British Columbia

'Sabre-rattling doesn't get you very far': John Horgan downplays Alberta threats over bitumen caps

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

But Rachel Notley retaliates within hours with threat to suspend negotiations with B.C. over electricity sales

A construction safety boom with razor wiring encloses Kinder Morgan's marine oil terminal in Burnaby, site of the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline scheduled for expansion. (Deep Cove Kayak/Twitter)

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he doesn't know what the fuss is about, after his government's proposal to temporarily ban increased shipments of diluted bitumen provoked threats of a constitutional battle from the Alberta government.

"We have not put in place anything at this time. We are going to put in place a scientific panel to look at the consequences of a catastrophic spill. I don't think that's unreasonable. I'm surprised with the reaction we're getting from Alberta," said Horgan.

Environment Minister George Heyman announced on Tuesday that B.C. would widely consult on how the province could protect its marine environment and economy in the event of a large oil spill — prompted by the impending expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, and the expected increase in tanker traffic that would follow.

In the meantime, Heyman said, the government would look to put regulations in to prevent expansion of bitumen shipments. 

That prompted Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to threaten economic retaliation against what she called an "unconstitutional" move.

"We will, in fact, be taking them to court as quickly as possible if they don't back down. This is just not something they can do. It's creating huge economic insecurity. It puts a chill on investment and it jeopardizes jobs," she said on Wednesday.

Horgan, in his first public remarks since his government's announcement, said he spoke with Notley about the issue, but argued there was no legal dispute while B.C. was in the process of studying the issue. 

"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," he said.

"Should those regulations run afoul of Ms. Notley's aspiration, I'm sure she'll take action, but it's way premature to talk about these sorts of issues, when we're just putting together a paper to put before the people we represent." 

"Sabre-rattling doesn't get you very far." ​

Electricity talks suspended 

But an hour after Horgan's comments, Notley escalated that rattling, saying her government was suspending talks with B.C. on the purchase of electricity — exports she said could have provided $500 million annually to BC Hydro. 

"We're prepared to do what it takes to get this pipeline built — whatever it takes," she told a news conference after speaking with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the phone.

She said she thanked Trudeau for his assurance that the project will go ahead but added the federal government needs to be specific about what it will do to ensure the pipeline's expansion.

"This is not an Alberta-B.C. issue. This is a Canada-B.C. issue. This kind of uncertainty is bad for investment and bad for working people," she said.

"Enough is enough. We need to get these things built."

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would happen

"The Kinder Morgan pipeline is not a danger to the B.C. coast," he said.

"One of the reasons we have a national government to oversee national interests is to step up for the interests of all Canadians, and that's exactly what I am going to do." 

With files from The Canadian Press

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