JUST A BUNCH OF SOUR GRAPES
Alberta trade war threats ‘over the top,’ says Horgan
B.C. Premier John Horgan VICTORIA sought to cool a brewing trade war with Alberta on Wednesday, refusing to retaliate to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s ban on B.C. wine with a B.C. boycott of Alberta beef.
“It’s not the government’s intention to respond in any way to the provocation,” he said of Notley’s move Tuesday to ban the import of B.C. wine. He added he hopes “cooler heads on the other side of the Rockies will prevail.”
Notley’s wine boycott was retaliation for B.C.’s decision this month to restrict bitumen shipments from Alberta as B.C. seeks to disrupt the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline from that province to the West Coast.
Horgan said he thinks its “provocative” for Notley to goad B.C. to try to get a response from Ottawa on the pipeline. He said his deputy ministers will meet with federal officials today to try to explain B.C.’s view and that he’s also spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the province’s position.
Notley ratcheted up the rhetoric Wednesday in a video released via social media just before Horgan’s news conference.
“B.C.’s campaign to stop Alberta from exporting our energy products is wrong and it requires a clear and unequivocal response,” Notley said.
“No one wants a trade fight between two provinces, not Alberta, not B.C., not Canada. Our country can’t work like this, but if it takes this kind of action to get Ottawa to act, I’m afraid we have no choice but to stand up and defend Alberta’s interests. In the coming days the government of Alberta will be closely monitoring the situation and preparing further action.”
Horgan said he thinks Notley’s reaction has been “over the top.
“With respect to escalation, that’s entirely in the hands of Premier Notley, not me,” he said. “I’m not responding in any other way than to say I’m defending B.C.’s wine industry.”
“Certainly I would hope that we’ve seen the end of the back and forth,” added Horgan. “What Alberta does is entirely up to them.”
B.C.’s wine industry says the retail value of the sector in Alberta is $160 million and approximately 30 per cent of wine sold in Alberta is produced or bottled in B.C.
Horgan also faced criticism from Kinder Morgan, which sent him a strongly worded letter outlining the numerous studies underway on oil spills, reminding him the previous B.C. government already endorsed the project, explaining that the pipeline is federal jurisdiction and warning that proposed restrictions would “strike directly at the heart of our country ’s oil and natural gas producers.”
“I hope that you will consider the severity and consequence of the actions your minister has proposed and that you will accept my offer to meet with you to discuss these and any other matters relating to the operations of our company in British Columbia,” wrote president Ian Anderson. Horgan said he sees no reason to meet Anderson while the matter is before the courts.
Experts warned B.C. Wednesday to take the high road and resist the political pressure to respond with its own corresponding ban on any Alberta products. That may be difficult with less disciplined Horgan cabinet ministers like Agriculture Minister Lana Popham already musing in off-the-cuff responses about an Alberta beef ban.
“Hopefully we are more mature,” said Ross Hickey, assistant professor of economics at the University of B.C.’s Okanagan campus. “I’ve heard people saying ‘Oh we should retaliate,’ but that’s foolish. All we are going to do is hurt domestic consumers.”
A B.C. ban on Alberta beef, for example, would send restaurants and grocery stores scrambling and cause price hikes that would ultimately only affect the wallets of B.C. families, said Hickey.
B.C.’s restaurant industry would not be supportive of such a move either, said Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association. Instead, his group announced Wednesday a push to encourage consumers to buy more B.C. wine to compensate for money the industry will lose to the Alberta ban.
“It’s the Obama you go high when they go low approach,” Tostenson said. “I think we ignore the politics of this and get on with it.” However, he added he hopes Notley does not expand her ban to include B.C. beer, which would just ramp up tensions.
Legally, Alberta could be breaking the law with the wine ban by violating the New West Partnership Trade and Trade Investment and Labour Mobility (TILMA) agreements. It could also be unconstitutional, though Section 121 of Canada’s Constitution Act, which deals with unencumbered interprovincial trade, is being challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada by a New Brunswick man who is arguing against restrictions on moving alcohol between provinces.
“Notley has taken this below the belt,” said Hickey. “It’s clearly in violation of TILMA. They can take us to court, they will lose. When we take them to court over the wine thing, we will win. The problem is those things take a long time to resolve. So no one wins in the short term.”
The real issue is not Alberta and B.C.’s trade war, but Ottawa’s inability to stand up and assert its federal jurisdiction over the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval, said Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
“It’s a question of whether the federal government has the gumption to assert and defend its legitimate jurisdiction under the law and Alberta is essentially signalling that they are doubtful that Ottawa has the gumption to do that and they have tried to raise the stakes in order to get the federal government to respond,” said Crowley.