PIPELINES, POLITICS AND POWERPLAYS
Tensions run high after offer from Ottawa War of words between provincial leaders
If the federal government hoped to calm the waters by announcing a willingness to backstop Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, it seems to have had the opposite effect.
Within hours of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s announcement Wednesday morning, the war of words between Ottawa, British Columbia and Alberta only escalated. B.C. Premier John Horgan accused Morneau of “rhetoric and hyperbole.” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley warned Horgan she’s “ready and prepared to turn off the taps” and restrict oil shipments to B.C. And Notley criticized the federal leader of her own party for taking Horgan’s side in the standoff.
But as the attacks get more personal, none of the leaders went quite as far as Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney who, asked Tuesday about Justin Trudeau’s performance on pipelines, referred to the prime minister as “an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.” Tensions, it would seem, are still running a little high.
On Wednesday, Morneau said the federal government is prepared to reimburse Kinder Morgan for any financial loss resulting from Horgan’s “attempts to delay or obstruct the project.”
The indemnification would extend to any other party that might take over the project if Kinder Morgan decides to walk away.
Morneau was quick to place blame for what he called “an exceptional situation” at Horgan’s feet. “We find ourselves in a situation where a project that’s been federally and provincially approved is being thwarted by Premier Horgan,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “We are ensuring that we’ve got the backs of Canadians.”
But Horgan showed no sign of relenting after Morneau’s announcement. “I think that’s rhetoric and hyperbole on his part,” he told reporters in Vancouver. “I think for a Toronto-based finance minister to single out British Columbia as a problem here…. I’m doing what I said I would do. I’m defending the interests of British Columbia.”
In Alberta, meanwhile, Notley accused B.C. of “a transparent attempt to kill the pipeline… by sowing as much legal confusion and uncertainty as possible.”
Her government planned to pass a bill Wednesday to restrict the shipment of energy products to B.C. “Albertans, British Columbians and all Canadians should understand that 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 warned.
Notley also left the door open to the possibility that Alberta could buy the project outright, saying it’s “pretty clear” that Ottawa would extend its backstop “to any buyer that came along.”
In a clear departure from his counterpart in Alberta, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attacked the Trudeau government on Wednesday, claiming on Twitter that the Liberals are giving Kinder Morgan “a blank cheque while dumping all the risks on Canadians.”
Notley, in response, suggested Singh’s position doesn’t represent the views of New Democrats across the country. “I think Jagmeet Singh is absolutely, fundamentally, incontrovertibly incorrect in every aspect of that tweet,” she told reporters.
The federal Conservatives, in contrast, have stayed quieter on the issue. Leader Andrew Scheer didn’t speak publicly on Wednesday, but took to Twitter to accuse Trudeau of a “failure to lead.”
In a statement, Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs said Morneau’s announcement will do nothing to ensure that Trans Mountain is built. The Liberals “still don’t have a concrete plan of action,” she said, though she didn’t say what that plan should look like.
But if the Tories’ response was muted, Alberta United Conservative leader Kenney had already made up for it with comments to the Calgary Sun on Tuesday that circulated widely on social media after Morneau’s announcement, in which he dropped all pretence at civility.
“(Trudeau) doesn’t support pipelines. He doesn’t believe in this project. If he did, he wouldn’t mouth empty platitudes and clichés. He allows a provincial government to thumb their nose at the Constitution while doing the square root of nothing to respond,” Kenney told the Sun.
“I know Justin. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trustfund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl. He can’t read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin, OK.”
Still, the one player whose response matters most has had little to say.
“We appreciate (Morneau’s) recognition that a private company ‘cannot resolve differences between governments,’ ” Kinder Morgan CEO Steve Kean said in a statement quoting Morneau.
Last month, Kinder Morgan halted all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain project and set a May 31 deadline for the federal government to provide assurances that the pipeline would be built.
“While discussions are ongoing, we are not yet in alignment and will not negotiate in public.”
Supporters gather outside the Kinder Morgan annual general meeting in Calgary on Wednesday.