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With Redford gone, how Alberta-B.C. relations are holding up

Deputy Premier Dave Hancock announces that he is the chosen interim premier in Edmonton on March 20, 2014.

JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alberta's interim premier is looking for more than a placeholder approach to relations with his province's western neighbour, British Columbia.

David Hancock is filling the gap between last month's abrupt end of the Alison Redford era and the beginning of an era to be named once the Alberta Progressive Conservatives elect a new leader in September.

But the veteran cabinet minister, who has held such posts as justice and education, says he plans to be in touch his B.C. counterpart, Christy Clark, this week to urge for "strong" co-ordination and partnership between the neighboring provinces.

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"In addition to a close bilaterial relationship, I look forward to working with Premier Clark on the Council of the Federation, New West Partnership and Western Premiers' Conference," the Alberta premier said in a statement, issued this week in response to Globe and Mail questions about the B.C.-Alberta relationship.

Mr. Hancock, first elected to the legislature in 1997 in an Edmonton seat, noted that deputy ministers from the two provinces continue their efforts as part of a working group, seeking progress on managing the five conditions that B.C. has set for approving heavy oil projects. The deputy ministers are working on recommendations to facilitate opening new energy markets for B.C. and Alberta.

Those five conditions led to a noted chill between the two premiers of the provinces, who had largely previously gotten along. Ms. Clark proposed them in July 2012, injecting a twist into the debate over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project between the Alberta oilsands and B.C. coast. They have come to stand as a B.C. threshold for approving all heavy-oil projects. The conditions did not go over well with Ms. Redford, who particularly took issue with a provision about B.C.'s fair share of revenues from such projects. That was seen as a bid to get a slice of Alberta revenues. But the two provinces reached a deal in November 2013 that saw Alberta endorse the conditions. Part of the agreement was a joint affirmation that Alberta's royalties were not up for negotiation, and B.C. could negotiate with industry for its "fair share" of fiscal and economic benefits associated with heavy oil projects.

On the B.C. side of the Rockies, all is calm – even dull – when it comes to relations between the two provinces. "There's no change in the positive working relationship between British Columbia and Alberta," said an official in Ms. Clark's office, speaking on background. Ms. Clark and Mr. Hancock will have a chance to chat at such looming premiers' meetings as the next Council of the Federation meeting is scheduled for August in Prince Edward Island. No bilaterial meeting is planned. In a nutshell: Nothing to see here. Move along.

John Winter, chairman of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said he expects a great deal of "inertia" on issues between B.C. and Alberta given the wait for the next premier of that province. "I don't expect anything momentous will come out of the relationship in the meantime."

But Brad Severin, chairman of the board at the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, is eager for more action, and depending on Mr. Hancock to deliver.

"Premier Hancock is committed to ensuring that business continues to be attended to on all provincial files and certainly the relations between Alberta and B.C. is a file that, I think, the premier regards very highly," Mr. Severin said from Sherwood Park, near Edmonton.

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He said it's absolutely crucial that Mr. Hancock pay attention to seeing along ongoing work to sustain the five conditions, referring specifically to ongoing work by the deputy ministers.

"It's ensuring they keep moving the ball down the field – that the deputy minister's group continues to move in a forward direction, that there continues to be discussion and action on the points that they're considering, that things just don't grind to a halt because we have got what is perceived to be an interim leader," said Mr. Severin.

"I don't think (Mr. Hancock) wants to be perceived as someone who is going to shelve or put on ice matters that are critical to Alberta's future, and this relationship we have with British Columbia is certainly crucial to Alberta's future."

Mr. Hancock's view seems in synch with Mr. Severin's.

"Alberta and British Columbia will continue to balance economic development and environmental protection in a way that meets the needs of communities, First nations and regions across both provinces. Every Canadian, no matter what province, they call home expects energy development is done with a high degree of environmental safeguards," said Mr. Hancock's statement.

Mr. Hancock's personal past and present keep B.C. in focus for him. Although born in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, 58 years ago, he lived in Hazelton, B.C., for 11 years of his childhood. The father of three often visits southern B.C. to spend time with his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, says his office.

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Ian Bailey is a reporter in The Globe's Vancouver bureau.

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