There’s a growing trade dispute in Western Canada involving two beloved liquids, oil and wine. But will the feud between B.C. and Alberta turn into a full-blown trade war?
Here’s what to know about the inter-provincial quarrel.
WATCH: Bitumen battle now a wine war between Alberta and B.C.
The trade dispute involves Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and the transport of bitumen from Alberta to the West Coast.
The $7.4-billion project is federally approved. But B.C. wants to restrict it as the expansion would see three times more bitumen moved to the B.C. coast every day and a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.
On Jan. 30, B.C. said it planned to ban increased shipments of diluted bitumen off its coast until the province can better understand the ability to mitigate spills.
WATCH: ‘We’re protecting the public interests in British Columbia, Horgan says about pipeline
Alberta was not impressed as this move would restrict its ability to get its oil to the world market. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said B.C.’s regulations were illegal and unconstitutional.
In retaliation, Notley announced on Tuesday the province will ban the import of B.C. wines. She also mused about putting a halt on importing of B.C. beer.
WATCH: Rachel Notley fires back at B.C. over proposed bitumen restrictions
B.C. does not want the pipeline to carry diluted bitumen through its territory until it’s satisfied spills can be successfully cleaned up.
The government is launching an independent scientific panel in February that will be responsible for determining whether the province has the ability to clean up spills. It’s estimated that the report could take about two years to complete.
This move was largely praised by environmental groups and First Nations communities in the province.
Alberta wants the diluted bitumen to flow through the pipeline in order to sell it to global markets. To scrap the pipeline would cost the Alberta economy $1.5 billion a year, Notley said
Notley said Albertans contribute around $70 million a year to B.C. wineries.
According to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC), 117 B.C. wineries are registered with them, with a total of 1,460 wine products listed from B.C.
WATCH: B.C. wineries speak out about ban
The B.C. Wine Institute said in a statement that it was “shocked that the Alberta premier and government are aggressively boycotting B.C. wineries over a yet-to-be-determined British Columbia government policy in a different sector.”
In response to the wine ban, on Tuesday, B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham suggested retaliatory measures.
“Our wineries are feeling they are caught in the crosshairs. It’s unfair,” Popham said. “We bring a lot of Alberta beef into this province and I would rather not go down that route and I don’t know where we are going to go but one thing I know is we are going to fight.”
However, B.C. Premier John Horgan told media on Wednesday there are no plans to respond to the wine boycott.
He said he hadn’t spoken to Notley since the wine announcement but has talked with her before that about the issues and the provinces’ environment ministers had also been in contact.
Horgan said he hopes Alberta steps back from “this threatening position.”
“It’s difficult to know what is going to happen,” Christo Aivalis, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s department of history said. “This may be more of a symbolic action and more of a political war.”
WATCH: ‘It’s not in anyone’s interest to have dueling premiers,’ Horgan says
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not “said much” as he is balancing a fine line with this trade dispute, according to Aivalis.
On one hand, Trudeau sees himself as a “pro-trade” prime minister, but on the other hand he also does not want to be seen as too “anti-environment,” Aivalis said.
“If Trudeau is seen as bullying B.C., then people who are for green energy and are anti-pipeline may turn against him in the next election,” he said.
The prime minister, who approved the pipeline expansion, weighed in on the dispute Wednesday, saying his government will stand up for the “national interest.”
“Canadians know that the environment and the economy need to go together and that’s why we’ve moved forward on three things that go together: getting our new resources to new markets safely and securely through responsible means; investing in world-class ocean protections plans to protect the B.C. coast and other coasts; and making sure we have a national price on carbon that’s going to reduce our emissions,” he said.
WATCH: Trudeau will ‘standup’ for Trans Mountain pipeline amid B.C., Alberta bitumen battle
Last week, Trudeau also commented on the issue on 630 CHED. “We were assured, and we did the science and we did the research, the Kinder Morgan pipeline is not a danger to the B.C. coast. Particularly not, given the billions of dollars that we’ve invested in the Oceans Protection Plan.”
If you’re pro-pipeline, then the trade wars as hurting labourers who are seeking jobs in the oil industry, Aivalis said.
“From an economic perspective, some people argue that when Alberta sells oil, it benefits the rest Canada,” he said. “When one province does well the other does.”
However, if you’re looking at the trade dispute through an environmental lens, you may see it differently.
“From an environmental perspective you may think the oilsands are not a clean form of energy and every bit we ship out of Canada is bad for Canadians,” he said.
And if the federal government decides what B.C. is doing is illegal, other provinces may think, “will Justin Trudeau do the same in Ontario, Quebec or Nova Scotia?” he added.
Notley said her next step in the wine wars is to “turn up the pressure” across the country and get the federal government to come out and stop B.C.’s plan.
She has also threatened to halt the electricity trade between the two provinces.
Aivalis said if this case does go to court, it may be ultimately up to the federal government to determine the outcome.
“Things like pipeline and shipping oil is already decided by the feds,” he said. “Odds are they will end up telling B.C. it’s federal jurisdiction.”
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