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Political manoeuvres over pipeline in B.C., payback or coincidence?

Last Updated Feb 15, 2018 at 8:20 am EST

VICTORIA – Political hurdles in the form of delays, bans and tolls have been raised in British Columbia in the weeks since the province served notice that it would temporarily ban expanded shipments of bitumen on the Trans Mountain pipeline.

While the federal and Alberta governments denied Wednesday they were moving in retaliation, B.C.’s Opposition Liberals are pointing to the coincidence of a steady stream of obstacles.

B.C.’s decision to halt increased shipments of the diluted bitumen until further environmental studies are concluded saw Alberta cut off talks to purchase $500 million worth of electricity from B.C. and then ban the province’s wine imports.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley attended the first meeting on Wednesday of a 19-member panel, which includes former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna and former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, that will look into efforts to pressure B.C. to back down from its pipeline fight.

As the task force met, Alberta’s Department of Energy issued a statement saying a recent regulatory dispute with B.C. over natural gas pipeline tolls is not connected with the Trans Mountain conflict.

In a Feb. 8 letter to the National Energy Board, the department voiced its opposition to the North Montney Mainland Extension project that would link B.C. natural gas operations with eastern markets.

“Our filing has nothing to do with the recent dispute with the government of B.C.,” said the Alberta statement. “The filing is consistent with Alberta’s past positions relating to fair and just toll principles as well as consistent, well-established and accepted pipeline tolling principles.”

The Alberta government’s denial of retaliation comes as the federal government dismissed claims that pipeline politics contributed to last Friday’s abrupt postponement of a joint B.C.-Ottawa child-care funding news conference.

A spokesman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the announcement was postponed because of scheduling issues.

“This is in no way connected to B.C.’s position on Kinder Morgan, and will have no impact to the amount or terms for the province,” said Mathieu Filion in an e-mailed statement. “We will have more to say regarding rescheduling the announcement with B.C. in due course.”

B.C. government documents show a signed three-year early learning child-care agreement between the federal and provincial governments is worth about $153 million.

Katrina Chen, B.C.’s minister of state for child care, said she didn’t know the reason behind the postponement, but said she’s proud to be part of a government standing up for the province’s interests.

Officials in B.C. Premier John Horgan’s office said the dispute over the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project was not mentioned when federal officials pulled out of the child care announcement.

Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said pipeline fight could end up costing B.C. thousands of jobs.

“It’s an exceptional coincidence,” he said, referring to the recent actions by the Alberta and federal governments. “Premier Horgan has picked a fight he can’t win. Alberta has the upper hand.”

But both Horgan and his Environment Minister George Heyman signalled in the legislature that the government is preparing for a lengthy battle.

Horgan accused the Opposition Liberals of supporting Alberta rather than B.C., “because they’re petty, they’re partisan and they don’t have the provincial interest at heart.”

Heyman told reporters that talks about the pipeline between federal and B.C. bureaucrats have been underway since last week, but the province has not changed its position to restrict bitumen shipments until safety and environmental concerns are resolved.

“British Columbians want to know that our environment, our water, our coastline will be protected and with that our economy and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on it,” he said.

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa.

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