Two press events and pipe­line sit­u­a­tion re­mains un­clear

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM THOM­SON gth­om­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/gra­ham_jour­nal

Well, that was clear as mud.

Wed­nes­day morn­ing, both the fed­eral and Alberta gov­ern­ments held news con­fer­ences to up­date us on the Kinder Mor­gan pipe­line sit­u­a­tion — but we still don’t know if the com­pany will pull the plug in two weeks on the $7.4-bil­lion Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion; and we still don’t know when or if Alberta will in­voke re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures to turn off the oil taps to Bri­tish Columbia.

In the first news con­fer­ence, fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau an­nounced Ot­tawa is “will­ing to in­dem­nify the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion against un­nec­es­sary de­lays that are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.”

That sounds like a firm prom­ise un­til you look at it closely.

Ot­tawa seems will­ing to cut a cheque to Kinder Mor­gan, but we don’t know for how much. And we don’t know if this is enough to con­vince the com­pany to drop its threat to pull the plug May 31. Morneau’s of­fer to help Kinder Mor­gan — or any­one else who would step in to take over the project — is lim­ited to “de­lays that are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.” What about de­lays that are caused by en­vi­ron­men­tal protests?

An­a­lysts say Morneau’s com­ments were de­signed to put pres­sure on the pipe­line com­pany to make a deal with Ot­tawa to keep the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion alive.

But Kinder Mor­gan CEO Steven Kean sounded un­ruf­fled when he said he “ap­pre­ci­ates” Morneau’s com­ments, but “we are not yet in align­ment and will not ne­go­ti­ate in pub­lic.”

Kean’s big­gest prob­lem isn’t get­ting money out of Ot­tawa, it’s get­ting B.C. Premier John Hor­gan out of the way.

It is Hor­gan’s pas­sive-ag­gres­sive op­po­si­tion that has de­layed the project by a year at least and given in­vestors the jit­ters.

With that in mind, Morneau took spe­cific aim at Hor­gan dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s news con­fer­ence.

“Premier Hor­gan’s stated in­ten­tions are to do what­ever it takes to stop the project, which is un­con­sti­tu­tional in its very pur­pose,” said Morneau.

OK, but what is Morneau go­ing to do about it?

Aye, there’s the rub.

When it comes to get­ting move­ment from the Trans Moun­tain mule, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is all car­rot and no stick.

It clearly be­lieves B.C. is act­ing un­law­fully, but Ot­tawa is fo­cused on giv­ing fi­nan­cial car­rots to Kinder Mor­gan, not beat­ing Hor­gan with a po­lit­i­cal stick.

That job seems left up to Alberta Premier Rachel Not­ley, who held her own news con­fer­ence in Ed­mon­ton.

“If the path for­ward for the pipe­line through B.C. is not set­tled soon, I am ready and pre­pared to turn off the taps,” she de­clared.

A few hours later, Alberta MLAs passed the leg­is­la­tion necessary to shut off the oil taps to B.C.

Bill 12 has the eu­phemistic ti­tle, Pre­serv­ing Canada’s Eco­nomic Pros­per­ity Act, but its goal is to re­strict the flow of re­fined petroleum prod­ucts to B.C. as ret­ri­bu­tion for Hor­gan’s pipe­line op­po­si­tion.

But we don’t know when, or if, Not­ley will turn off the spigot.

The act has to be pro­claimed by cab­i­net, which has yet to pass the necessary reg­u­la­tions and is­sue ex­port per­mits to oil com­pa­nies.

Not­ley ap­par­ently wants to keep the leg­is­la­tion hang­ing like a sword of Damo­cles over Hor­gan’s head. She won’t say when it will drop: “It could hap­pen in 24 hours; it could hap­pen over a much longer pe­riod of time.”

But cut­ting off the flow of petroleum to B.C. doesn’t mean Hor­gan will back down. That’s the other rub. Hor­gan main­tains there is noth­ing to back down from. He in­sists he is do­ing noth­ing il­le­gal or un­con­sti­tu­tional. He is merely try­ing to pro­tect his prov­ince’s en­vi­ron­ment by send­ing the is­sue of pipe­line ju­ris­dic­tion to the courts for a rul­ing.

He doesn’t mind wait­ing. Of course, Kinder Mor­gan and the Alberta gov­ern­ment are tired of wait­ing. That’s why we’re in this pipe­line/po­lit­i­cal/con­sti­tu­tional mess.

And it is sure to get messier. Not­ley is still in­ter­ested in buy­ing the project out­right from Kinder Mor­gan if necessary.

“We will do what­ever is necessary to make sure that con­struc­tion of the pipe­line re­sumes this sum­mer on sched­ule and that what is done re­flects the best use of re­sources to best rep­re­sent the peo­ple of Alberta.”

At least I think that means she’s still in­ter­ested.

Like ev­ery­thing else said Wed­nes­day, it’s not ex­actly crys­tal clear.

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