Threats to retaliate against BC if Horgan government inhibits pipeline progress benefits Kenney, but may harm Kinder Morgan’s construction efforts
Erik Wiik is an early-30s engineer who owns a Vancouver-based small business – exactly the kind of lower mainland voter whose support Alberta needs to cultivate in the great pipeline debate. But Jason Kenney and other Alberta conservative leaders make that ever more difficult with their incendiary public comments aimed at Vancouver opponents of Trans Mountain Expansion and the BC NDP government that vowed to support them.
Kenney, the former Calgary MP and Stephen Harper Conservative cabinet minister, told the Globe and Mail that there will be economic consequences if Premier John Horgan fights the Kinder Morgan project “with every tool available” as he promised.
“If the government of British Columbia purposely undermines the rule of law and our ability to safely export products from Alberta, then there will be repercussions,” Kenney said in an interview.
“Trade is a two-way street. And if I were premier and the government of British Columbia were blocking one of our prime exports, we would find ways to respond in kind that would be an economic response.”
Kenney is currently running for leadership of the United Conservative Party in Alberta, the new entity created after members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Assoc. of Alberta agreed to join forces against the NDP government of Rachel Notley, which is viewed by many within the oil and gas industry as enemy of the energy sector.
Wiik understands that Kenney is playing to the cheap seats in Alberta. But he also warns that Kenney’s threats will be heard in Vancouver and they won’t be welcome.
“I think Vancouverites in general will respond to the show and applaud their local leaders and froth at the mouth at Kenney,” Wiik said in an interview.
“Which plays into the hand of Kenney, too. I reckon his Albertan voters would be pleased to see Kenney troll Vancouverites this way.”
Albertans generally confine their grumbling about the Left Coast to the Tim Hortons or the Petroleum Club.
But shouting across the Rockies at the “progressives” and eco-warriors” and the “fruits and nuts” in Vancouver serves Kenney, and his fellow UCP leadership candidates Brian Jean and Derek Fildebrandt, in other ways.
Notley has vowed to spend time in British Columbia this fall, reaching out to opponents and explaining why the controversial pipeline is so important to her province, where oil royalties have fallen off a cliff and the government is bleeding red ink to the tune of $10 billion-plus a year.
Nothing would please Kenney more than to rile up the locals in advance of his political enemy’s charm offensive – despite the fact Notley has already said she plans to tell British Columbians they must respect the National Energy Board review process, the Canadian government’s final approval, and the exclusive jurisdiction of Ottawa over inter-provincial pipelines.
In other words, Kenney’s own argument.
Kenny has everything to gain and nothing to lose with his pledge to retaliate against BC and Horgan’s leftist government if he wins the UCP leadership race and the next Alberta election in 2019.
But is Kenney’s aggressive strategy good for Kinder Morgan, which is committed to begin construction next month?
Pipeline opponents have vowed to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “20 Standing Rocks” – referring to the violent protests in North Dakota that broke out a year ago over the route of the Dakota Access pipeline. At one point, over 5,000 people were gathered in a “protest village” that was supported by crowdfunding of $1.5 million a day from around the world.
Anti-pipeline BC First Nations were allied with the Standing Rock Sioux and it is a dead certainty that the organizing and protest tactics refined during the Dakota Access opposition will be employed in British Columbia.
Trans Mountain opposition is going to be huge, noisy, and probably violent.
Trudeau’s natural resources minister, Jim Carr, has said in no uncertain terms that protests are welcome as long as they remain lawful. If they are not, then the RCMP – and perhaps even the Canadian military – will be called to restore order.
The arrest of hundreds, probably more like thousands, is inevitable.
As the protests escalate later this year or early in 2018, Liberal strategists will be calculating the politics of stuffing potential Liberal voters in jails and slapping them with criminal charges.
How far will Trudeau go?
The answer to that question depends to a large extent upon Erik Wiik and Vancouverites like him.
If the Liberals believe they have enough political support from voters like Wiik, who describes himself as a centrist, the Prime Minister’s resolve will no doubt be greater.
But if Wiik et. al. sit on their hands, angered and alienated by the ham-handed, selfish politics of Kenney, Jean, and Fildebrandt, then perhaps Trudeau has to throw in the towel before the protesters.
Perhaps that braggadocio during the dog days of August comes back to haunt Alberta conservatives and Kinder Morgan is forced to stop construction of the pipeline that the expanding Alberta oil sands desperately needs as it adds 200,000 b/d of output in 2017 alone and a total of 1.3 million b/d by 2030.
So, the question must be asked. By threatening British Columbia with a trade war if he becomes premier, is Jason Kenney serving the interests of Alberta or his own political aspirations?
Vancouverites like Erik Wiik would like an answer.
Ed. note: these emailed comments from SFU communications prof. Shane Gunster arrived after publication. I’m including them here because they nicely illustrate the argument I made above:
I think many people in BC will see this posturing as primarily driven by the political logic of the United Conservative Party leadership contest, and reflective of Kenny’s apparent choice to borrow from the Trump playbook in firing up right-wing voters to participate in his campaign.
It strikes me as a pretty risky move over the long-term and I wonder how this kind of inflammatory, confrontational message will play with Alberta voters looking for a government that can represent their interests in a federal system that requires some level of accommodation, negotiation and sensitivity to the interests of those in other parts of the country?
Having said that, I think many British Columbians will see this as further evidence that some in Alberta fundamentally misunderstand the substance of local objections to the proposed Trans Mountain project, objections that both John Horgan and Andrew Weaver campaigned on in the last provincial election.