PIPE­LINES, POL­I­TICS AND POWERPLAYS

Ten­sions run high after of­fer from Ot­tawa War of words be­tween pro­vin­cial lead­ers

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - MAURA FOR­REST in Ot­tawa

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.”

DAR­REN MAKOWICHUK / POST­MEDIA NEWS

Sup­port­ers gather out­side the Kinder Mor­gan an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Calgary on Wed­nes­day.

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