It’s been a politically gratifying past few days for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose goal of improving Alberta’s access to foreign markets for its bitumen took a major step forward.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government had approved two projects to significantly increase the capacity of two existing pipelines: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries Alberta oil through suburban Vancouver, and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline which runs from Alberta to Wisconsin. Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project, which would have been a new pipeline stretching to B.C.’s coastline, was rejected.
While Trudeau’s announcement has been widely celebrated by Alberta’s embattled oilpatch, many British Columbians – including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson – have expressed outrage over the Trans Mountain project approval, citing environmental concerns. The Trans Mountain project’s approval also sparked large protests in B.C.’s largest city.
Notley is headed to British Columbia early next week in an attempt to ease concerns among that province’s politicians. Tom Vernon asked her about the pipeline project approvals and her upcoming trip on Friday. Here’s a transcript of that interview.
TOM VERNON: When you learned of Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision, tell me about your reaction and the reaction of your government. Did you crack a bottle of wine?
RACHEL NOTLEY: I wanted to pop a bottle of wine but I was about to go do a couple of public statements about the matter so that wasn’t appropriate (laughs). But we were pretty excited, there was some jumping up and down and clapping, maybe a bit of dancing by people who will remain unnamed but we were pretty excited, there is no question about it. It was very good news for Albertans and we’re in the business of trying to create that so obviously it was a good day for us.
TV: What is your government’s role in making sure these projects actually get shovels in the ground?
RN: To some degree, we’re not the main player in terms of moving the project forward but nonetheless, I still want to be able to take the opportunity to make the case at every possible opportunity for why this is a good decision, not only for Alberta but for B.C. and for all of Canada. So that’s my plan, to make that argument at every turn. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there about what this pipeline will do for the industry and oil production. People need to understand that this isn’t about suddenly increasing production dramatically, this isn’t about increasing greenhouse gas emissions, this is just about getting the best price for the oil that we are already going to produce and giving ourselves the position to strategically go into the best market at the right time.
TV: With some of the rhetoric out there – I look at Elizabeth May’s comments about going to jail and Rona Ambrose on the other side of the spectrum saying, ‘I doubt these will get built’ – does that disappoint you? The reaction to this from both sides?
RN: Different people are in politics for different reasons and bring different values to the table. The values that I bring to the table are that we do – we have an obligation to make real, significant progress on environmental protection and on climate change reduction and prevention – so we do have an obligation to deal with that. We also, however, have an obligation to ensure that regular working families can make a decent living. We can’t make a transition to a clean environmental future and leave swaths of people at the curbside with no means to make a living to protect their families, to put food on their tables, to plan for the future. It’s a question of finding the right balance and moving at the right pace and that’s, I think, what this decision represents. I think our government’s role in that represents a critical part of that path and then I think people on either side, who are more extreme, aren’t really thinking this through from the perspective of getting the greatest amount of benefit for the greatest number of people.
TV: You’re making a trip next week to B.C. Do you view Premier Christy Clark as an ally on this? Or is that a fair way to put it?
RN: There’s no question that the government of B.C. has a role to play in this and I think they’re also interested in finding the kind of balance that I’m talking about and they’re also interested in ensuring strong economic development for their province. Certainly the conversations I’ve had thus far with the premier of B.C. is that we are somewhat aligned but I know that they still have some clear processes that they have to go through before they conclude the government of B.C.’s position on the matter and I respect that. I just want to be able to take every opportunity I can to make our case to them.
TV: How about Mr. Horgan’s view on this, the NDP leader of British Columbia … are you going to try and convince him to change his mind or how are you going to handle that?
RN: I have a great deal of respect for John Horgan, I’ve known him for years and obviously outside of this issue, we share similar opinions on a whole raft of other issues and so there’s a lot of common ground. On this issue we disagree though. My hope is to be able to go out and meet with him, to talk to other people like him about the merits of this decision – not only the merits for Alberta but the merits for B.C. and to continue that dialogue. Do I expect him to reverse his position tomorrow or anything like that? No, I don’t. But I do believe when you have a complicated issue like this where it appears as though you have contradictory interests, that the only way to work through it is to engage in mature, thoughtful conversations. So that’s the kind of dialogue that I want to begin and we’ll see where we end up.
Watch below: Premier Rachel Notley will travel to B.C. next week to sell the merits of the Trans Mountain pipeline. She’ll meet with members of the media and political leaders. Tom Vernon has a preview.
TV: Are you worried this is going to become a campaign issue like it did in 2013 in British Columbia and that Alberta will kind of get dragged into it that way?
RN: One thing I know, having lived in B.C., is that B.C. politics are highly unpredictable so whether this ends up being the issue or whether there are other matters that overtake it, it’s really way too soon to tell. All I want to do is to go out there and make the reasoned arguments that I believe I have to offer, to appeal to moderate and progressive B.C.ers who understand the need to continued prosperity and job opportunities, not only for Albertans but for B.C.ers. There’s a lot of folks in B.C. who supplement their incomes, a lot of communities in B.C. that rely on salaries that come from Alberta’s oilpatch and so it’s a question of all of B.C.’s interests being considered.