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B.C. Premier heads to Calgary on frosty terms

BC Premier Christy Clark, left, speaks as Alberta Premier Alison Redford looks on during a joint pess conference in Calgary, Alberta on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

LARRY MACDOUGAL/The Canadian Press

It wasn't so very long ago that the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia were working together to devise a national strategy to showcase the West as an energy powerhouse. On Monday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford and B.C. Premier Christy Clark are meeting in Calgary, under the frostiest terms, to discuss a lynchpin in Alberta's plan to get its energy resources to Asian markets – the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

Ms. Clark vowed on Friday that the pipeline will not be built across her province if her demands are not met – including environmental protections and a "fair share" of the fiscal benefits. She will be in Calgary to tell Albertans about how much her province cares about the environment.

Her message: "There is no amount of money that can make up for an unacceptable risk when it comes to our oceans, our coast and our land," she said.

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Ms. Redford, who has agreed to a meeting in Calgary, maintains that nothing has changed since she bluntly rejected Ms. Clark's terms this summer.

Just nine months ago, the two leaders were working in partnership, announcing a joint mission to Ottawa to flex their energy-rich economic muscle. Even then, the $6-billion Enbridge pipeline was presenting a domestic challenge for Ms. Clark, but she sought to sidestep it. "We recognize the big contribution that the oil sands make to Canada and to our national economy," she said last December.

Ms. Clark launched a "Canada starts here" campaign that sought to position B.C. as the economic gateway to Asia, and helping move Alberta's oil to new markets seemed to fit that plan.

The Alberta government made some movement to accommodate the growing opposition to the pipeline in B.C., with then-energy minister Ted Morton saying in February there have to be clearer benefits to B.C.

But that goodwill seems to have evaporated, likely at the moment that Ms. Clark used a premiers' meeting in Halifax to announce her five conditions for getting her government to support the pipeline.

Widening the gap, the Alberta Premier, during a visit to B.C. in August, shut the door firmly on Ms. Clark's terms. Ms. Redford, speaking to reporters, said the B.C. proposal to share the benefits of Alberta's resources would mean "fundamentally changing Confederation." She suggested the rest of Canada's premiers would be at odds with Ms. Clark on her proposal.

Ms. Clark and Ms. Redford, despite having travelled on a recent trade mission to China together, have not discussed the matter since that meeting in Halifax two months ago.

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Jay O'Neill, an official in Ms. Redford's office, would only say that the premiers would be meeting. "We are open to the meeting. Our position has not changed."

Ms. Clark, for her part, used a keynote address to B.C. municipal politicians on Friday to set the stage for her Calgary visit. "I want them to know that if B.C.'s conditions are not addressed and met, the Enbridge pipeline will not be built, period," she said. In a letter to the Alberta Premier last week, Ms. Clark noted that her province can use the permitting process to stop the pipeline even if the federal government gives it a green light.

However, NDP environment critic Rob Fleming dismissed the Premier's tough talk, saying B.C. gave away its chance to influence the future of the proposal when it ceded responsibility for a national environmental review to Ottawa.

"The Liberals have mishandled the Enbridge file from Day One," he said. "I'm happy to see the public has had an influence and has been able to get the Premier off the fence to some extent, but she has still locked B.C. into a process that is under [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper's control."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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