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Ottawa and Alberta Warned to Tone Down Pipeline Rhetoric

Keep pushing British Columbia and you’ll receive an unpleasant response, say political veterans.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 31 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa.

As British Columbia’s Green and New Democrat alliance prepares to take power in Victoria, angry rhetoric flowing from Ottawa and Alberta over pipeline politics is setting the stage for “nasty stuff” in the province, say B.C. political veterans.

The Greens and New Democrats Tuesday revealed details of their agreement to form government in B.C. The deal would end 16 years of BC Liberal rule.

Part of the agreement includes stopping the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The expansion would triple the capacity of the pipeline and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet up to sevenfold.

The federal Liberals promised a new review of the project during the 2015 election, but later approved it based on the National Energy Board’s previous assessment. The board had a number of former oil executives on it.

China has also said it wants a pipeline to the B.C. coast as part of any free trade deal it signs with Canada.

Faced with the prospect of a Green-NDP B.C. government blocking the pipeline, the governments of Ottawa and Alberta are engaging in some tough talk.

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday. The next day she went further in an interview with CBC.

“At the end of the day, we can’t be a country that says one of its two functional coastlines is only going to do what the people who live right beside it want to do,” Notley said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at a stop in Rome that he stands by his government’s support of the pipeline.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr reiterated his position that the B.C. election will not change anything about the pipeline’s approval.

“For months, there were reviews,” Carr told reporters on Parliament Hill. “Thousands of people gave their opinion on the project and in the view of the Government of Canada, it was in Canada’s interest and we gave the approval.”

Carr apologized last year when, after approving the pipeline, he told a room of cheering oil executives and businesspeople he would subdue any violent protests against the pipeline by using Canada’s defence and police forces. Many took that to mean he was threatening British Columbians with military force.

In response on Tuesday, BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said Notley was fear-mongering and told her to “get with the program” on working towards a more environmentally friendly future.

Back in the House of Commons, Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart warned there would be “hell to pay” in B.C. should the pipeline be forced through with the help of the military.

And Rafe Mair, former MLA, radio show host and Tyee columnist expressed fears that such tough talk could cause serious upheaval in B.C., which has a long and rich history of environmentalism.

“If you provoke like this and go on and on, and people get used to marching and doing these sorts of things, you’re going to find that violence comes,” Mair said, stressing he wants things to remain peaceful.

He said B.C. residents are a different breed and aren’t willing to just play along with other provinces when they think their environment is at risk.

As well, Liberal MPs from B.C. don’t seem to have the spine to engage in serious pushback against their own party in support of their constituents, Mair noted.

Subsequently, the prime minister is not getting any real sense of what people on the ground are feeling. “If you keep scratching you’re going to find some pretty nasty stuff down there,” Mair said.

During the 2015 election the Liberals gained 15 seats in B.C. having previously held two. It was enough to give them a majority in the House of Commons, and almost all the seats were in Metro Vancouver.

Some speculated the pipeline issue played a role in the win, as a huge portion of votes lost by the Conservatives in 2015 were ridings that touch salt water.

As well, during B.C.’s May 9 election the BC Liberals, who supported the pipeline, lost three seats around Burrard Inlet leaving them with just one of seven ridings along the shoreline.

Geography plays a role

It may be a simple matter of geography that prevents Ottawa from understanding or taking seriously concerns about British Columbians on the pipeline issue, says B.C. New Democrat MLA Jinny Sims.

Before winning her seat in B.C.’s legislature on May 9, Sims was the federal MP for Newton-North Delta until losing the seat in the 2015 election to Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal.

Sims reckons those east of the Rockies don’t understand the importance of nature to British Columbians.

“We’re on the coastline and they’re inland,” she told The Tyee. “I think when you’re living on the coastline you are here for a lifestyle, as well as you have this love for what we have geographically in B.C.”

Sims said she’s seen vast regions of B.C. and the experience has made her appreciate how beautiful and fragile the province’s ecosystems are, including Burrard Inlet.

She said the province and the rest of Canada differ in their understanding of how the environment relates to the economy.

“People here in the Lower Mainland, of course they want to see decent paying jobs and they want to see that growth in the economy,” she said. “But I think they also say you can grow that economy with sustainable jobs and by investing in clean energy and also by moving into the IT sector.”

Sims said the comments from Carr and Notley are “hype” and that people shouldn’t be dismayed by them. She said B.C. has a lot in common with the rest of the country and people need to remember the many things they agree on.

On the pipeline issue, Sims said, there doesn’t appear to be a middle ground. People either want it or do not, but people need to talk about the issue.

She added that the tone from those outside of B.C. is not going to help them get anything built easily.

“I’m a teacher, and what I found in my teaching experience is that kind of a tone never helps you get to a solution,” Sims said. “What that kind of a tone does is create unnecessary tension and wastes a lot of time.”  [Tyee]

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