The great Alberta-B.C. bitumen and wine war.

Author:Whitaker, Reg

Early in 2018 Canada awoke to the strange spectacle of a "war" between its two most westerly provinces, both led by New Democratic governments.

The alleged casus belli was not quite up to the standard set by the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter in 1861. It was a press release from the British Columbia government that mentioned that it was considering restricting the increased inflow of Alberta diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the projected tripling of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain (TM) pipeline while B.C. carried out an appropriate review of the environmental risk posed mainly by ocean spills.

Enter Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Declaring the B.C. statement a totally unacceptable threat to Canada's national interests, she imposed an almost certainly illegal ban on imports of B.C. wine into her province, adding that she was also calling off talks over B.C. hydroelectric exports to Alberta, and warned about other, worse sanctions to come if British Columbia did not capitulate.

She assumed a commanding position in the air war. The national media by and large accepted Alberta's interpretation that British Columbia was unconstitutionally undermining the national interest, that the approval process was entirely adequate and complete, and that any further resistance in B.C. amounted to defiance of lawful authority. Notley never ceased noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had approved TM and she demanded that the full panoply of federal powers be deployed against the B.C. rebellion. She also threatened the clearly unconstitutional approach of cutting off Alberta oil from B.C. customers, discriminatory treatment explicitly outlawed in resource amendments agreed to when the BNA Act was repatriated in the 1980s.

B.C. Premier John Horgan opted for a lawful process, referring the proposed regulations to the highest court in British Columbia for a ruling on the province's constitutional jurisdiction. Notley, in full triumphalist mode, then declared victory and rescinded her wine ban. Media observers, even in B.C., tended to agree that in the mano a mano confrontation with Notley, "Horgan blinked." Hardly - this was merely a temporary ceasefire.

Apart from the B.C. referral, various provincially backed legal challenges to the pipeline from First Nations and environmental groups are in process. More immediately, the first waves of public protest against initial work on the expanded pipeline in Burnaby began, and soon civil disobedience was the...

To continue reading