The Current

Is Canada one country or 13? Trudeau must end the Alberta-B.C. pipeline fight, says business leader

The trade war between Alberta and B.C. is sending a harmful message to investors overseas, says the CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
There have been calls for Justin Trudeau to step up after Rachel Notley, top right, escalated a row with John Horgan, top left, by banning B.C. wines from being imported into Alberta. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press; Scott Neufeld/CBC; CBC; Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
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They're calling it the war of the rosés.

The trade war that has boiled over between Alberta and B.C. risks jobs and opportunities for residents of both provinces, according to Perrin Beatty, as well as prosperity on a national scale.

Beatty, the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said that he has never seen a spat on this scale between two provinces, but it has wider implications.

"We're sending a message to the rest of the world that this may not be a good place to invest," he said.

The factitious nature of the row is also damaging, he said, and Justin Trudeau may have to "save provincial politicians from themselves."

"We have to decide at this point in Canada, whether we are one country or 13?"

After B.C moved to put new roadblocks in the way of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Alberta hit back by shutting down electricity negotiations, and banning the import of B.C. wine — trade that comes to $70 million every year.

Rachel Notley defended the ban as a way to "turn up the volume" on the dispute, and get the attention of the federal government.

"This isn't just about an Alberta versus B.C. thing," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"This is in the national interest and this is in the interests of working people across this country."

She denied that her administration in Alberta had started a trade war.

"When you look at the value of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the economy of Canada, and its relationship to tens of thousands of jobs," she said, "and you look at that the B.C. government's clear threat to use unconstitutional and illegal means to stop it, that is where it began this."

B.C. Premier John Horgan cited environmental concerns as the reason to review the pipeline plans, which had already been approved at the federal level.

But Notley said that the B.C government were trying to "pull out of their back pocket a brand new authority, which they don't have."

"There are processes in place for the B.C. government to register its objections to the pipeline," she told Tremonti.

"Those processes are in the courts."

The impact of Alberta and B.C.'s trade war is starting to extend past the two provinces, as the federal government gets involved and people in other provinces begin to pick sides. B.C. Premier John Horgan spoke publicly on Alberta's ban on B.C. wines saying, "I'm not responding in any way other than saying I'll defend our wine industry. I'm here for B.C., not for Alberta" 5:16

To solve the current situation, Notley believes that Ottawa should step in.

Until the federal government does, she accused B.C. of "essentially the illegal harassment of a project that the federal government has deemed to be in the national interest."

The Current did request an interview with B.C. Premier John Horgan, as well as B.C.'s environment minister or another representative, but no one was available.

He outlined his stance at a news conference yesterday afternoon:

I will not be distracted from that job while the government of Alberta chooses to take retaliatory trade actions against our province because we have chosen to talk to British Columbians about how to protect B.C.'s interests. I will be resolute in protecting the interests of this great province. I would suggest issuing a press release talking about our intention to consult with British Prime Minister is not provocative, it's not starting anything. And the premier of Alberta has taken a course but I'm not going to be distracted by that so I'm going to focus on the things that matter to British Columbians.

There were protest against the construction of the pipeline, but plans were eventually approved.

Save politicians from themselves

Beatty agrees that the prime minister may have to step in to limit the damage and reassure investors.

"If you were looking at making a multi-billion dollar investment in Canada," he said, "And you saw a project that had gone through all of the processes; public hearings, all sorts of conditions set, the approval by the government."

"And then you found that the sub-national government — the province — would simply step in and frustrate it, you would think twice about whether this was a good place to invest."

The key thing for Justin Trudeau, he said, is to send a clear message that we can discuss how we get our resources to global markets responsibly, but that the decision to get them there has already been made.

"This really is an instance where the federal government has to save provincial politicians from themselves," he said.

"At some point the federal government may have to step in and say: 'OK we're going to assert the national interest here,'" he said. 

"It relieves the provincial premiers of their responsibility of acting in an adult way."

If Trudeau faces political fallout from asserting his authority, Beatty said, that is just the price of leadership.

"Those who stand for public office ask for the privilege of being able to lead, and there are times when leadership is desperately needed. This is one of them."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Karin Marley, Alison Masemann, and Rosa Kim. 

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