Pipe­line pol­i­tics will keep Ottawa, Al­berta di­vided

Rhetoric be­tween the two cap­i­tals likely to be­come more heated

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Twit­ter: @Chan­talHbert Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

All is far from well be­tween Rachel Not­ley’s Al­berta gov­ern­ment and Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als. With the prime min­is­ter in the eye of the storm over the fail­ure to get more oil to tide­wa­ter, no fed­eral ges­ture be­tween now and next fall’s elec­tion is likely to re­ally lower the tem­per­a­ture be­tween the two cap­i­tals.

The com­bi­na­tion — within a space of six months next year — of an Al­berta and a fed­eral elec­tion prob­a­bly guar­an­tees that the rhetoric be­tween the two cap­i­tals will be­come more heated.

But those who ex­pect that the fed­eral vote will wash away the clouds should think again.

For months now, the trend in the vot­ing—in­ten­tion polls has pointed to a Con­ser­va­tive sweep of Al­berta next fall.

A Lib­eral vic­tory would al­most cer­tainly see the prov­ince con­signed to the op­po­si­tion benches, with no voice within the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

And that would only ex­ac­er­bate the cur­rent frus­tra­tions with Ottawa.

But the al­ter­na­tive is not nec­es­sar­ily promis­ing of a more har­mo­nious cli­mate.

Any­one who ex­pects a Con­ser­va­tive vic­tory to re­sult in peace or even de­ci­sive ac­tion on the pipe­line front is al­most cer­tainly in for a dis­ap­point­ment.

For all the talk among Con­ser­va­tives about Trudeau mess­ing up the file, Stephen Harper — had he been re—elected as prime min­is­ter in 2015 — would have faced many of the same road­blocks.

The North­ern Gate­way pipe­line green lit by his gov­ern­ment over its last term in of­fice was any­thing but a done deal. The con­tro­ver­sial project was mired in lit­i­ga­tion. Shortly af­ter Harper left of­fice, a court over­turned his ap­proval of the pipe­line.

In­stead of scrap­ping the project as Trudeau did, a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment would prob­a­bly have ap­pealed the de­ci­sion and, in the end, the Supreme Court would have had the last word.

But there is no guar­an­tee that the top court would not have dou­bled down on the orig­i­nal rul­ing and or­dered the gov­ern­ment to more prop­erly ac­quit it­self of its duty to con­sult the Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the pipe­line. No fed­eral gov­ern­ment is ex­empt from the rule of law. The duty to con­sult is part of Canada’s con­sti­tu­tional frame­work. There is no opt­ing out of it.

The not­with­stand­ing clause only ap­plies to some sec­tions of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. It is not a get—out—of—jail card at the dis­posal of gov­ern­ments look­ing for a way to ig­nore any in­con­ve­nient court rul­ing.

When it comes to deal­ing with land­mark cases, the Supreme Court tends — to put it po­litely — to pro­ceed at a mea­sured pace. It would prob­a­bly have taken 18 months to two years to se­cure a de­fin­i­tive rul­ing on North­ern Gate­way.

That same time­line would have at­tended an ap­peal by the Trudeau gov­ern­ment of the more re­cent Trans Moun­tain court rul­ing — again with no guar­an­tee that the out­come would have cleared the way to an im­me­di­ate re­sump­tion of the ex­pan­sion rather than to a court—or­dered re­turn to the draw­ing board.

Any gov­ern­ment — Lib­eral or Con­ser­va­tive — look­ing to meet the court re­quire­ments rather than to chal­lenge them would have to avoid short­cuts li­able to bring about a new round of lit­i­ga­tion.

By the same to­ken, a fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment could hardly have pre­vented the re­place­ment in Vic­to­ria of a pipe­line— friendly B.C. Lib­eral gov­ern­ment with one led by the NDP.

Premier John Hor­gan is within his rights to test the ex­tent of his gov­ern­ment’s power to limit the oil that tran­sits through the prov­ince in court just as Saskatchewan, On­tario, New Brunswick and Man­i­toba are en­ti­tled to chal­lenge the fed­eral car­bon tax.

Were the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to start to re­tal­i­ate fi­nan­cially against prov­inces for ex­er­cis­ing their le­gal op­tions, a ma­jor unity cri­sis would be the likely re­sult.

The hur­dles stand­ing in the way of more pipe­lines are hardly unique to Canada.

In the U.S, where no one would accuse the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion of be­ing anti—pipe­line or even in the least con­cerned over the im­pact of fos­sil fu­els on cli­mate change, a Mon­tana court has just put the brakes on the Key­stone XL project.

Trudeau’s Lib­er­als are count­ing on shov­els even­tu­ally hit­ting the ground on the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion site to prove their Al­berta crit­ics wrong. But even that is un­likely to buy peace on the car­bon tax front.

That much—vil­i­fied fed­eral mea­sure is be­com­ing a light­ning rod of dis­like for Trudeau him­self, and re­cent events in France are demon­strat­ing that it could have the po­ten­tial to ig­nite a pop­ulist protest move­ment.

Over on the Con­ser­va­tive side, the com­mit­ment to do away with the car­bon tax would not speed up the con­struc­tion of new pipe­lines by a sin­gle day. A gov­ern­ment led by Andrew Scheer would soon dis­cover that steam­rolling the op­po­si­tion in some key pro­vin­cial quar­ters to its pipe­line am­bi­tions was eas­ier said than ac­tu­ally done.

One way or an­other, fed­eral—pro­vin­cial peace is un­likely to be on next fall’s bal­lot.

Chan­tal Hébert Na­tional Af­fairs

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