British Columbia·Analysis

'Missed opportunity': B.C.'s John Horgan will skip premiers meeting in Alberta

There will be an empty seat - British Columbia's - when premiers from across the country gather in Edmonton starting today. Premier-designate John Horgan will be too busy being sworn in Tuesday as B.C.'s 36th premier.

NDP leader will be sworn in as premier Tuesday

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan holds a jar of bitumen as he describes the risks of approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Horgan will be sworn in as premier on Tuesday, and will skip the three-day premiers meeting in Edmonton. (CBC)

There will be an empty seat — British Columbia's — when premiers from across the country gather in Edmonton starting today.

Premier-designate John Horgan will be too busy being sworn in Tuesday as B.C.'s 36th premier. 

That doesn't mean Horgan couldn't have been at the three-day gathering. The B.C. NDP argue the swearing-in is scheduled for Tuesday because the transition has taken time, and the government is moving as quickly as possible while trying to avoid making any mistakes.

But the swearing-in could easily have taken place a few days earlier, raising the issue of whether Horgan might have preferred to sit out this provincial huddle.

One good reason for Horgan to skip the annual Council of the Federation meeting is to avoid having to face the Alberta media and Premier Rachel Notley on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The $7.4-billion pipeline would twin the existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline that runs from near Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., nearly tripling capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Notley favours Kinder Morgan Canada's pipeline expansion.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley support the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A majority of Albertans are counting on the increased revenues from an expanded pipeline for employment and opportunity.

The federal government has granted its approval, arguing the expansion is in the 'national interest.'

But Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver are opposed to the project. The NDP has formed an alliance with the Green Party, which has said it will support the NDP on matters of confidence in the B.C. Legislature.

What you need to know about the Trans Mountain pipeline

6 years ago
Duration 3:53
Kinder Morgan's expanded pipeline through B.C. and Alberta will triple its carrying capacity

"There are a lot more issues at play besides Trans Mountain, and at a very minimum just meeting the other premiers at the same footing would be a benefit," said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal University.

"I do think it's a missed opportunity."

Horgan insists he is not dodging the issue, saying "Ms. Notley and I have been talking about this for a number of months, coming up to a year."

Maintain the honeymoon

When politicians transition into power, they are often afforded a honeymoon period while the public gets an understanding of how they will govern. During that time, leaders want to be on the attack. In Horgan's case, that would include pushing issues such as softwood lumber, and dealing with the fentanyl crisis and education issues. 

Some observers say it might not be an NDP priority right now to defend its opposition to the pipeline expansion.

"Maybe the best strategy is just to put your head in the ground and pretend it doesn't exist," said Bratt.

But a no-show means British Columbia's seat will be left empty.

Christy Clark, the outgoing premier, won't be in Edmonton because her tenure will officially end during the meeting. British Columbia's top bureaucrat will also miss it, as Don Wright moves into his job as head of the public service on Tuesday.

Cabinet not named

The incoming premier says he has already spoken on the phone with the premiers from Ontario and Quebec, as well as Notley. And although no one will be sitting at the table for B.C., public servants will be there to provide briefings to Horgan following the gathering. 

The fact Horgan's cabinet hasn't been named and hasn't been briefed on the Kinder Morgan expansion also complicates discussions with other provinces.

"I want to be thoroughly briefed by the incoming attorney general and the Attorney General's Ministry about the issues surrounding Kinder Morgan, and until that is done, we are not in a position to have a discussion about that," said Horgan. 

But once those briefings take place, Horgan will no doubt have lots to say about the future of the project.

And you know his fellow premiers will be listening — especially Notley and her entire province.