Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has decided to skip this week’s Western Premiers’ Conference.
Other provinces got word on Saturday that Notley would not be joining her counterparts from Western Canada and the North and Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman will be going to Yellowknife, NWT on her behalf.
LISTEN: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley backs out of Western Premiers’ Conference
The latest spat comes amid Kinder Morgan’s self-imposed deadline for moving ahead with the project. The pipeline company will decide by May 31 whether it will continue with plans to expand the pipeline from north of Edmonton to the coast in Burnaby.
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Notley has decided not to attend the meeting because she is focused on ensuring the project goes forward with the deadline quickly approaching. The Alberta premier is banking on being better served by working in Edmonton to keep the Trans Mountain pipeline on track than attending the meeting.
The decision to not attend the meeting was made over the weekend. Behind the scenes bureaucrats were working on a communique that would have been presented to the media following the meeting. That communique did not have the support of all of the provinces.
Alberta officials were concerned about the statement because it did not have strong enough language regarding market access involving resources. British Columbia was unwilling to sign on to any joint communique that would reflect a support for the Kinder Morgan project, considering it is opposed to the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Before joint premiers meetings officials often work on prepared statements and then they are updated after the politicians meet. The meeting was expected to formally deal with the issue of a national pharmacare plan and handling the legalization of recreational marijuana.
But according to officials involved in the meeting, there were discussions behind the scenes between Alberta and other provinces that would have seen more aggressive language around resource support. That language was not supported by British Columbia and Notley’s decision to not attend the meeting came after the breakdown.
WATCH BELOW: Notley will not attend Western Premiers’ Conference
Officials in Alberta say the decision not to attend the meeting is not connected to the breakdown in creating a joint statement all sides could agree on.
“It would be surreal and exceptionally tone deaf for anyone to think we could politely discuss pharmacare and cannabis when one of the players is hard at work trying to choke the economic lifeblood of the province and the country,” wrote Notley on Twitter on Monday afternoon.
When asked last week about meeting with Notley, Horgan said he wasn’t “expecting any surprises.” The two politicians worked together in the mid-1990s and have been described as friends. But the disagreement over the pipeline have put a strain on relations between B.C. and Alberta.
WATCH BELOW: B.C. Premier John Horgan and MP Andrew Wilkinson spar over pipelines
“We have a disagreement on one issue. Our values are lockstep. We have been friends for 20 years,” Horgan said of Notley on Friday. “I believe that the risk of diluted bitumen spill to economy, to our environment, is too great. I doubt there will be any surprises next week.”
The federal government has approved the project and Finance Minister Bill Morneau last week that if the project went ahead Ottawa would compensate the pipeline’s investors for any financial loss due to B.C.’s attempts to stop the pipeline expansion.
The Alberta legislature voted last week in support of legislation that gives the province the power to decide how much fuel is sent to other provinces and by what means, be it by rail or pipeline. Alberta has threatened to use the power against B.C. if it stands in the way of the Trans Mountain project.
“We have to make progress on this pipeline,” Notley said last week. “As Albertans, we have to be able to maximize the return we receive for our resources as well as we can and ultimately our ability to do that is good for the national economy. Albertans, British Columbians and all Canadians should understand that if the path forward for the pipeline through B.C. is not settled soon, I’m ready and prepared to turn off the taps.”
But questions remain about whether Notley will actually be able to restrict the flow of oil and gas to B.C.
B.C. Attorney General David Eby said the legislation is unconstitutional and his province will move forward with a challenge on the constitutional validity at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta as early as this week.