The inter-provincial war over the Trans Mountain expansion project overshadowed a meeting of western and territorial premiers in Yellowknife this week, with Alberta refusing to sign on to a collective statement because it did not contain support for the pipeline.
Premier Bob McLeod said it’s normal at leaders’ meetings for one contentious issue to dominate the conversation, and that the premiers were still able to produce a list of shared priories that includes points on universal drug coverage, cannabis legalization and international trade.
Less than an hour before the premiers’ press conference on Wednesday, Alberta issued its own statement saying British Columbia’s opposition to the Trans Mountain project is holding “the Canadian economy hostage.” Alberta maintains the pipeline expansion is necessary to pay for federal and provincial goals, such as universal drug coverage.
The pipeline is “the item of most importance to the province of Alberta and arguably to the nation today,” said Sarah Hoffman, Alberta’s deputy premier, who attended the conference in place of Notley.
Though she agreed with its content, Hoffman said she refused to support the premiers’ communique because it does not explicitly endorse Trans Mountain.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said Alberta made its case in a “strong and passionate way” at the meeting, and that he laid out his concerns about the risks associated with the pipeline project.
“Nobody wants a catastrophic event, no one anticipates one, but the world is riddled with unanticipated consequences and it’s my responsibility to ensure that we diminish risk to the greatest extent possible,” he said.
Conflict over the proposed pipeline expansion escalated this week when Alberta premier Rachel Notley tweeted she would be skipping the annual Western Premiers’ Conference to focus on guaranteeing the pipeline will be built before builder Kinder Morgan’s May 31 deadline.
McLeod supports the Trans Mountain expansion.
Should the pipeline fail to move ahead, he said, it could hamper future efforts by the NWT to ship natural resources outside the territory.
“If it doesn’t get approved, there won’t be any pipelines approved,” McLeod said in an interview following the conference. “Nobody will want to invest in Canada.”
Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion would nearly triple the flow of Alberta oil from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C.
The B.C. government opposes the pipeline expansion and is asking the courts whether it has the authority to regulate the piping of heavy oil within its borders, considering the impact a major spill would have on its lands, coastline and economy.
Inter-provincial pipelines are under federal jurisdiction.
McLeod believes B.C.’s attempts to block the Trans Mountain expansion has implications for natural resource development in the NWT.
“If every province takes that approach then we’re not going to be able to market our products – mining, or oil and gas, or what have you – it will put a stop to everything, even hydro,” he said.
“As soon as you reach a boarder to another province, if you start raising all these different issues, you’ll never get approval.”
NWT has not produced oil and gas for about two years, said McLeod, and no company will want to invest if it can’t move oil across jurisdictional lines.
“We’ll be landlocked while all the trillions of dollars of oil and gas will stay in the ground,” he said.
In a press conference with the other western and territorial premiers Wednesday, McLeod said the leaders came out of their meeting with a better understanding of the Kinder Morgan dispute.
McLeod said he raised the issue of NWT’s economy at the meeting and the need to diversify.
“Our GDP has declined by about $1 billion since 2007, and … it’s primarily been in the area of resource development,” he said.
The premiers were asked about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in their respective jurisdictions.
Premier Paul Quassa of Nunavut said his territory backs the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and is working to fully implement the Nunavut land claim agreement.
Appearing on behalf of Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, deputy premier Ranj Pillai said 11 of the territory’s 14 First Nations have had self-government agreements for many years.
Pillai said he hopes federal reconciliation efforts do not “destabilize or undermine” work done by the Yukon to build relationships with First Nations governments.
At their annual meeting, the premiers agreed that provinces and territories should have control over any universal drug coverage program within their own jurisdictions.
The collective statement – or communique – stated the need for more clarity on the roll-out of cannabis legalization and for federal resources to help deal with drug-impaired driving.
It also laid out commitments to address the over-representation of Indigenous peoples involved in the justice system and expressed support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and reducing barriers to internal trade.