Andrew Weaver is the leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
In the wake of last week’s B.C. election, there has been a flurry of news stories casting the result as a blow against the interests of Alberta and as evidence of dysfunction in the Canadian federation. In particular, some Alberta (and national) commentators have argued that, in opposing the construction of a new Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver, the BC Green and New Democratic parties present an obstructionist regional faction that could undermine national economic goals.
The narrative is false, and is yet more evidence that the flawed, winner-take-all Canadian electoral system is more likely to inflame than resolve reasonable policy differences – within and among provinces.
The May 9 British Columbia election resulted, for the time being, in a hung Legislature. The BC Liberals’ victory in 43 of 87 seats left them one short of a majority. The NDP claimed just two fewer seats, 41, leaving the BC Green Party holding the balance with a three-seat bloc. It’s possible, that a recount or the addition of late-counted absentee ballots will deliver the Liberals a 44th seat. But even that majority would be incredibly fragile.
So, the BC Green and NDP opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline may indeed threaten a project that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has backed with enthusiasm. That is entirely appropriate. Our opposition obviously reflects a serious – and completely legitimate – concern among a majority of B.C. voters.
But there are several problems with the way this story is being reported. First, it is simplistic and inaccurate to say that all Albertans support the export of unrefined oil sands bitumen through the vulnerable waters of the B.C. coast. Many Albertans share my concerns about the impact on climate change and the threats to everything from B.C. tourism to the coastal aquatic environment.
Neither is it true that all British Columbians oppose the pipeline: The debate here has been passionate, even if not always well-informed.
Contributing to that misinformation was the deeply flawed National Energy Board (NEB) process that former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper used to approve the project. Yet, now we have commentators, such as Canada West Foundation president and former federal Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay, suggesting that overturning this approval would be an offence against the processes that bring stability and predictability to Canadian governance. As Ms. Hall Findlay said in a Globe and Mail opinion piece, the notion that this approval could be withdrawn “strikes at our very democracy.”
On the contrary: It would be a triumph of democracy. Many British Columbians who voted for Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did so because they thought he would keep his promise to redo the NEB process. Similarly, if you look to where Premier Christy Clark’s BC Liberals lost seats, there is clear opposition in the Burnaby and South Coast ridings that would be most affected by the pipeline. If we care about the integrity of democracy, we are honour-bound to reconsider the Trans Mountain decision.
Equally, it is ridiculous to assert that British Columbia’s opposition amounts to a regional blockade against a project “in the national interest”. No province should act unreasonably to block neighbour – or national – priorities. But federalism doesn’t mean that one province gets to tread on the rights and threaten the environment of another. It means we work together to assess and advance the national interest.
Far from undermining the rights of Albertans, the BC Green Party is standing up for the rights of Canadians from the heartland to the edge of every increasingly endangered coastline. Until we implement rules that prevent the perversion of the political process with bucket-loads of corporate cash – until we reform a first-past-the-post system that allows well-heeled winners to slam through decisions, often to the disadvantage of an electoral majority – the BC Green Party will be pleased to continue representing the interests of all Canadians, even when that demands pursuing hard conversations between well-intended neighbours.
Follow us on Twitter: