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GEORGE: Let cooler heads prevail in Kinder Morgan drama

April 10, 2018 - 12:00 PM

Well, it has been an exceptionally exciting week so far for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and it is only Monday as I am writing this. In case you missed it, the Texas company announced Sunday that it will be putting its investments in the pipeline expansion on hold until it gets clarity from the three governments involved. This has been seen as a conditional victory by pipeline opponents and a political victory/failure depending on which government is being discussed and by which side in the current melee. I see it as simply politics as usual in Canada.

Let's start with Horgan and the BCNDP. Things looked rocky for environmentally sensitive issues when they green-lighted Site C, even after it was made clear in the BC Utilities Commission report that this B.C. Liberal boondoggle was a financial disaster for ratepayers and taxpayers in British Columbia. First Nations and environmentalists were thrown under the bus. Andrew Weaver and the Greens took heat from all sides as the outrage built against the Greens for not pulling the pin on Horgan's government.

Contrast that with Monday and Kinder Morgan. A decade ago, British Columbians were asked if they would support an increase in tanker traffic on their coast. Eighty per cent said no. Most of those people lived in the lower mainland and southern Vancouver Island. The provincial ridings touching tidewater happen to be the ones that the BC NDP need to either keep or wrest from the B.C. Liberals if they hope to receive a majority in the next provincial election. This is pure politics.

Predictably, the BC NDP have decided to study the matter, both the science of bitumen in actual tidewater and by pursuing a reference case in the courts to determine if British Columbia has the constitutional right to halt shipments of bitumen through the waters that the province has responsibility for, especially if it turns out that the science says we have something to worry about. If there is one thing I am happy to criticize the BCNDP for is its propensity to study things that need action. In this case, their announcement infuriated Rachel Notley and spurred Trudeau to even greater heights of rhetoric.

Notley's response has been predictable and childish. The initial lashing out at B.C. winegrowers was ill-considered. A lot of B.C. wine is grown in the Interior, a place that is home to people of a more conservative bent and thus more likely to be potential allies to her cause. So much for that opportunity. British Columbians of all political stripes don't respond well to bullying. Sunday's announcement by KM has upped the protectionist sentiments coming out of Alberta with many on social media calling for a B.C. boycott.

Some are threatening to cancel their Okanagan or Shuswap vacations this year because of the impact that environmentalists are having on the pipeline. This, of course, would mean less fuel pollution in our lakes and rivers as people stay off them, less disruption of riparian habitat along the shores of our waterways, less fuel burned in the one-ton dually pulling the 35' travel trailer and the quads over the Rockies and fewer people in the backcountry this summer, potentially sparking fires.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?

Notley, Kenney, and various and sundry heads of corporations are all calling on Ottawa to do something. It is all they can do to keep the idea of sending in the troops to smarten those protestors up and get on with building the pipeline out of their press releases. So far Ottawa is making noises about cutting federal funding for healthcare and other federal/provincial initiatives as a goad to get the B.C. government to stop studying things and get out of the way.

More politics. Trudeau faces an election next year. So does Notley. Horgan, if he can keep Weaver and the Greens happy on Kinder Morgan and proportional representation, may not face one until 2021. The outcome then will depend on how Horgan is seen to manage this issue. Those ridings in the lower mainland are important to him and to Trudeau. A heavy-handed response from Ottawa right now will not go well for Trudeau in 2019 in this province. All Horgan has to do is wait until the dust clears next year for his current opponents on this file to be either gone or given their new mandates. Either way, the political landscape will have been changed.

There is desperation here. Horgan is calling to study the science so he can make a good decision, something that the NEB should have done years ago. More interesting is the constitutional issue. Here is the canny politician at work. The desperation in Edmonton and Ottawa likely stems from the growing chorus of people who should know that Horgan and British Columbia will end up on the right side of that legal issue.

In the meantime, the market is making the financial underpinnings of the project look a little shaky. Both Edmonton and Ottawa have expressed a desire to spend taxpayer cash on the pipe by taking an equity stake in the project. Given Edmonton's less than stellar track record on investing in this industry (the Sturgeon refinery has all the makings of a financial disaster), and Ottawa's proven inability to manage anything more complicated than a school lunch program, as a taxpayer, I am a little alarmed. 

A bit more irony to close. The same province that spawned the Reform Party in response to the "national interest" being imposed on them 35 years ago is now demanding that Ottawa step in to impose the exact same thing on their neighbour.

Our neighbour to the south has expressed solidarity with the people of B.C. on this issue.

Perhaps it is time to start talking about Cascadia.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2018
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