Five ways Alberta could put pressure on British Columbia
Faced with a potential new obstacle to exporting Alberta oil, Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to stand firm in defence of jobs and the battered oil industry — but has so far offered few specifics. The British Columbia government took direct aim at Kinder Morgan’s $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to the West Coast earlier this week by proposing to restrict increases in bitumen shipments until it can conduct further spill response studies. What legitimate options does Alberta have? 1. Pull the plug on electricity In 2016, Notley said her government wouldn’t increase the amount of electricity it buys from B.C. until the pipeline was a go. However, she acknowledged Thursday that Alberta has been looking at the possibility of increased access to B.C. power. Those discussions are now off, though Notley said the decision doesn’t relate to any interest Alberta might have in hydroelectric power from the controversial Site C dam in northern B.C. set to come online in 2025. In the last couple of years, B.C. bought more cheap Alberta power than it sold, so the threat of Alberta buying even less electricity is futile, said Blake Shaffer, a fellow with the C.D. Howe Institute. As Alberta moves to phase out coal power by 2030, electricity prices in Alberta are likely to rise, and refusing to buy hydro power from B.C. will drive up the price further, he said. “I think any sort of threats within the electricity space are without much leverage from our side, or at risk of serious backfire,” Shaffer said. 2. Take B.C. to court Pipelines that cross provincial borders are the federal government’s jurisdiction, and Alberta should seek an emergency injunction to enforce that rule, said Brian Crowley, managing director of the MacDonald Laurier Institute, an Ottawa think-tank. Notley said Thursday the government is looking at a legal strategy, but didn’t elaborate. A court case wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds, said Eric Adams, a University of Alberta expert in constitutional law. The Constitution’s authors “didn’t think the environment was a thing ” in 1867, and the document is silent on whose job it is to protect it, he said. 3. Pressure Ottawa to step in Notley took advantage of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Edmonton on Thursday to insist he make clear only the federal government can say how much oil flows through pipelines. Trudeau should explain to all
I think any sort of threats within the electricity space are without much leverage from our side, or at risk of serious backfire.
Canadians that the project has already undergone rigorous environmental review, said Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Trudeau told an Edmonton audience Thursday the pipeline will be built, and McMillan hopes he repeats that message Friday in B.C. The pipeline clash is a matter between Canada and B.C., not an Alberta-B.C. spat, Crowley said: “I blame the federal government for being so low key and so pacifistic in protecting the rights of Canadians to carry out their legitimate and legal business activities.” 4. Hold back oil shipments In a modern homage to Alberta’s thoughts on the National Energy Program of the 1980s, Albertans might cry, “Let the western bastards freeze in the dark.” According to the National Energy Board (NEB), most gasoline consumed in B.C. comes from oil pumped down the existing Trans Mountain pipeline. If Alberta turned off the taps, gas prices would spike, and the coast would be in a pinch, Shaffer said. However, refusing to sell oil products to B.C. would hurt Alberta (and Saskatchewan) producers, too, he said. 5. Target tourism and B.C. products The Pacific province’s tourism industry relies a great deal on Albertans, who made 2.9 million overnight trips to B.C. in 2016 and spent $1.4 billion. The Alberta government could potentially develop a campaign to encourage residents to spend that money in Banff or Drumheller instead. Vineyards are another potential target, since sales of B.C. wine have been steadily growing in Alberta, and close to a quarter of Albertans have conducted wine tours in B.C. in the last two years. An outright boycott or extra tax on B.C. products would likely violate trade agreements — and potentially see retaliation against Alberta beers — but Albertans could potentially be prodded to try Ontario Chardonnay instead. At least one Alberta restaurant has already decided to take B.C. wines off its menu. Could similar measures be taken against salmon, peaches and even B.C. cannabis?