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Please Advise! Why Can’t NDP Buddies Notley and Horgan Just Get Along?

Blame ‘pipeline vision’ on all sides for escalating clash of governments.

By Steve Burgess 13 Apr 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve,

I am a little confused as to why there is such a ruckus between Alberta and B.C. regarding the pipeline. Aren’t both run by NDP premiers? They act like they are from two different parties. Am I missing something?

Peter Skeels Pemberton, B.C.

Dear Peter,

Thanks for writing. I certainly hope you didn’t miss anything — perhaps while you were making popcorn?

You’re quite right, this is A Tale of Two Premiers, or possibly Premier Jekyll and Premier Hyde. The Trans Mountain pipeline debate seems to have worked like a potion, splitting the modern NDP into its competing personalities, labour and environmental.

But this isn’t so much about NDP premiers. It’s just about premiers. They represent provinces. The NDP part tends to get dropped at the border.

Views on this issue have been divided on geographical rather than political lines. Port Alberni city Councillor Chris Alemany recently tweeted at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley: “Madame Premier, Please. Take this opportunity to pivot… You have in your province the resources to power the entire West with renewables. Please. Pivot.”

At least, I think that tweet was from Chris Alemany — it might be a bogus account set up by Alberta Conservative leader Jason Kenney. Asking Notley to “pivot” away from the oil industry is essentially asking her to pivot right on out of the premier’s office, so Kenney can waltz right on in.

Here in B.C. Notley is being portrayed as Premier Oily McOilerson. Meanwhile in Alberta she has often been painted as Carol Carbontax or perhaps Windy Von Solarchild. (One Twitter account called “Mr. Carbon Taxed 2 the Max” tweeted to Notley: “Your carbon tax worked. No global warming. Not even spring warming this year. How about giving us a break and cancelling it now before you start an ice age?”)

Notley has been trying to convince Alberta resource industries that they will be better positioned for the future if they agree to act responsibly. For her troubles, she is hated by both oil patch people and environmentalists, who think reforming the fossil fuel industry is like arming teachers to prevent gun violence.

The anti-pipeline movement wisely touts alternative energy sources. But when it comes to certain other alternatives it tends to have pipeline vision. For example, the alternative to Premier Notley is Premier Kenney; the alternative to federal control is provincial fiefdoms; and the alternative to pipelines is rail. One recent protest sign compared the difference between pipelines and rail as the difference between jumping out of a 20th-storey or a 10th-storey window.

This brings Dr. Steve to a question he’s been pondering: Does anybody think the war on drugs has been a success? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? No, it's been a near total failure because the war on drugs has largely targeted supply. Stopping the drugs at the border, interdicting shipments at the airport, standing amid the incoming tide and trying to scoop up all the contraband — a fool's errand. It will never work as long as the demand remains strong.

Why then does anyone think that preventing pipeline construction will stop the use of fossil fuels? The modern industrial state runs on the stuff. That has to change if progress is to be made. Demand must be reduced. But until then attacking delivery systems is just playing Whack-A-Mole.

Opposition to this particular pipeline has focused on the danger to the B.C. coastline. But every other recently proposed pipeline has also been opposed. If activists get a few drinks into them — maybe even a good stiff belt of kale smoothie — I’m sure most would confess that there is no pipeline they would ever support. They oppose the fossil fuel industry itself, and all of its works.

But even BC Green leader Andrew Weaver is not talking about an immediate end to oil use — he is proposing more refineries, thus allowing for less shipping of dilbit and crude. This week Weaver suggested the rhetoric on the issue was out of control: “It is just not helpful in our political discourse to mislead, to fear-monger,” he said.

He was referring specifically to BC Liberal MLAs talking about Lac Megantic-type rail disasters. But if I told you the same words had been spoken by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Notley or the president of Kinder Morgan, you surely wouldn’t be surprised — the rhetoric has been by turns apocalyptic and petty on both sides.

Trudeau faces a genuine dilemma here. If individual provinces can dictate resource policy, not to mention trade, Trudeau can probably join Donald Trump on the golf course.

And while defeating the Trans Mountain project might be considered a win for the environmental movement, there is little likelihood that the precedent would lead to more green policies nationwide — far from it. If the feds can be so easily defied, Saskatchewan is sure to ask why they should have to impose the hated carbon tax. The new “Provinces Are Doin’ It For Themselves” tune has Notley threatening to cut off B.C. fuel supplies because, well, why not? And what shenanigans Premier Kenney would get up to, Satan only knows. Once you establish that provinces can do what they like, you probably won't like what they do.

Anti-pipeline groups will no doubt say that the possibility of a major coastal oil spill overshadows every other consideration. Fair enough.

But prime ministers don’t get to have pipeline vision, and it is very hard to imagine Trudeau backing down on this. There’s too much at stake.

Let’s hope federal Green leader and MP Elizabeth May enjoys prison food — she and a lot of other folks may work their way through the entire jailhouse menu before this is settled.  [Tyee]

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