Face-to-face between Kenney, Horgan is focus of western premiers meeting

Jason Kenney ran an election campaign focused on getting tough with anyone perceived to be standing in Alberta's way. This week he'll have his first face-to-face meeting with B.C. Premier John Horgan.

B.C. and Alberta continue to spat over pipeline politics

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, will have his first face-to-face talk with B.C. Premier John Horgan as part of the annual western premiers' meeting in Edmonton (CBC/Reuters)

Jason Kenney ran an election campaign focused on getting tough with anyone perceived to be standing in Alberta's way. 

Still threatening to choke off oil and gas exports to the West Coast when he took office, Kenney proclaimed the Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act as his first order of business.

The law gives the provincial government power to control the amount of Alberta oil and gas sent to markets in British Columbia and across Canada.

It was passed under the previous NDP government, but never proclaimed into law due to fears it would trigger a court battle with B.C.

British Columbia has sought an injunction against the law, but that legal action is still before the courts. 

Kenney said at the time he wanted to build relationships with other premiers and would only use the Bill 12 provisions if all other options had been exhausted. 

The bill was proclaimed, he said, to demonstrate that Alberta is prepared to do what it takes to defend its economic interests. 

1st meeting

Against that backdrop, on Wednesday Kenney and B.C. Premier John Horgan will meet face-to-face for the first time since the April election.   

Horgan, the only remaining NDP premier in Canada, is the outlier in the largely conservative group of leaders who will gather in Edmonton for the annual meeting.

The summer get-together is usually characterized by casual, short-sleeve diplomacy.

There's a private dinner, followed by a day-long meeting where reporters lob questions at the leaders as they come and go.

Horgan wasn't available for an interview Tuesday, but his spokesperson Jen Holmwood wrote in an email that Horgan is looking forward to "speaking up for British Columbians" on a variety of issues, ranging from interprovincial trade, opioids, wildfires and "building our economy or protecting our coast."

"The premier is hopeful this week's meeting is a place for productive discussions on issues that matter to all western Canadians," Holmwood said.

There was no mention of pipelines.

Though the federal government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project last week, threats of slowing things down or stopping the project haven't gone away, said Calgary-based political analyst Janet Brown.

Noting that Horgan has vowed to use every tool to fight the pipeline expansion project, Brown anticipates a major focus of the premiers meeting will be how things play out between the Alberta and B.C. premiers. 

Watching for 'fireworks'

"We're all interested to see whether there's going to be some fireworks," said Brown. "He [Horgan] used up some of his tools, but he hasn't used up all of them.

"He's certainly indicated that he'll be looking for other opportunities to make sure that British Columbia's interests are met."

Timing will also be a factor, said Brown, who points out the meeting comes in the lead-up to the federal election in October. 

As the Alberta legislature winds up its sitting over the next two weeks, attention will focus on the federal campaign, Brown said.

"Right now we have a strong contingent of conservative premiers, and they're going to use their power to push the interests of [federal Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer," said Brown.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage expects all premiers will be united in their opposition to Ottawa's new environmental assessment process for large industrial projects. (Kim Trynacity/CBC)

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said she expects market access will be top of mind when the premiers meet, as will recently passed federal bill C-69, which changes Canada's environmental assessment process.

"Bill C-69, it applies to everyone and devastates each and every province equally, and intrudes upon their jurisdiction," Savage told reporters on Tuesday. "So I think it's going to be a big issue."

Since taking office, Kenney has met with several premiers to advance his idea of creating a national energy infrastructure corridor. 

On Tuesday, Alberta filed a notice of intervention in Saskatchewan's federal carbon tax appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

"We are proud to stand together with Saskatchewan to fight the federal carbon tax," Kenney wrote in a statement. 

 Kenney is scheduled to meet with reporters before sitting down with all the premiers and territorial leaders for an informal dinner Wednesday evening.

The leaders will meet for a full day on Thursday.


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