Alberta ends B.C. wine boycott after B.C. premier announces court action on pipeline standoff

The two-week boycott of B.C. wine by the Alberta government is over, after the former said it would turn to the courts to settle a dispute over bitumen exports.

'In a small way today, B.C. blinked,' Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has ended its boycott of B.C. wines after B.C. Premier John Horgan announced he would be going to court over the province's right to impose a temporary ban on bitumen exports from Alberta. (CBC)

The two-week boycott of B.C. wine by the Alberta government is over.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made the announcement on Thursday afternoon, an hour after B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government would turn to the courts on the question of whether it could implement a temporary ban on increased exports of bitumen from Alberta, the issue that sparked the disagreement. 

"In a small way today, B.C. blinked," said Notley.

"I'm confident the courts will not give B.C. rights it does not possess under the constitution. In other words, I'm confident the constitution will be upheld and we will see the last of these ridiculous threats."

Her remarks came after Horgan told reporters earlier Thursday he hoped pushing the matter to the courts would temporarily resolve the conflict.

"This is intended to have cooler heads prevail. We believe the rule of law is important in this country," said Horgan.

"The contentious point that was drawing the ire of the province of Alberta and some consternation from the federal government will be put to the courts. We want to make sure British Columbia as a government is focused on the issues that matter to them."

Temporary ban on increases

The contentious point was the fifth of five proposed regulations the B.C. government said could take place after consultations on oil spills.

Announced on Jan. 30, it raised the possibility of an interim ban on increased exports. That created more uncertainty for Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Edmonton to Burnaby, where construction is underway on a second pipeline that would transport 590,000 more barrels of various petroleum projects every day.  

Notley immediately claimed B.C. did not have the constitutional right to unilaterally impose caps on an interprovincial pipeline, but Horgan initially said there was nothing untoward about his government's actions. 

"There's nothing to take to court. We're in consultation with the people of B.C., and we're going to put in regulations if required to protect the public interest," Horgan said on Feb. 1.

Notley announced a boycott of all B.C. wines five days later. B.C. did not initiate a counter-boycott and Horgan continued to defend his government's right to implement a temporary ban on increased exports, subject to consultations.

Now, that is off the table.

"We've had one province and the federal government making suggestions that they know best. We've seen numerous precedents that suggest we're in the right, so that's why we're going this route," said Horgan, referring to the decision to take the issue to court.

What comes next?

B.C. is now consulting with its lawyers about how to proceed, but any submission to the federal courts will be done without a joint submission by the federal government

For their part, the Alberta government says a market-access task force — created to provide legal and strategic advice on what the government could do if B.C. blocked construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline project — will remain in place. 

Notley said the dispute could flare up again. 

"However, I do want to be very clear. If it becomes clear if this action is in fact part of a deliberate strategy to harass the pipeline and its investors with frivolous or unconstitutional legal challenges, we will act immediately," she said.

But she also made clear she was glad the boycott was, at least for now, over.

"It's possible there may be B.C. wine soon again in our house."

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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