B.C. premier says Trans Mountain would be 'different discussion' if product was refined in B.C.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her government has been working closely with the federal government and Kinder Morgan to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project back on track. But have the feds done enough? Notley said the proof will be in the pudding.

B.C. Premier John Horgan says it would be a “different discussion” on the Trans Mountain pipeline if the plan was to refine the bitumen in British Columbia rather than ship the raw product to Asian markets. Speaking from Yellowknife following the Western Premiers’ meetings, Horgan said he doesn’t find “it puzzling at all,” his position of challenging Alberta’s shut-off-the-taps legislation while also moving to restrict the flow of bitumen through B.C.

“The existing pipeline provides refined products for consumption in British Columbia and one that has been going on for a long time and would be subject to existing trade agreements between provinces,” said Horgan. “With respect to the twinning if there was product coming to the Lower Mainland and it wasn’t just focused on export then we might have a different discussion but that is not my understanding of what the plan is.”

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The Western Premiers’ meeting was supposed to focus on Pharmacare and cannabis, but instead, the ongoing pipeline dispute was at the centre of all conversations. Kinder Morgan has set a May 31 deadline to have assurances from the federal government that the $7.4-billion project can proceed even without British Columbia’s support.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley pulled out of the meetings at the last minute to stay in Alberta and focus on getting the pipeline built, sending deputy premier Sarah Hoffman instead. Horgan was asked about whether the strain of the relationship between B.C. and Alberta is having an effect on his decision-making.

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“The tone between the two of us is strained without any doubt. But this isn’t personal to me and it shouldn’t be. It’s about my responsibility that we should do our level best to protect our economy and our environment,” said Horgan. “I have tried to be as crystal clear on all of this as I could be and I am sure that is how the Albertans feel about this as well.”

Notley and Horgan worked together for the B.C. government in the 1990s. A spokesperson for Notley said the pair are “not close friends and never were.” The two NDP premiers have only spoken twice since the spat over the Trans Mountain pipeline started in January, including one face-to-face meeting last month in Ottawa with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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There is also a constant concern from the B.C. government over a lack of support from Indigenous communities. The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion has a list of 53 First Nations in B.C. that oppose the Trans Mountain project, while 33 have signed project benefit agreements in return for support of the project.

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“I reminded the premiers and Alberta that it’s not about John Horgan, it’s not about the government, the issues at play are largely Indigenous questions and there is also the risk that British Columbia inherits with all the benefits going elsewhere,” said Horgan. “That risk needs to be taken into consideration and hasn’t been adequately. Alberta has their position and I respect that, but no one else pressured me to do anything.”

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Following the Western Premiers’ meeting, all the provinces except Alberta signed off on a joint communique. Alberta wanted all premiers to agree to a joint statement in support of pipelines.

“When we came here, everyone in Alberta knows that it is nine days until the deadline for Trans Mountains and this is the item of most importance to Alberta and arguably to all of Canada,” said Alberta deputy premier Sarah Hoffman. “We had one key issue to discuss and we did not get consensus on that.”

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“While I love PharamaCare, while I love the work we are doing to ensure our streets are safe with the legalization of cannabis, all of that costs money. The one way to ensure we have that money is to move forward with the pipeline.”

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Greenpeace Canada, a strong opponent of the Trans Mountain pipeline, has concerns about Alberta tying oil revenues to health-care and social programs.

“PharmaCare shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in the pipeline debate,” said Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Mike Hudema. “If the Alberta government is worried about revenue, maybe they should look at bringing their tax regime in line with the rest of the country and stop relying on a volatile source of revenue like oil.”

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