironic. As this debate has raged, Alberta politicians and provincial commentators have regularly summoned the name of the late, great Peter Lougheed, the former premier who once famously curtailed the supply of oil to the East in response to the infamous National Energy Program.

What was Mr. Lougheed doing? He was sticking up for his province.

I understand there are differences. I understand that Mr. Horgan is trying to exert control over an area that is federal jurisdiction. But at the end of the day, he is trying to do what he thinks is in the best interests of his province. I don’t necessarily agree with his tactics, but I appreciate his willingness to go to battle for his cause, in the face of a torrent of threats and abuse.

I‘ve said before, I think this pipeline should be built. I also think it should be the last. I still believe that somehow, some way, it will get constructed. But no one should underestimate the damage this process will have done to relations between two provinces that once considered themselves friends.

I’m sure some will say, after it’s all over, all is fair in love and war. That is not the case here. The bad feelings this controversy has created will not dissipate once the oil starts flowing. Not a chance.

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It feels like there’s something far more fundamental and profound occurring. It feels like the tectonic plate that runs under the two provinces is shifting and creating irrevocable change in the process.

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