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Opinion Notley’s brinkmanship with B.C. over pipeline could benefit from some Lougheed magic dust

Another day, another threat from Alberta. You'd almost think this is good politics for Premier Rachel Notley or something.

Ms. Notley used her government's Speech from the Throne this week to lob her latest grenade in the direction of British Columbia: Unless the province starts playing ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Alberta could begin restricting the flow of oil that B.C. receives from its neighbour.

This would have the effect of, among other things, driving up the cost of already insanely high gas prices in B.C. and generally wreaking havoc with the province's economy.

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It might not be the Western equivalent of: "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark." But it's at least: "Let the Western bastards see how much they rely on our oil to live a comfortable life." Which, admittedly, isn't a real catchy slogan but certainly a way to make a point. Also, not lost in the move is the fact that, as tactics go, a variation of it once worked well for arguably the most popular premier Alberta has ever known: Peter Lougheed.

I'm sure Ms. Notley is hoping that if she can get a little of that magic Lougheed dust to rub off on her, who knows? The next election may not be the foregone conclusion many think it is.

Ms. Notley intends to introduce legislation that mimics a bill Mr. Lougheed introduced in 1981 in response to prime minister Pierre Trudeau's disastrous National Energy Program. The NEP effectively nationalized Alberta oil. But when Alberta started choking the supply of oil to central Canada, Mr. Trudeau quickly relented and the NEP was scrapped.

I'm not convinced that the current situation will play out the same way, although I'm sure there is a part of the Alberta Premier – maybe a big part – desperately hoping B.C. Premier John Horgan tries to call her bluff. You might see gas prices in B.C. rising in tandem with Ms. Notley's popularity.

The difference between this situation and what the federal government tried to do in the 1980s is that B.C. doesn't have the authority to stop the Trans Mountain project from going ahead. At least, it doesn't right now. And it seems highly unlikely that a court is going to confer that power on the province either. (Although, we have been shocked by judges in this land before).

But what if one of the First Nations groups in court trying to stop the pipeline expansion succeeds? They have a much better shot of convincing a court that their rights have somehow been trampled. In fact, the courts, especially the Supreme Court of Canada, have been kind in their outlook toward the country's Indigenous peoples and their complaints. And rightly so.

But what does Alberta do then? Surely, Ms. Notley couldn't carry through on her threat under that scenario.

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Perhaps we'll have to wait and see what Jason Kenney proposes.

While Ms. Notley will be applauded in many Alberta households for ratcheting up the heat on B.C., many of those same people will be oblivious to the fact that it was Mr. Kenney who first proposed putting the oil squeeze on B.C. Then, Ms. Notley was suggesting the idea was over-the-top silliness. Next thing you know, the idea is in her Throne Speech.

Mr. Kenney is shaping the NDP's strategy in its feud with B.C. Ms. Notley will deny that until every cow in Alberta comes home but it's true. The United Conservative Leader has pushed the Alberta Premier out of her usually serene, no-drama comfort zone. Before he came along, Ms. Notley eschewed angry, populist rhetoric. Now, she's become the master of it.

She can't afford to look weak on this file. So if Mr. Kenney suggests using government dump trucks and road pavers to block the Trans-Canada Highway so semis from B.C. can't get to locales east of the Rockies, Ms. Notley has to propose using government dump trucks, road pavers and rented combines to do precisely the same.

It's a game. Who can come up with the biggest threat? Who can best evoke tough-talking leaders of the past?

Yes, there is a pipeline project resting in the balance here. But what's really at stake, what Ms. Notley and Mr. Kenney are really fighting over, is the future leadership of the province.

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