Med­dling in B.C. vote may cost PM

Edmonton Journal - - NP - John IvIson

Did Justin Trudeau just hand the B.C. elec­tion to Christy Clark? In try­ing to do so, has he risked the wrath of Don­ald Trump?

Those are just two of the ques­tions unan­swered af­ter an elec­tion in which all three ma­jor B.C. par­ties were able to claim a vic­tory of sorts.

Clark’s Lib­er­als were re­duced to a mi­nor­ity, but the NDP could soon form gov­ern­ment, in coali­tion with the Greens, who now hold the bal­ance of power.

This con­vo­luted scenario is pro­vi­sional on re­counts that could take two weeks and may yet de­liver Clark an ad­di­tional seat, al­low­ing her to re­gain her ma­jor­ity.

The tight­est of mar­gins sep­a­rates the Lib­er­als and the NDP — just 17,827 in the pop­u­lar vote, with thou­sands of ab­sen­tee votes still to come in.

But the nar­row na­ture of the vic­tory em­pha­sizes how im­por­tant Trudeau’s in­ter­ven­tion may have been.

Af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment an­nounced its 20 per cent tar­iff on Cana­dian soft­wood lum­ber in late April, Clark wrote to Trudeau ask­ing him to im­pose a ban on ex­ports of ther­mal coal from B.C. ports — an un­usual re­quest given those ports em­ploy Bri­tish Columbians and pay taxes to the province.

The prime minister sig­nalled his pre­ferred out­come when he said he would “care­fully and se­ri­ously” con­sider Clark’s sug­ges­tion.

Did the Pre­mier’s bel­li­cose re­sponse to the soft­wood tar­iff, and the prime minister’s tacit en­dorse­ment, shift votes? It can’t have hurt. Trudeau is likely the most pop­u­lar politi­cian in the province, where he is viewed as a na­tive son.

The re­quest from Clark al­lowed the prime minister to send a mes­sage to noisy sen­a­tors like Ore­gon’s Ron Wy­den, who pushed for the soft­wood tar­iff, but also rep­re­sents a state that ex­ports ther­mal coal through B.C.

It also pro­vided po­ten­tially piv­otal sup­port for a B.C. Lib­eral cam­paign that was then trail­ing in the polls.

A pro­vin­cial Lib­eral vic­tory was key to the sur­vival of Trudeau’s grand de­sign — the twin-track pol­icy on the econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment, which com­bines the ap­proval of pipe­lines, such as Kin­der Mor­gan’s $6.8 bil­lion Trans Moun­tain link, with the im­po­si­tion of a car­bon tax.

This is Trudeau’s sig­na­ture pol­icy: a fine bal­ance be­tween ex­pand­ing Canada’s pipe­line ca­pac­ity and putting a price on car­bon, in or­der to en­cour­age greater use of clean en­ergy.

It’s a strat­egy that has pop­u­lar sup­port in ev­ery re­gion of the coun­try and is per­haps one of the few gen­uine suc­cesses of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s first 18 months in power.

The can­cel­la­tion of a project that would triple to 890,000 bar­rels a day the ca­pac­ity of the ex­ist­ing pipe­line to Kin­der Mor­gan’s Westridge ter­mi­nal would have put a sig­nif­i­cant crimp in Trudeau’s own plans for re­elec­tion, and ended any hopes Al­berta’s Rachel Not­ley might have had of a sec­ond term.

But the in­ter­ven­tion may have stored up trouble — Trudeau’s provoca­tive move has been no­ticed south of the border and may en­rage a pres­i­dent al­ready bounc­ing around the White House like a brick in a wash­ing ma­chine.

U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross told a con­fer­ence in Washington this week that Cana­dian “threats of re­tal­i­a­tion are in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

There re­mains the prospect that Trudeau’s gam­ble back­fires in another way, and that the NDP’s John Hor­gan and Green Party’s An­drew Weaver com­bine to de­feat the Clark gov­ern­ment.

If the NDP had won un­der its own steam, it may not have killed the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line au­to­mat­i­cally. Hor­gan has pledged to use “ev­ery tool in the tool box” to stop it, but it’s fair to say the tool box is not bulging.

With a fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion due any day now, and shov­els ex­pected to break ground by the fall, a Hor­gan ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment might sim­ply have pro­vided to­ken re­sis­tance and blamed its pre­de­ces­sor, par­tic­u­larly given the sup­port for the project from many B.C. unions.

But the Greens would surely make block­ing Trans Moun­tain a price of their sup­port. Weaver, the cli­mat­e­change sci­en­tist turned politi­cian, has said the pipe­line has “no place on our coast.”

Any gov­ern­ment op­posed to the Kin­der Mor­gan pipe­line could yet raise new en­vi­ron­men­tal bar­ri­ers, even though B.C. has al­ready granted the pipe­line an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment cer­tifi­cate.

It might also file for in­ter­vener sta­tus in any of the court cases that ap­pear to be pend­ing.

In that case, Ot­tawa does have one ace up its sleeve — the “work and un­der­tak­ings” sec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion Act that al­lows the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to push through projects Par­lia­ment judges to be “for the gen­eral ad­van­tage of Canada” — a pro­vi­sion used hun­dreds of times since Con­fed­er­a­tion to drive through rail­ways, canals and oil re­finer­ies that fell foul of pro­vin­cial judg­ments. Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments do not have the power to block the con­struc­tion of pipe­lines, if Par­lia­ment chooses to ex­er­cises the pow­ers at its dis­posal.

Whether a Trudeau gov­ern­ment so de­pen­dent on its sup­port in B.C. would re­move the project from pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion is de­bat­able. But there can be no doubt about its im­por­tance to his record of achieve­ment.

When the coal dust set­tles, Trudeau may find he has helped en­gi­neer his de­sired out­come. But it may come at a price.

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