Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is warning politicians in British Columbia they do not have the power to block the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, after an election result in B.C. that could shift the province's approach to resource projects.
The governing BC Liberals support the pipeline project and granted it approval earlier this year, but last week's still unconfirmed election result means the party could be forced to rely on support from the anti-pipeline Greens to remain in power. The Greens could decide instead to back the NDP, which has vowed to do whatever it can to stop the project.
Regardless of who ends up in government, Ms. Notley said her western neighbour has neither the right nor the power to stop the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion. Those decisions, she said, are entirely up to the federal government.
"I fundamentally disagree with the view that one province or even one region can hold hostage the economy of another province or, in this case, the economy of our entire country," she told reporters on Tuesday.
"It is our view that there are no tools available for a province to overturn or otherwise block a federal government decision to approve a project that is in the larger national interest. If there were such tools, Canada would be less a country and more a combination of individual fiefdoms fighting with each other for advantage."
While B.C. Premier Christy Clark has given her government's approval for the pipeline, she's been non-committal since the May 9 election.
Ms. Clark has acknowledged that given the close results, she will have to work with BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver, who is an outspoken opponent of the pipeline. That holds true whether she is trying to lead a minority government – which is where current standings have her – or a slim majority, which means the Greens and their three seats hold immense power. The election's final results are expected May 24, when absentee ballots are counted.
"I don't have an expressed view about what we are going to do with the Green Party before I've discussed it with the Green Party," Ms. Clark told reporters Tuesday. "We are in a unique time in British Columbia's history – we don't have the final result of the election yet. Let's wait until we have the final result of the election and then we'll have a little more clarity."
Mr. Weaver, in a column in The Globe and Mail, dismissed Ms. Notley's argument that Ottawa can trump B.C.
"It is ridiculous to assert that B.C.'s opposition amounts to a regional blockade against a project 'in the national interest.' No province should act unreasonably to block neighbour – or national – priorities. But federalism doesn't mean that one province gets to tread on the rights and threaten the environment of another," wrote Mr. Weaver, who in 2013 became the first Green elected to B.C.'s legislature.
"It means we work together to assess and advance the national interest."
Mr. Weaver, however, refrained from detailing how his party would use its status in a minority legislature to push the issue, instead noting his first priority is electoral reform.
NDP Leader John Horgan has vowed to use "every tool in the toolbox" to stop the Trans Mountain expansion.
On Tuesday, he said he's hopeful the final vote will allow him to form a government, in co-operation with the Greens.
"We need to defend our coast against a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic, and Mr. Weaver agrees with our position," he told reporters in Victoria.
The federal government on Tuesday reinforced its authority over projects such as Trans Mountain.
"Canada's Constitution recognizes that there is federal jurisdiction over interprovincial and international trade, therefore decisions on interprovincial and international pipelines are the purview of the government of Canada," Natural Resources Canada said in an e-mailed statement.
Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said Ms. Notley may be correct that B.C. has little legal authority to stop the project.
However, Dr. Harrison said the prospect of a battle between Ottawa and Victoria over the pipeline's construction could cause delay and spook Kinder Morgan's investors. It would also be very challenging for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose federal Liberal Party currently holds 17 seats in B.C.
"Provincial governments can present a significant political challenge, even if they are not in a strong constitutional position," Dr. Harrison said. "There is something unseemly about the federal and provincial governments battling over an issue in court. No national party that wants to stand a chance of forming government writes off a whole region."
Trans Mountain still faces court challenges. Alberta received intervener status this week for federal hearings scheduled for the fall.
"All Canadians, wherever we live, must have access to our coasts to trade the goods to help develop our economies," Ms. Notley said. She expects Ottawa to stand firm in the face of resistance to the pipeline.
"There is no reason for us to believe that should the courts uphold the decisions of the [National Energy Board] and the federal cabinet in the fall that the federal government would not do everything within its authority to implement its decision."
With a report from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa