Politics, nothing more, has incited the latest furor around the Trans Mountain pipeline. The fallout from the actions taken by the B.C. government this week could reverberate in this country for years to come. The implications for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan can't possibly be overstated.
Let's start at the top, with the Prime Minister.
Mr. Trudeau promised to deliver this pipeline to the good people of Alberta. His government has constitutional authority over construction of the project, power that is being directly challenged by the B.C. government. Mr. Trudeau is well aware of the time pressures this project is fighting. Project proponent Kinder Morgan is facing mounting costs as a result of delays. If the company is now looking at further court challenges dragging this process out for another year or two longer, it may decide to just walk away, which would be deeply unfortunate.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister reiterated his pledge: "Look, we're in a federation," he told CBC's Edmonton AM radio show. "One of the things to remember is we have a federal government to look out for the national interest above various disagreements within the provinces… We're going to get that pipeline built."
But mere words in the face of serious provocations are simply not enough. Mr. Trudeau needs to up his game, and fast. So far, he's looked fairly weak on this file. He understands how important the pipeline is to Alberta but is also aware of the environmental damage caused by the development of fossil fuels. (And if he ever needs reminding, his enthusiastic Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is there for him.) In this case, however, he made a commitment to Alberta, and he needs to stand behind it – with action.
Mr. Trudeau should face down this challenge by B.C. immediately. If this has to go to court, then fast-track the process given the tight time frames at play. If Trans Mountain doesn't get built, it would spell disaster in a part of the country in which Mr. Trudeau is hoping to rebuild his party's sagging fortunes – the West. And he and the Liberals would get everything they deserve, too.
And then there's rookie Premier John Horgan.
Say one thing about the man, he promised on the campaign trail to use "every tool in the toolbox" to stop the project, and he's doing just that. What's not immediately apparent is whether the new oil-spill regulations his government is proposing to stifle the shipment of raw bitumen through this pipeline is purely theatre, a one-act play designed to ingratiate his government to its legislative partners, the Green Party. Those would be the same three-seat Greens Mr. Horgan's New Democrats need to keep happy in order to stay in power.
Regardless, the gamesmanship he's displaying is doing nothing for the state of affairs in the West. If this project somehow dies because of his actions, Alberta will not soon forget it. The economic implications for B.C. would be severe, especially if Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party take power in Alberta in 2019. Conservative Premiers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba won't be anxious to do deals with B.C. either. Mr. Horgan could find his province isolated, economically, like it never has been before.
Finally, there is Ms. Notley. The consequences for her in all this are the most obvious, and perilous.
If this pipeline doesn't get built, her government is toast in two years' time. It may be regardless. Mr. Horgan has helped make her look foolish and naïve.
She sold a carbon tax and environmental reforms in Alberta on the promise a pipeline would be delivered in return, that you couldn't get one without the other. Even though the reforms and carbon tax were necessary anyway, tying them to pipeline development meant Ms. Notley had to deliver one to make it all seem worthwhile. If Trans Mountain doesn't get built until two or three years from now, it won't be in time to help her in the next election.
Not that long ago, Ms. Notley was mocking Mr. Kenney's fiery trade-war rhetoric around the pipeline, saying he was proposing building a wall around Alberta, one for which he was likely going to try to get B.C. to pay. Now she is the one talking about taking retaliatory trade sanctions, which makes you wonder who is doing the leading here.
Trans Mountain could well be the last pipeline we argue about in this country. For the politicians involved, it likely won't ever be a good memory.