Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is raising the spectre of an increased reliance on rail to get her province's landlocked oil to new markets if pipelines are no longer a viable option for energy transportation in Canada.
In referencing the heated political debate that has engulfed the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion anew, the Premier said the country has reached a point that will determine how much of a player Canada becomes in today's global economy.
Kinder Morgan's controversial project is crucial to Alberta's desire to get its oil to Asian markets, and has received federal approval. But British Columbia's NDP and Green parties, in an alliance of convenience formed this week to topple the province's Liberal government, have stated a desire to use every means possible to block the Trans Mountain expansion.
The standoff has widespread political and economic implications for the nation and uniquely pits environmentally and progressive-minded governments in Ottawa and Alberta against two parties of the same ideological ilk in B.C. Earlier this week, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist, offered a stinging rebuke of Ms. Notley's efforts to get the pipeline built, saying it was a 20th century plan for a 21st century world.
The affair has raised tensions between the two provinces, and offered Ms. Notley's political enemies at home a bludgeon with which to attack her.
"At the end of the day, we are at a turning point," Ms. Notley said in an interview with The Globe and Mail in a Calgary hotel.
"We talk about the 21st century economy; well, the fact of the matter is the 21st century economy exists within a much more globalized setting and so, as a nation that wants to play effectively in that field, we need to be able to export our products in an efficient and strategic way."
The Premier was adamant that the ambitious climate plan her government has initiated for Alberta – which includes caps on oil-sands emissions, phasing out coal-fired generating plants, and a carbon tax – is the right one for her province. But, she insisted, Alberta still needs to diversify markets for its oil.
"And that's regardless of how we get our products to those markets, because nothing is stopping us from continuing to put it on rail and shipping it, just to be clear," she said.
Most oil from Alberta is shipped by pipeline. However, there is a growing amount shipped to the U.S. by rail.
Many in Alberta took umbrage at Mr. Weaver's use of the word "our" in reference to the waters off the B.C. coast, and why they need to be protected from the pipeline expansion, which would radically increase the amount of tanker traffic in and around Vancouver.
Ms. Notley said he is wrong.
"The coastline is the country's coastline, and the authority of the federal government over that is clear, and that is fairly clearly laid out in the Constitution," she said.
The Premier insisted the federal government has committed itself to a wide range of actions to ensure oil is transported in the safest way possible, with the highest standards of emergency clean-up measures.
"And they do that not because someone sticks a pole in the sand and says, 'That is my veto.' That's not the way it works. They do it because it's the right thing to do."
On other matters, the Premier said:
- She remains steadfastly confident the pipeline will survive a judicial review in the fall;
- She does not believe a government in B.C. opposed to the project could initiate policy moves (like a tariff on the oil at the B.C. border) to discourage the project proponent from going ahead. She said those types of actions would be “transparently obvious” and immediately subject to legal actions by Ottawa;
- She disputes the notion that her political future is staked on the pipeline going ahead. “I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I’ve made it very clear that I believe it’s my job to do everything I can to make it happen. Whether you want to say that’s staking my political future, well, I don’t think of it in those terms of my political future or rolling the dice or whatever.”
- She will not withdraw Alberta from the national climate pact if the pipeline project is blocked, as some have speculated. She said it is the right direction for her province and the country, as it aligns with measures most countries in the western world are taking;
- She does not worry about the political beating she is suffering at home at the hands of opponents who insist her efforts to obtain the “social licence” to get the pipeline built have failed. “Quite frankly, there can be a stiff wind in the Vancouver harbour and they say that’s evidence the project won’t get built, so I don’t worry too much about what they are saying.”