The Current

As Alberta and B.C. go to war over Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, politicians are worried about jobs — their own

A trade war could erupt between Alberta and B.C. if a row over the Kinder Morgan pipeline is not resolved, but politicians on all sides, including the prime minister, have a lot to lose.
A woman holds a sign during a protest and march against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 19, 2016. Politicians in B.C. and Alberta are at loggerheads, and under pressure to secure a win for their voters. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press )

Read Story Transcript

An oil pipeline row between Alberta and B.C. could put livelihoods at risk — not just for oil workers, but the politicians relying on their votes.

Last week, John Horgan's NDP government in B.C. called for further review of catastrophic-spill risk from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which could delay the project.

Alberta retaliated by suspending talks to buy B.C. electricity.

That could cost B.C. half a billion dollars a year — and has prompted fears of the beginning of a trade war.

Horgan's actions amount to "a direct attack on working people on both sides of the border," according to Shannon Phillips, Alberta's minister of environment.

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would triple capacity to move crude from the oilsands of Alberta, through B.C., and to the coast where it will be shipped internationally.

It comes with a $7.4 billion price tag, a jobs boost, and environmental concerns.

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the proposals coming from B.C. are "unconstitutional." (Dean Bennett/The Canadian Press)

Phillips said the Horgan's environmental roadblocks are unconstitutional, as they seek to supercede federal jurisdiction, but also risk economic prosperity both in Alberta and nationally.

"As our economy is looking up, the entire Canadian economy is looking up," she said, "And these proposals in fact do shatter investor confidence, and are getting in the way of Alberta's recovery."

"Undermining confidence in an already approved project is not something that provincial governments should take lightly," she said.

"We're quite aghast at British Columbia's insistence that they throw these projects into question."

"It's not a good way to govern, quite frankly, it shows that they're more interested in pandering to specific interest than they are in governing in the best interest of working people."

Phillips called on the federal government to make a clear statement that B.C.'s actions are an intrusion on Ottawa's jurisdiction.

She said Alberta is looking at ways to "effectively send a message to British Columbia."

"We don't threaten… we just do," she said.

Jobs at risk (in politics)

The political fates of leaders on both sides of the border depend on this pipeline, according to Gary Mason, national affairs columnist with The Globe and Mail.

"[The Alberta Premier, Rachel Notley's] job security depends on this pipeline, and so does John Horgan's to an extent, but at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the outcome," he said.

Rachel Notley, Alberta premier, and John Horgan, B.C. leader, both have a lot to gain — and lose — from the outcome of the pipeline project. (Mark Blinch/Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Horgan depends on the support of the Green Party to hold on to power in Victoria, but the party "already feels uncomfortable with certain things that the government is doing, in terms of pursuing LNG projects over in China," he said.

Notley and the Alberta NDP are facing a challenge from Jason Kenney's Conservatives.

"If there isn't substantial progress on this pipeline before the next election in Alberta in 2018, I mean she has zero chance," he said.

"She can see her job security sort of slipping between her fingers right now."

For Justin Trudeau, gains made in Alberta in 2015 — and ambitions to build on them — could be at risk.

"If this thing continues to drag on and Kinder Morgan says: 'Enough is enough, we're losing money by the day, we're going to walk away from this,'" Mason said, "There will be long-term implications for the federal Liberals in the West."

"I think Justin Trudeau is going to have to exert his will on this file," he added, "And bring this to a boiling point and solve it one way or the other."

Safety concerns have been raised about the pipeline in B.C. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

'Trudeau hasn't listened'

Horgan's proposals focus on the risk of a catastrophic spill, but Tzeporah Berman, an environmentalist in B.C., argued that emissions are also a serious concern.

"We're in a situation now where we can't even meet Harper's weak climate targets," she said, adding that the new pipeline would only increase emissions.

Berman is an adjunct professor at the faculty of environmental studies at York University. She pointed out issues with the approval process of the pipeline, saying that the National Energy Board was not allowed to look at issues of climate change, as well as restricting who could speak to the review panel.

"And even despite that, within that existing flawed process, there were still huge concerns raised," she said.

The pipeline runs through the second- and third-largest cities in B.C., she said, pointing to concerns from fire marshals in the City of Burnaby that say the risk is unacceptable.

The prime minister hasn't listened to those concerns, she said, not only on oil spills, climate change and safety, but also Indigenous rights.

"The fact is that the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs — the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, many others — have said that they're going to oppose this project if Morgan Kinder tries to build it, and they've created a website called Coast Protectors."

"Twenty-two thousand people have signed up there and said: 'We will stay with the Chiefs. We will oppose this project,' so it's not going to be an easy road ahead."

The Current did ask to speak to someone from the B.C. government; no one was available.

Listen to the full audio near the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Rosa Kim, Kristin Nelson and Amra Pasic.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.