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BC Politics

Pipeline Battle Escalates as Alberta Prepares to Turn Off Taps

BC vows to fight back; protesters face tougher legal response.

Andrew MacLeod 17 Apr

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The interprovincial battle over Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline escalated Monday as Alberta introduced legislation that allows the province to restrict oil and gas exports, and British Columbia vowed to fight back.

At the same time, the stakes rose for pipeline protesters as prosecutors said charges would be upgraded from civil to criminal, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said in a statement that the pipeline will never be built.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby said the government would fight any discriminatory actions aimed at the province.

"We've seen over the past number of weeks statements by everybody from cabinet ministers to the Premier herself of Alberta saying they were going to introduce a bill in an attempt to 'punish' British Columbians by restricting the flow of oil and gas into our province," he said.

Observers have suggested Alberta could restrict exports to drive up the price of gas in B.C.

"We know, as I'm sure they know, that the constitution forbids discrimination around energy between provinces," Eby said. "If there's anything in this legislation that even suggests a possibility of discrimination against British Columbians, we will take every step necessary to protect the interests of British Columbians because it would be completely illegal."

Alberta's Bill 12, the Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act, gives the province's energy minister the ability to decide what natural gas, crude oil or refined fuels may be exported from the province.

In making decisions, the minister is to consider "whether adequate pipeline capacity exists to maximize the return on crude oil and diluted bitumen produced in Alberta," whether the province has enough reserves for its own needs, and "any other matters considered relevant by the Minister."

Alberta's bill does not mention British Columbia, but the two provinces are locked in a battle over Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.'s proposal to expand the capacity of its existing pipeline from Alberta to the coast from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.

Last week, the company announced it is suspending all non-essential activity and spending on the pipeline, in part due to "the continued actions in opposition to the project by the Province of British Columbia." The company said it would consult with stakeholders before May 31 in hopes of protecting shareholders and gaining clarity on its ability to construct the pipeline through B.C.

A meeting Sunday between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan failed to resolve the impasse.

The issue dominated question period in the B.C. legislature again Monday, with Liberal MLA Mary Polak accusing Horgan of failing to "bring up any specific suggestions in his meeting with the Prime Minister."

Horgan said his government has been working on the file since it was sworn in nine months ago. "The only focus I had in my discussion was the protection of our coast and the defence of B.C.'s interest."

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver asked about a proposal from the federal and Alberta governments to take on some of the financial risk and invest in the pipeline. "Subsidizing this project exposes B.C. taxpayers and Canadian taxpayers to massive risk at a time when there is growing uncertainty about Trans Mountain's economic benefits, if any," he said.

Horgan said he did raise concerns in the meeting about investing taxpayer dollars in the pipeline when the federal and Alberta governments could be putting money into the green economy or at least into doing more to process diluted bitumen before it's exported.

"That was rejected by the government," Horgan said. "They chose the course that I believe they'll be laying out for the people of Canada in the days and weeks ahead, and it'll be up to the members of Parliament to debate those mechanisms, those tools, as they come forward. But it will be up to British Columbians and all Canadians to ask themselves if this is an appropriate investment of tax dollars."

B.C. has said it plans to put a reference question to the courts to clarify its jurisdiction. Pipelines that cross provincial borders are federal responsibility, but responsibility for environmental protection is shared by provincial and federal governments.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman told reporters the province needs to protect its interests, noting it has a $17-billion tourism industry and 100,000 associated jobs. "We think there is a real risk to British Columbia's economy."

The province is working hard to prepare the question it will put to the courts, he said. "I think the solution as always is for people to stay calm, for people to talk through their differences."

Eby said information should be available "shortly" on the next legal steps, including which court the province will ask to hear the case and the reference question.

Some 200 people have been arrested while protesting the project, including federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart. They defied an injunction that requires protesters to stay 50 metres from Kinder Morgan's facilities.

On Monday, the BC Prosecution Service announced it "has concluded that criminal contempt proceedings are warranted for those who have been brought before Court after being arrested in breach of the injunction" and that it would assume conduct of the proceedings.

It appointed special prosecutors Michael Klein and Greg DelBigio to handle the cases of Stewart and May, respectively.

Opponents of the project include several environmental groups, the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Phillip repeated the Union of BC Indian Chiefs' opposition in a statement Monday.

"Trudeau and Notley continue to brazenly and arrogantly ignore First Nations rights, an oversight that will limit any ability to address risk and uncertainty for this ill-conceived project," he said.

"Making unilateral decisions about projects on unceded Indigenous territories is the exact opposite of reconciliation. We confirm that our opposition is resolute, and we fully intend to stop this massively destructive pipeline from being built."  [Tyee]

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