Notley slams B.C. proposal to restrict shipments of diluted bitumen as unconstitutional

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley accused the British Columbia government of "political game-playing" Tuesday after B.C. announced a proposal to restrict shipments of diluted bitumen that creates more uncertainty around Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain expansion project.

She says move, which creates uncertainty for pipeline expansion, is unconstitutional 'political game playing'

Premier Rachel Notley says the B.C. government doesn't have the right to rewrite Canada's Constitution "and assume powers for itself that it does not have." (CBC)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is accusing the British Columbia government of "political game-playing" after B.C. announced a proposal to restrict shipments of diluted bitumen that creates more uncertainty around Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain expansion project.

B.C. is proposing to restrict any increase in diluted bitumen shipments while it conducts more spill response studies. A B.C. government news release states the restrictions will remain "until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills."

Notley said the B.C. government move is unconstitutional.

"Having run out of tools in the tool box the government of B.C. is now grasping at straws," she told reporters in Edmonton. "The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens. It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless.

"Therefore, the action announced today by the B.C. government can only be seen for what it is, political game playing and political theatre. Unfortunately, it is a game that could have serious consequences for the jobs and the livelihoods of millions of Canadians who count on their governments to act within the scope of their authority."

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said there has to be more confidence in the way oil transporters are prepared to respond and fully mitigate effects of a potential spill. The B.C. government will establish an independent scientific advisory panel to make recommendations to the minister on whether, and how, heavy oils can be safely transported and cleaned up if spilled.

B.C. will also seek input from First Nations, industry, local governments, and environmental groups, as well as the general public over the coming months.

The restriction on bitumen creates more uncertainty for the already delayed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project, which aims to nearly triple capacity of the current pipeline system to 890,000 barrels a day.

The West Coast Environmental Law association cheered the proposal as a welcome safety measure, calling it an important warning for Kinder Morgan.

Canadians 'deserve better'

But Notley said "rash actions like this send a message to the world that in B.C., and as a result also in Canada, the rules are not what they might seem and therefore jeopardize investment decisions in hundreds of thousands of jobs across a range of important industries.  

"And when I talk about investor confidence, I'm not only speaking about oil and gas development, I'm talking about all cases where investors engage with lawmakers," she added.

Notley said "job creators need to be able to trust lawmakers" but today's announcement in B.C. "suggests that in B.C., they cannot."

Added Notley: "British Columbians, and indeed all Canadians, deserve better."

Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta's Official Opposition United Conservative Party, said he would take B.C. to court if he was premier.

"I would be giving notice to the government of British Columbia of our intention to seek an application from the courts to suspend these illegal and unconstitutional regulations by the British Columbia government," Kenney said.

He said it is "extremely embarrassing" for Notley that she has been unable to persuade the B.C. New Democrats to allow the project to go through.

But Notley said the issue isn't about the relationship between two NDP governments.

"This is about a relationship between lawmakers and the degree to which lawmakers understand their obligation to follow the law," she said. "Unfortunately, what we see here is a demonstration of a very inappropriate, destabilizing and thoughtless understanding of the law."

Industry group reacts

Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, called the B.C. government announcement "a big surprise."

"It's clearly another example of regulatory obfuscation — let's put it that way — getting in the way of a major infrastructure project in Canada," Bloomer told CBC News.

"Mr. Heyman is fundamentally wrong, and I'm being judicious when I say that," he added.

"Diluted bitumen has been studied, it has been evaluated, it's gone through the analysis of the NEB regulatory process, the provincial regulatory process. There is scientific knowledge, there are facts, there is history. There's a tremendous amount of knowledge that the British Columbia government knows and is just wilfully ignoring."

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine and The Canadian Press