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Dear Alberta: Whose coast is it, anyway? Add to ...

It’s been easy for Alberta Premier Alison Redford to avoid scrutiny of her stand on Northern Gateway. Her B.C. counterpart, Christy Clark, has certainly hogged the national spotlight on the issue, with her hostage-like demands for the pipeline project’s freedom.

But a closer examination of Ms. Redford’s Gateway position reveals a provincial leader who fails to understand not only her role in making this undertaking happen but also some of the sensitivities surrounding it.

This week, the Alberta Premier offered her views in an exchange with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. By the time it was over, it was evident why there’s a political stalemate. Ms. Clark deserves her fair share of the blame for this, but so does Ms. Redford.

The interview moment that shocked many was when Ms. Redford said the B.C. coast belongs to Canada, not British Columbia. “A Canadian coast is a coast that should be available for all Canadians to make use of and to export their product.” As she uttered these words, I imagined the chests of British Columbians everywhere tightening, their blood pressure hitting red-alert levels.

To be fair, it was Ms. Clark herself who first said that B.C.’s coast belongs to Canada. It’s perhaps the most politically inane statement she’s made since becoming Premier. The B.C. coast is Canada’s coast to the extent that the Great Lakes are Canada’s Great Lakes and the Alberta oil sands are Canada’s oil sands. That is, they exist within the boundaries of our country.

But the notion that the Maritimes or Alberta should have equal voices in what happens along the B.C. coast is preposterous. It won’t be Albertans hitting the beaches to clean up the mess when an oil tanker sinks. It won’t be Quebeckers whose livelihoods will be destroyed by a massive oil leak. It will be British Columbians.

If it’s really Canada’s coast, why not ask the rest of the country what it thinks about oil tankers the size of football fields going down the coast? Maybe people in Thunder Bay, Ont., have no problem with the idea. Or people in Leduc or Caroline, Alta., either. After all, it’s apparently as much their coast as it is the coast of the people of B.C.

As bad as it was when Ms. Clark said it, it sounded twice as bad coming from the Premier of Alberta. Just think about it. She was saying the B.C. coast belongs to the country, but the oil sands, well, that’s another matter. They belong to Albertans. How do you like them apples, B.C.?

We accept that there are national imperatives and that our ports are needed to achieve them. But to suggest that the B.C. coast isn’t ultimately the domain of British Columbians is pure foolishness, even if you can point to some arcane laws that give Ottawa constitutional authority over it. The federal government has little-used powers it could exercise to exert influence and control over the oil sands, too, if it wanted. But it would never do so in the interests of national unity and political survival.

Beyond this issue, Ms. Redford made clear during the interview that she has little appetite for trying to help the B.C. government find a solution to its economic concerns related to the pipeline. The Alberta Premier believes that’s a matter Ms. Clark should take up with Enbridge, the force behind the Gateway project.

She’s wrong about that. Given what’s at stake for her province, Ms. Redford should be Gateway’s biggest advocate. If that means trying to help find answers to unlock B.C.’s support, then she should be all over it. Doing little beyond saying the project should go ahead isn’t leadership – it’s arrogance and an abrogation of her responsibilities.

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Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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