The electoral outcome of the British Columbia election was settled last week. This week it appears that a “coalition” agreement between the B.C. Greens and the New Democratic Party will serve to defeat Christy Clark’s government. The Agreement Text section 2 (c ) relates to Climate Change and reads as follows:
Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province. (Emphasis added.)
Over the coming months, both journalists, government officials, and lawyers from many constituencies will be pressing their claims. A range of litigation respecting the pipeline have been “joined” and will likely wind up before the Supreme Court in the fall. The cases involving a challenge to the authority of the National Energy Board are found on the agency’s Website. There are over 25 separate filings. Applicants include the Cities of Vancouver and Burnaby and many indigenous nations including: Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band, Kwantlen First Nation, Cheam First Nation, Chawathil First Nation, Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc Nation, Upper Nicola Band, and the Musqueam Indian Band. In addition, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society are also challenging the NEB’s decision.
In Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley has signaled strongly her government’s position that Alberta will not permit the B.C. government thwarting the construction of the pipeline. As a passionate advocate for Kinder Morgan (an American-owned concern), she risks alienating some of her membership who have questioned the wisdom of doubling down on fossil fuels. But Notley’s embrace of the oil industry shows her pragmatic side. “Big Oil” still employs many workers, including high paid, unionized construction workers and pipeline employees. Her early speeches made as the business community began to determine if she were ideological, were comforting. In a speech at the Calgary Stampede Investment Forum on 7 July 2015 she said:
This attitude of pushing the limits of what’s possible influences every aspect of the oil sands, from research and development to environmental management to the service and support fields. It’s a tremendous asset which has transformed Alberta into one of the world’s leading oil producers. And I’m here today to emphasize that the province has a government determined to defend this advantage, by being constructive at home, and by building relationships around the world. (Emphasis added.)
In New York in September 2015, she addressed the RBC Capital Markets investment forum:
We will be honest, thoughtful partners to enterprise. And we will maintain a warm welcome for investors, and uphold their right to earn fair returns on their investments. This definitely applies to energy.T he energy industry is very important to Alberta and always will be. In addition to having the third-largest oil deposits in the world in the oil sands, we also have abundant conventional oil and natural gas…as well as renewable forms of energy, especially wind and solar power. We’re an energy province and that’s not about to change. To expand existing oil sands projects, establish new opportunities in the energy economy, and pioneer advanced technologies – all this requires investment on a large scale. So under our government’s leadership, Alberta’s abundant oil and gas reserves will remain wide open to investment. (Emphasis added.)
Premiers, even social democratic ones, do recognize that capital markets (which are now supplying over a quarter of the government’s financing this year), need to be assuaged. Both the royalty report and the Climate Change report were crafted with financial markets as a key audience. So the battle with the British Columbia government in now on. Although Ms. Notley has tacked rightward, she still needs to be wary about Alberta environmental constituencies. A key step will be to ensure that Kinder Morgan uses its considerable resources to make absolutely sure its current and future pipeline systems are the safest in the world. A meeting with the proponents to convey that message would be to Alberta’s advantage.