The governments of British Columbia and Alberta aren't always the friendliest of neighbours – even when their politics are aligned. Now, the intensely partisan B.C. Liberal Premier has leaned over the fence to offer help to her New Democratic Party pal next door – she wants to share power. More precisely, B.C.'s Christy Clark wants to sell some of her province's abundant renewable electricity to help Alberta wean itself off coal-fired generation.
It looks like a warm gesture that can help Alberta meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions – and lay the foundation for a new collaborative relationship. But Alberta's Rachel Notley is treating it more like an attempt to re-gift an unwanted fruitcake.
"It's certainly one option," Ms. Notley allowed in a recent interview. "But we in Alberta want to be the owners of our power … Our plan, going forward, is to build a system that ensures that we in Alberta are generating enough power for the needs of Alberta."
Click. While it sounds like the door shutting firmly, there are many points where the governments of B.C. and Alberta will intersect in the coming year: the movement of oil, the development of gas and the mutual efforts to tackle climate change.
Ms. Clark, who clashed with Alberta's former Conservative premier Alison Redford over the development of oil pipelines to get Alberta crude to the coast, says there is common ground for the two provinces to work together.
"I don't really see [Ms. Notley] in political terms, I see her as a leader of a neighbouring province – our closest friend in the country. We're off to a good start," Ms. Clark said in a recent interview. "There is a lot going on domestically that Premier Notley has to be worried about at the moment, and naturally she is going to be focused within her own borders for a little while, which is I think to be expected."
Ms. Notley, still just months out of an election, may be making the adjustment from campaign to governing.
Meanwhile, B.C. is counting down to its next provincial campaign 16 months away.
And the political differences between the governments are complicated by overlapping connections. The Alberta Premier, who once worked as a political aide to the B.C. NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh, has surrounded herself with top advisers who worked in 2013 to defeat Ms. Clark in B.C.
For now, though, there is a window to work together.
Ms. Notley has an interest in getting Alberta oil to tidewater, and Ms. Clark has been working to secure allies in her bid to launch a liquefied natural gas industry – one that could present opportunities for Alberta businesses and workers.
Ms. Clark says the new Alberta government is starting to see that potential benefit. "I think so. I think the LNG opportunity has finally become something national in scope. I always knew that it was," she said. "It's as big an opportunity as the oil sands were for Canada. But it's taken us some time to really make that point to other premiers."
However, the Alberta Premier, when asked if there is an advantage to supporting the growth of an LNG industry in B.C., was caught off guard. "This is why it's helpful sometimes to give us a heads-up on the issues that you're asking about, because I haven't had the time to deliberate on the answer to that, so I'm not going to give you one right now, one way or the other. Probably?"
On the issue of oil pipelines, neither side can claim much progress in finding a way to meet the five conditions that B.C. laid down for new pipelines to cross the province. "We know that Alberta continues to accept them – we haven't heard anything different from them at all on that," Ms. Clark said. Ms. Notley said she won't interfere with any industry efforts to meet B.C.'s demand for a financial stake, but it's not her concern. "The challenge that we have in terms of getting the pipeline west is trying to find a path where we can secure adequate levels of social licence. That's what we are working on now."
That leaves the issue of electricity, which B.C. is still hoping to revive.
As part of a sweeping climate plan that introduces a carbon tax and sets a cap on the level of emissions from the oil sands, Alberta's NDP government has directed the province's power companies to get 30 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, Ms. Notley has called for a complete phase-out of coal – which provided 55 per cent of Alberta's electricity last year – in 15 years.
TransAlta is Canada's largest coal-fired power generator and a major wholesaler of electricity in Alberta's private power system. Spokeswoman Stacey Hatcher pointed out that the lack of transmission infrastructure from northern B.C. to the communities and industrial hubs of northern Alberta presents a challenge for the future purchase of power from the province next door. "TransAlta has no plans at this time to purchase power from them," Ms. Hatcher said.
B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett expects Alberta will want to build its own renewable power plants – wind and solar – to achieve those goals. But intermittent power sources need a backup and he still thinks B.C. has a clean alternative to natural gas-fired plants.
"We are trying to be respectful of the fact that they haven't been there very long and need time to work through what they are going to do, but also reasonably aggressive in making sure they realize we do have clean energy right on their doorstep, and if they were prepared to invest something on their side, we would invest something on our side."
B.C. is prepared to split the estimated $1-billion cost of building more capacity with a new power line in the north. If it ever is built, it will represent a collaboration that at this point appears unlikely.