By Medicine Hat News Opinon on May 17, 2018.
To this point conservative parties of Canada and Alberta have been happy to watch rival parties flounder in a seemingly futile fight to get construction going on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
On Wednesday, though, things may have gotten a little too serious.
The federal government announced it would backstop Kinder Morgan’s investment in the project, offering to cover losses incurred by a series of legal challenges by the government of British Columbia.
The New Democrat-controlled Alberta legislature was also poised to pass in new legislation that would limit exports of oil to British Columbia.
That’s the sort of economic punishment the United Conservative Party has been calling for some time, but Ottawa’s stake in the project is a nuclear option as far as conservatives are concerned.
To this point they’ve been happy to score easy points as the respective New Democratic premiers in Alberta and British Columbia oppose each other.
As well, it’s a god-send for right-of-centre speechwriters that the Liberal government in Ottawa hasn’t progressed a pipeline file after two years in office.
So far, no matter what’s happened, the federal Conservatives and provincial UCP have only looked better by comparison for not having any part of it.
However, should Wednesday’s extraordinary measures break what’s been a relentless stalemate, then Alberta’s Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have not only won the pipeline fight, but also a strong mandate to more actively manage the economy.
Even with a win over environmentalists, it’s would be a major setback for standing conservative plank of government getting out of the way of business.
Perhaps such actions are needed to solve a growing constitutional crisis, but the precedent could be far reaching.
Trans Mountain has been billed by supporters as the saving grace of the Alberta oil patch. It would expand shipments of oil to the west coast and Asia, earning closer to world prices in the process.
That will raise profit margins for the private sector, say supporters, and bolster Alberta government revenue but lessening a reliance on U.S. customers that will at a discount.
For government to redraw the economic trade routes is itself a thorny issue.
However, the question remains: If it’s such a good idea, such a can’t miss opportunity, why shouldn’t Ottawa have a stake in it or even own it outright?
Such operation as a public utility has been floated as one way to assure environmental interests in B.C. about the line’s safety.
One may remember that the original TransCanada Pipeline was a public project, as was Nova pipeline system in Alberta under then-premier Peter Lougheed, who also sought and gained such power to limit oil shipments.
And if it works, why couldn’t the idea be, ahem, exported to other sectors.
Similarly, if getting grain to port is of such vital importance to the national economy, perhaps a federal agency should schedule rail shipments in a fair and reasonable manner.
We’re a long way from another Canadian Wheat Board, or even a pipeline owned by Ottawa. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said if needed, the project could be resold to other investors.
Conservatives at both the provincial and federal levels have a philosophical objection to a government directly investing in a private sector project.
The public as well should have some concerns about an expanded role of government in the economy, but it appears that drastic times have apparently led to drastic measures.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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