Could Premier Christy Clark’s declaration that B.C. should receive a “fair share” of the windfall from oil pipelines that cross the province change Canadian federalism as well as her electoral fortunes?
Proposed oil pipelines across B.C. were not killed when the BC Liberal government threw down the gauntlet against Alberta and its Big Oil brethren this week.
While it may have looked like it, what we’re really seeing here is the beginning of a long, protracted and probably very hardball negotiation over energy bounty in this country.
The five conditions outlined by two B.C. ministers and the follow up by Premier Christy Clark had all the appearances of a showdown between Alberta and B.C. over money flowing from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
Lots of harsh words flew about, with Clark demanding that B.C. gets its “fair share” of the expected $81 billion of extra taxation the pipelines will generate. Under the current plan it will get slightly less than $7 billion.
Say what you will about Canadian federalism, provincial obligations, First Nations protection, yadda yadda – this was clearly a signal from B.C. that it might be open to pipelines that carry bitumen from the Alberta oil sands through the province to the west coast.
But that will come at a very large cost and will take talks over a National Energy Policy, touted by noted Alberta-backer Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an entirely and likely more fractious direction.
Clark’s sudden tough stand also probably has as much to do with the upcoming B.C. election as it has picking on Alberta, Canada’s often arrogant Rich Kid.
I’d like to say that I might have done something to spur this stand since I wrote a column a few weeks ago backing the suggestion that Clark should stand up for B.C. and demand more money for allowing oil to cross our territory and coastline.
But mine was just one of several voices saying it. For all we know the initial call may have been a clever plant by Liberal back-room types.
Whatever the genesis, it doesn’t matter. With her call to change the conventional thinking, Clark may have finally managed to carve out some electoral territory between the we’re-all-for-the-pipeline Conservatives on the right, and the we’re-flat-out-against-it NDP on the left.
Let’s face it: Clark hasn’t been having an easy time of it in the past year, what with deficits, snafus, the rise of the right that split the Liberal vote base, and various other problems.
So the political presumption could be that this interprovincial spat between provinces will cement Clark in the (voting) public’s mind as a champion for B.C. in an increasingly unfairly structured Canada.
Will it work? It’s a gamble, but it has worked before.
Many politicians in this country have long recognized that when you’re in trouble, you can’t go wrong by bashing the Feds – ask any of a dozen Quebec premiers and even a few Alberta leaders.
Quebec got quite far in the past 50 years by demanding its "fair share" of federalism, which was then anchored around Ontario. Ironically, Alberta played the same card when the Trudeau government imposed the National Energy Plan in Canada.
Since Canada is now an energy country, maybe it’s time for the far west to do the same thing.