Burnaby is fundamentally opposed to the Project and it has been public, vocal, and consistent in its opposition – National Energy Board

Watching the Alberta media trip over themselves to praise Premier Rachel Notley for her tough stance against a fellow NDP government in British Columbia is amusing. They’re braying – as is Notley – about the wrong villain in this political set piece. The City of Burnaby and its dogged, acerbic mayor Derek Corrigan should be the focus of Alberta’s displeasure.

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley at Wednesdays media event. Source: CBC.

Notley banned BC wines from Alberta a few weeks ago to protest Premier John Horgan’s announced intention to consult British Columbians about ”[r]estrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”

An advisory committee of experts will also be appointed to review the science about how diluted bitumen behaves in a marine environment, on the assumption that the science is inadequate (it isn’t) and dilbit is a menace (not under most conditions).

At the time, I called Notley’s decision a mistake because it deflected public attention from the only solution to this jurisdictional dispute: more aggressive intervention by the National Energy Board, which has been busy behind the scenes siding with Kinder Morgan in its fight with Burnaby to secure brush clearing permits and re-zoning approvals.

I say this is the only solution because thinking Horgan and company will back down or compromise, as Alberta pundits like Postmedia’s Don Braid argue, is laughable.

Being “bullied” by Ottawa – as many British Columbians describe it – plays right into Horgan’s political strategy, which is to make Kinder Morgan and the feds fight for every inch of turf. If Trudeau eventually loses patience and orders the NEB to issue provincial governments permits and approvals – it has the authority under the National Energy Board Act to do so – concedes a legal battle he was never going to win anyway, but reaps huge political benefits leading up to the inevitable election that is the fate of all minority governments.

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BC Premier John Horgan.

Hasn’t Alberta also played the “virtuous province vs. nasty federal government” card a time or two? Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein ring a bell?

But here’s the thing: even if BC passed a new law or regulations under an existing law to restrict dilbit shipments from Alberta, Kinder Morgan can simply ignore it, according to constitutional scholar James Coleman (see my Feb. 7 column).

According to the former University of Calgary law professor, the very thing Notley is steamed about is, well, inconsequential.

Trivial in the bigger scheme of things.

Burnaby is not trivial.

In fact, Corrigan and his merry band of bureaucrats have already been taken to task by the NEB not once, but twice, for dragging their feet on permit applications.

In both cases, the NEB invoked paramountcy and issued the permits instead of Burnaby.

The acrimony is so bad that in its ruling that the NEB wrote that “the record shows that the relationship between Trans Mountain and Burnaby is acrimonious and, at times, litigious. The tone of some of the written correspondence between the parties during the course of the permitting process is one of adversaries or litigants, as opposed to that of regulator and regulated company.”

After reviewing voluminous emails, letters, and other communications submitted by both sides, the NEB concluded that Burnaby’s behaviour stopped just short of “bad faith” and that the City was wholly responsible for the unreasonable delays:

Burnaby gave inconsistent direction to Trans Mountain, and its words were often inconsistent with its actions, giving rise to confusion. While there was certainly no lack of correspondence and activity between Trans Mountain and Burnaby, the parties often seemed to be talking past each other. While there was an earnest effort on Trans Mountain’s part to resolve matters, the Board is of the view that a similar effort was largely absent on Burnaby’s part.

As an attempt to improve the working relationship between Burnaby and the company, the national energy regulator put in place a process to expedite permitting disputes, noting its preference for the municipal process to function smoothly.

Wishful thinking. Only time will tell how well the new process works, if at all.

NEB officials also conceded “that Burnaby is fundamentally opposed to the Project, and that it has been
public, vocal, and consistent in its opposition.”

Does that sound like a government about to give up?

When BC announced its prospective dilbit restrictions, Mayor Corrigan rushed to post a press release supporting Premier Horgan (the mayor’s wife is former NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan, who retired from politics before the 2017 provincial election).

“We are thrilled that today the provincial government is acknowledging these threats in a way that will ensure scientific examination of the implications of the transportation of diluted bitumen in the province,” the mayor said.

The air war between Horgan and Notley is garnering all the attention, but the real battle against Trans Mountain Expansion is being fought in the trenches by Corrigan and his bureaucrats.

A quick Google search shows that Burnaby is not a hotbed of wine making, which makes it pretty much immune to Premier Notley’s ban.

If she is serious about advancing the pipeline project, she best be quick coming up with a strategy to move the obstreperous Corrigan.