Former Harper cabinet minister Jason Kenney, running to helm Alberta's Official Opposition, says he will seek economic repercussions against British Columbia should NDP Premier John Horgan block or significantly delay the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Mr. Kenney, the former immigration minister looking to lead the newly-formed United Conservative Party, said if he wins his party's leadership and the 2019 provincial election against NDP Premier Rachel Notley, his government "would not respond passively" to Mr. Horgan's previous promise to use every tool at his disposal to block the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The project would see a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic in the waters off Vancouver.
Mr. Kenney said Mr. Horgan cannot unilaterally veto a regulatory decision made by the federal government and the National Energy Board. Kinder Morgan must still satisfy National Energy Board requirements that it has met scores of conditions that the board recommended and the government accepted when Ottawa granted approval last November. Ms. Notley, too, has pushed for the pipeline to go ahead.
"If the government of British Columbia purposely undermines the rule of law and our ability to safely export products from Alberta, then there will be repercussions," Mr. Kenney said in an interview. "Trade is a two-way street. And if I were premier and the government of British Columbia were blocking one of our prime exports, we would find ways to respond in kind that would be an economic response."
When asked for specifics, Mr. Kenney said, "Stay tuned. There's a great deal that British Columbia depends on that comes from Alberta.
"We'll find whatever points of leverage are necessary to demonstrate that a province cannot do that," he added.
Mr. Horgan's tone on the controversial pipeline, however, has changed since the NDP formed government a month ago.
The subject barely came up this week when Mr. Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in British Columbia. When asked about it at a joint news conference, Mr. Horgan suggested the issue would be "managed in the fullness of time."
Still, Mr. Kenney's remarks come as Mr. Horgan faces increasing pressure to clarify his position. In reaching an agreement with the Green Party to back his minority government, the NDP Premier vowed to use "every tool available" to stop the project.
In a recent mandate letter to Environment Minister George Heyman, Mr. Horgan softened that language, saying the government should "employ every tool to defend B.C. interests" in the face of the Kinder Morgan expansion.
Mr. Heyman has said it would be illegal for the province to delay permits needed by Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. to start the expansion in September, but it will subject any work on the project to the highest environmental standards and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Horgan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Kenney, who became leader of the Progressive Conservative party in March, officially announced his leadership bid last weekend, after members of the PC and Wildrose parties overwhelming agreed to merge into a new party.
Former MP and Wildrose leader Brian Jean and conservative strategist Doug Schweitzer are also in the running. Members will vote for a new leader on Oct. 28.
Mr. Kenney said his campaign will focus on "experienced leadership," not policy, although he's made broad promises such as balancing the budget, lowering taxes and emphasizing trades and apprenticeships in the education system. The reason he's not proposing detailed policy, Mr. Kenney says, is to foster "a more grassroots, democratic approach.
"One of the reasons the conservative coalition fractured in Alberta over the past decade of division is that [the] recent PC government became arrogant and out of touch with their own membership and voters, half of whom left to create a new party," he said.
He said policy should be developed at the party's convention, expected next spring, "not imposed by a leadership candidate."
"Our campaign is based on the need for experienced leadership so that we can hit the ground running as a government after the next election. We won't have time for on-the-job learning."
Mr. Kenney spent nearly 20 years in federal politics as an MP for Calgary, serving in a variety of ministerial roles in Stephen Harper's cabinet, including immigration, employment and national defence.
He said federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who became Official Opposition leader in May, faces "the toughest job in Canadian politics.
"Every one of his predecessors, regardless of the party, went through a period of trailing the government in office, of trying to introduce themselves to Canadians, of getting only a fraction of the public and media attention as the Prime Minister," Mr. Kenney said. "Opposition parties that begin to panic because of that always lose. My advice to him would be, steady as she goes."
Mr. Kenney said Mr. Scheer should continue to meet with people across the country and talk not only about policy, but also "what motivates him – his heart.
"When Canadians get to know Andrew, I think he will resonate with them. He is one of the nicest, most sincere and authentic people I've ever known," he said.
He added that it takes "a lot of work and many years to be known.
"Stephen Harper was a little-known and not terribly popular leader of the opposition who went on to win three national elections," he said.
Former Conservative leadership contender Maxime Bernier, who lost to Mr. Scheer by a 2-per-cent margin, recently said he wants to be finance critic in Mr. Scheer's shadow cabinet and publicly mused about running again for leader. But Mr. Kenney insists the party is united and said he believes Mr. Bernier supports Mr. Scheer "unequivocally."
"I know Max to be a team player," Mr. Kenney said. "I would encourage all caucus members to park any future ambitions and be strong team players."
With a report from Wendy Cox