British Columbia·Point of View

The great divide: Pipeline sentiments in Alberta and B.C.

The response to the federal government's decision on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in both provinces shows old differences between Alberta and B.C. remain.

Responses to Kinder Morgan decision in both provinces show old differences remain

Gregor Craigie is the host of On The Island on CBC Radio One in Victoria., B.C. (Tourism Victoria/Twitter)

I can still remember the shock I felt in February 1985, when my dad took me from Calgary to Victoria for a quick weekend getaway.

From the moment we stepped off the plane in our winter jackets I was amazed by the mild sea air and greenery everywhere, peacocks and plum blossoms aplenty.

Back then, Victoria and Calgary may have been in the same country, but they were somehow situated in different worlds.

Frequent summer visits to the B.C. Interior in my teen years did little to dispel me of the notion that these neighbouring provinces were in fact poles apart; whether it be an awkward encounter with naked hippies at remote hot springs in the Kootenays, or the first time I fumbled to find the right change for the PST.

But now, Alberta and B.C. seem a lot more similar to me than they once did.

Craigie also spent more than 20 years in Calgary, Alta. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

I've lived for more than twenty years in each province, and as the years have gone by, I've become increasingly aware of the many things they have in common; the things that defy the stereotypes.

Both provinces are growing at challenging rates.

Both are becoming increasingly multicultural.

Both are reliant on the extraction of natural resources.

Even provincial political trends defy stereotypes these days, with B.C. now leaning right as Alberta leans left.

It's 2016, and it's tempting to think old stereotypes no longer apply.

But when Justin Trudeau gave Kinder Morgan the green light, the different responses from the two province was like a flashback to all of those old patterns.

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What will the new pipeline mean for the provinces of Alberta and B.C.?

Neighbouring provinces, poles apart

Scrolling through social media, it was difficult to escape the overwhelming sense of joy this announcement has brought about in Alberta and the contrasting disappointment in coastal British Columbia.

And this isn't just a left-versus-right debate. It's a disagreement within parties.

Look at the NDP: Alberta's New Democrat Premier was in Ottawa for the Prime Minister's pipeline announcement.

"It has been a long, dark night for the people of Alberta," Rachel Notley proclaimed. "Today we are finally seeing some morning light. We're getting a chance to break our land lock. We're getting a chance to sell to China and other new markets at better prices."

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

While Notley was grinning from ear to ear in Ottawa, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan was on the radio with me, speaking from a decidedly different script.

"I certainly know from my inbox and what I see on the streets and in my hometown and here in the Lower Mainland, this is not the direction people want to go. They want to defend the coast and I'm with the people on this one."

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan says people in the Lower Mainland want to defend the coast from pipelines and tankers, and he is 'with the people on this one.' (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Horgan's concerns don't seem to have swayed Premier Notley, who plans to visit B.C. soon to try to convince British Columbians of the merits of the pipeline.

But New Democrats in this province, like Victoria MP Murray Rankin, say they won't be convinced.

"There's a disagreement among the NDP family on this particular issue," he told me. "We don't think that the burden that we're taking, the risk that we're taking in coastal British Columbia is acceptable. We understand why [Notley] would be arguing strenuously for this. But I have to tell you that in my community we just don't think the government has the social license that Trudeau says they need for projects of this kind."

NDP MP Murray Rankin does not agree with his the federal decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline, saying, 'I have to tell you that in my community we just don't think the government has the social license that Trudeau says they need for projects of this kind.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Obviously there are exceptions in both provinces.

Some in Alberta advocate for a ban on all new pipelines, as part of Canada's commitments to the Paris Climate Accord.

And the Vancouver Board of Trade is just one of several B.C. business groups that favours the pipeline expansion going ahead.

Still, this week has been a vivid reminder to me that the province I grew up in is still a substantially different place from the one I now call home.

When I was a teenager, I saw the difference between Alberta and B.C. as an almost comical contrast between uptight and laid-back.

Now it looks to me more like a symbol of the crucial question of our time: how do we keep the economy fired up without compromising the environment? 


Gregor Craigie


Gregor Craigie is the host of On The Island on CBC Radio One in Victoria. Past journalistic lives include reading the news at the BBC World Service, political reporting on TV, and freelancing in Asia.