Are B.C. and Alberta on a collision course of potentially mammoth proportions?
It certainly seems so if Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the United Conservative Party in Alberta this week. Voting begins Thursday and concludes on Saturday.
Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister in the Harper government, is the odds-on favourite to win and his party seems positioned to best Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP when the next Alberta election is held in May, 2019.
The merger of the two right-wing parties in Alberta means there is no longer a “split” on the right. Such a split paved the way for an NDP win in 2015 and its absence makes the NDP’s re-election improbable.
If Kenney does end up winning on both counts, the stage could be set for a potentially nasty and divisive fight pitting Alberta against those perceived as standing in the way of the province’s interests. To Kenney, the main enemies will be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier John Horgan and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (if he is still mayor in 2019).
Kenney has been making speeches that aggressively call out those who want to block Alberta’s attempts to export oil from its tar sands. Topping that list is the B.C. NDP government, which is trying to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that currently takes Alberta’s bitumen to tidewater.
Last week, Kenney gave a speech to party faithful warning that if the B.C. government were to take “dilatory measures” in blocking the pipeline – which he equates with harming the economic union of the country – there would be “a range of consequences.”
While he began banging this drum of “consequences” a few weeks ago, he is now starting to define what they could mean.
“If B.C. wants to move their gas through Alberta to U.S. markets, perhaps we should be tolling that gas,” he told a cheering crowd, which roared in approval when he talked of “turning off the taps” when it came to stopping the shipment of all Alberta oil to other provinces.
“Maybe one morning people in Vancouver wake up and they see it costs five bucks a litre to buy their oil, they’ll realize that their cars and trucks and economy are not fuelled by pixie dust, but by Alberta oil,” he thundered. “It’s time that we said that there are consequences (to blocking the pipeline).”
He characterized Alberta’s oil sands as “these remarkable resources that have helped create prosperity for all Canadians, including British Columbians.”
He is now invoking the legacy of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who famously locked horns with the Pierre Trudeau federal government over its National Energy Program, which Lougheed felt unfairly and unlawfully trod on Alberta’s oil interests.
The time of being “passive” when it comes to protecting Alberta’s interests – which, financially, greatly depend on the development of the oil sands, and the export of products from there – is over, Kenney insists. And B.C., he vows, will pay a price for trying to block the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
He also took a swipe at Robertson, who wants to make Vancouver a “carbon free city” by the year 2040. “I’m prepared to give him a carbon free Vancouver by 2020 if they stop that pipeline,” he promised.
Kenney also wants to dismantle or at least neuter the federal National Energy Board – which he blames for the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline – but much of his anger seems aimed directly at the B.C. NDP government. And his anger seems widely shared by fellow Albertans.
There has even been talk of employing such measures as implementing “rat inspection stations” at all border crossings, which could adversely affect the considerable amount of commercial vehicle traffic that flows daily from B.C. to Alberta (the province declares itself to be officially “rat free”).
What sounded like a preposterous idea a short time ago may start to become reality less than a couple of years from now, should Kenney end up leading that province.
Kenney will likely become party leader by Saturday. If he does indeed win, hang on for a wild ride.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC and columnist for Glacier Media.