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British Columbia Pipeline protests won’t change decision to proceed, Notley says

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gestures during an interview in Vancouver on Dec. 6, 2016.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says environmental and indigenous opponents of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion have a legitimate right to protest, but they do not hold a veto over the project and can't kill it.

At the end of a two-day visit to Vancouver, Ms. Notley acknowledged the legitimacy of civil disobedience in an interview with The Globe and Mail, but played down its relevance to the fate of the $6.8-billion project, which has been controversial in British Columbia. The debate has taken on a new urgency since the federal government approved the project last week.

Some aboriginal groups and environmentalists have pledged to galvanize activism around the project, saying they'll risk jail if necessary. As well, court submissions seeking to overturn the National Energy Board's recommendation that the expansion go ahead have already been filed. They include one from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver and another from the Squamish Nation, whose traditional territories span the province's south coast. More lawsuits have been promised.

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But Ms. Notley said indigenous people do not have a veto over the project.

"I think the message has to be, 'We hear their concerns and that a lot of work has gone into and would still go into accommodating their concerns, but we have to get to a point where we're talking about how we do that.' Just saying no is not necessarily an option, nor is it a right," she said.

"Being consulted and having genuine, authentic accommodation offered as a result of that consultation, that is the right," she said.

As for the environmental protests, Ms. Notley said she is "not terribly concerned."

"I've seen big protests. It happens and then governments make decisions and we turn the page to the next thing."

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Ms. Notley made no public appearances during her visit, but met with media outlets and also met with B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, who is opposed to the pipeline expansion – a position he will carry into the next B.C. election in May, 2017.

She said she did not change Mr. Horgan's mind and they agreed to disagree on the project that has outraged some Lower Mainland mayors, indigenous communities and environmentalists.

The Alberta Premier said she is aiming her advocacy at British Columbians who are open-minded about the issue.

"I think really, at this point, most people who are vehemently and adamantly opposed will likely stay there, maybe not all, but many," Ms. Notley said.

She said she is hoping to appeal to "moderate" British Columbians who care about the environment, but are willing to "look at the bigger picture" of options for British Columbia, Alberta and Canada on economic development.

She said it occurred to her, early on, that Kinder Morgan was the most "pragmatic" of pipeline options, providing access to Pacific Rim markets.

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"It is along a path that has been in play for 50 years. It is a not-unreasonable approach and the alternative is to simply accept that as a major producer of non-renewable resources in the world, we are just going to just accept we are only going to ship to one market," she said, referring to the United States.

She said most British Columbians do not know about Alberta's year-old climate-change leadership plan, nor that Kinder Morgan does not represent an increase in volume or emissions from the oil sands. "It will go south for lesser price or it will go east on rail at greater risk. But it will come out, and anybody thinking Kinder Morgan stopping is going to stop that is misinformed."

Ms. Notley's government has committed to an economy-wide carbon tax, starting in 2017, capping emissions from oil sands and phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. The plan is expected to reduce carbon emissions below current levels within 15 years. She has previously said this plan is her concession to get at least one pipeline.

While Ms. Notley has been in British Columbia, a weekend rally against that carbon tax stirred controversy when protesters, referring to the Premier, chanted "Lock her up," echoing a chant from Donald Trump supporters about Hillary Clinton during the recent U.S. presidential election.

Ms. Notley said it the chant "strikes at the heart of fundamental Canadian values" but represents the views of a small group of people for whom her NDP government is a "cause célèbre."

She added, "That particular chant is troubling because democratically elected politicians should not be confronted with anybody suggesting that them exercising the democratic mandate they have been given should somehow subject them to threats of being prison."

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Chris Alexander, a former federal immigration minister now seeking the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, was speaking to the crowd when the chant broke out and has been under fire for not objecting to it as it was happening.

"At the end of the day, he's going to have to answer to his constituents and to Canadians about whether his apparent tolerance of that for 24 hours indicates he has got the leadership skills necessary to move forward in the role he's pursuing."

Ms. Notley declined to say whether she thought he had those skills. "I'm not a Tory. I don't really care," she said, laughing.

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