VICTORIA – The Alberta government accepted an olive branch from British Columbia and suspended its ban on the province’s wine Thursday in a dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took the step after B.C.’s John Horgan said his government will ask the courts if it has the right to protect its environment by restricting diluted bitumen shipments through the province.
“I think it is fair to say that in a small way today B.C. blinked,” Notley told reporters at the legislature in Edmonton.
“B.C. is stepping back from the brink and abiding by the law, and this is a good thing.”
Horgan said his government is filing a constitutional reference case on the issue, which has been at the centre of the heated trade war between B.C. and Alberta. In the meantime, B.C. will not proceed with proposed regulatory restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen transportation.
“We believe it is our right to take appropriate measures to protect the interests of B.C. from the drastic consequence of a diluted bitumen spill,” Horgan said at a news conference. “We are prepared to confirm that right in the courts.”
He said the federal government declined an invitation to join the province in the reference question.
Horgan denied B.C. is backing down, saying the intention is to have cooler heads prevail.
“This is not about politics. This is not about trade,” he said. “It’s about the right for B.C. to be heard.”
The province will move ahead with consultations on four other areas of its plan to protect the environment, such as establishing timeframes for responses to spills and requiring some form of restitution to cover the lost use of public resources in the event of a spill.
Horgan said he wants B.C. and Alberta to be good neighbours, but the rest of Canada needs to know how strongly British Columbia feels about protecting its coastline.
“I believe the federal government and the government of Alberta do not understand the depth of feeling that the transport of diluted bitumen has in B.C.,” Horgan said.
Notley recently imposed the ban on B.C. wine in retaliation for a pledge last month by Horgan to reject increased levels of oil through the Trans Mountain pipeline until the province reviews spill safety measures. The B.C. government is against expansion of Kinder Morgan Canada’s pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, although it has already been approved by the federal government.
Alberta accused Horgan of illegally trying to kill the pipeline expansion.
While Notley is suspending the retaliatory ban on B.C. wine, she left her options open.
“If it becomes clear that this action is, in fact, part of a deliberate strategy to harass the pipeline and its investors with frivolous or unconstitutional legal challenges, we will act immediately, and we will expect our federal partners to do the same,” she said.
Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have made it clear that only Ottawa, not the provinces, has the authority to decide what goes in trans-boundary pipelines.
As for B.C.’s constitutional reference case, Notley expressed her doubts it will be successful.
“I’m confident that the courts will not give B.C. rights it does not possess under our Constitution,” she said.
“I’m confident the Constitution will be upheld and we will have seen the last of these ridiculous threats.”
Federal officials have been meeting with their B.C. counterparts to find a solution to the impasse. Notley, who had also scuttled talks to buy B.C. electricity, had been threatening further retaliatory action.
Horgan said his efforts to safeguard B.C.’s interests generated a disproportionate reaction from Alberta that put an entire industry and the livelihoods of people who depend on it at risk.
— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.
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