Alberta's strategy for pipeline support: clever or naive?

March 26, 2018
Preemptive righteousness falters so far as a political strategy in Canada.

Preemptive righteousness falters so far as a political strategy in Canada.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley thought she had a deal that would accommodate pipeline construction crucial to her province when she imposed a carbon tax on hydrocarbon fuels and capped greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands. She expected her initiatives to win political acceptance of pipelines to carry Alberta bitumen to seaports.

Indeed, the federal government, led by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, approved a tripling of capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver and replacement of Line 3 between Hardisty and Superior, Wisc.

But both projects have encountered environmentally related delay.

In the Trans Mountain case, opposition comes from a British Columbia government led by John Horgan of Notley's New Democrat Party. Governing in coalition with the Green Party, Horgan supports municipal opposition to the project and in January said he'd seek legislation enabling him to limit bitumen transport.

Notley responded by restricting wine imports from BC but retreated after Horgan said he'd seek court approval for his bitumen plan.

While she waits—so far in vain—for concessions from BC or effective help from Ottawa, the transport bottleneck undermines bitumen values in Alberta.

This month, Notley said she'd consider limiting oil movements to BC and raising fees on pipeline transit of BC gas. And she said she'd refrain from raising carbon taxation to meet federal standards until the Trans Mountain project advances.

While she pushes Ottawa, Jason Kenney, leader of the opposition United Conservatives, pushes her, asking if she'd challenge any federal effort to impose carbon taxation beyond the provincial rate.

Kenney says he'd scrap Alberta's carbon tax if he won control of government in elections next year.

Meanwhile, Jim Carr, the federal natural resources minister, said in Vancouver on Mar. 15 that Ottawa is "determined" to see constructions of the pipelines it has approved.

Whether professed determination becomes genuine action will show if Notley's experiment in preemptively righteous deal-making was clever or naive.

(From the subscription area of, posted Mar. 16, 2018; author's e-mail: [email protected])