The Alberta government is taking a page from the playbook of former premier Peter Lougheed by threatening to cut oil exports in its fight against B.C.’s efforts to stop the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
In Thursday’s throne speech, the government threatened to “invoke similar legislation” if B.C. takes “extreme and illegal actions” to stop the $7.4-billion project.
Premier Rachel Notley suggested in a news conference earlier in the day that the province is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in supply.
“There is no question that the Lower Mainland of B.C. in particular struggles from rather high gas prices and that they have a very high sensitivity to supply changes,” she said.
Notley said some British Columbians who are concerned about the environment seem not to understand that decisions that affect the economy don’t just hurt Albertans but have impacts across this country.
In 1980, Lougheed fought Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s national energy program by passing a regulation to restrict the amount of oil and gas leaving Alberta by 15 per cent.
The government also stopped issuing permits for natural gas exports.
Notley said her government will refine and update existing legislation that gives Alberta the ability to limit oil and gas exports.
“What we are talking about doing is bringing in one tool that we may or may not ever use in a very large range of possibilities,” she said.
Notley has been pushing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lean harder on B.C. so it will stop delaying the project that would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.
But the B.C. government created uncertainty in late January when it proposed limits on shipments of diluted bitumen while it further studied the risk of oil spills on the Pacific coast.
Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell read the speech from the throne Thursday to open the spring session of the Alberta legislature. (Alberta legislature)
In retaliation, Notley announced Alberta would boycott all B.C. wines, arguing B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government was violating the Constitution.
The boycott was suspended after Horgan retreated on the threat, deciding instead to put the constitutional question to the courts.
Horgan is ever mindful of the three Green Party MLAs who hold the balance of power in the B.C. legislature. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has vowed the expansion will never be built.
Jason Kenney, leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party, has been pushing the NDP to take tougher action. He was dismayed when Notley ended the wine ban, arguing it was too soon.
Notley’s threat “is exactly the strategy I have advocated since day one,” Kenney said. “And the premier mocked and ridiculed the idea up until the last few days.
“So I think this is another sign of the effectiveness of the United Conservative Party … we’re setting the agenda and they’re responding.”
The throne speech also outlined a number of bills and initiatives the government intends to introduce over the next three months.
Alberta plans to focus on solving the problem of rural crime, which was a key issue for the UCP during the fall session.
The majority of MLAs in the UCP caucus represent rural areas. They brought rural crime victims to the legislature to sit in the gallery in an unsuccessful bid to get an emergency debate on the issue.
While rural crime made it into the throne speech, Kenney said the NDP is all talk but not much action.
“At least they’re now finally recognizing it’s an issue, but no real substance,” he said.
The government says it is working with the RCMP to develop new strategies, including new bait vehicles with GPS, so police can catch car, truck and farm equipment thieves. Ways to reduce the amount of time officers spend on paperwork, so they can spend more time on patrol, are also being explored.
Proposed legislation coming this spring includes:
- An act to diversify the energy industry. The government will give grants and loan guarantees to companies to build partial upgrading plants in Alberta. It is also planning on rolling out the second phase of a program to build more petrochemical plants.
- An act creating spaces to train thousands of new post-secondary students in technology.
- Proposed legislation to move Alberta away from the deregulated electricity market. That was announced last year.
- A bill to reform Alberta’s lobbying legislation. The issue was studied last year by the legislature’s standing committee on resource stewardship with input from the province’s ethics commissioner.