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Vaughn Palmer: War of words with Alberta over beef, oil, wine, trade

Time:2018-02-13 10:40wine - Red wine life health Click:

with alberta Wine Trade Vaughn

VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan is now trying to cool talk of a trade war with Alberta, having provoked the standoff with a threat to block increased shipments of heavy oil through B.C.

“Our government has every right to consult with British Columbians on the best possible measures to protect our lands and waters from the potential impacts of diluted bitumen spills,” said Horgan, responding to Tuesday news that Alberta would boycott B.C. wine in exchange for the implied threat to expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“Our consultation on proposed new regulations hasn’t even begun, but Alberta has seen fit to take measures to impact B.C. businesses,” continued the B.C. premier. “If Alberta disagrees they can make that argument in the proper venue, in our court system.”

But just last week Horgan suggested the opposite: it would be “premature” for Alberta to file a legal challenge against B.C. because “there’s nothing to take to court.”

B.C.’s proposed regulations will first be sent out for public consultations and review by an independent scientific panel, a process that could take as much as a year according to Environment Minister George Heyman.

Wait a year then take us to court? One couldn’t ask for a more telling summary of B.C.’s real strategy, which is delaying the pipeline project until operator Kinder Morgan loses heart and gives up.

But Horgan can hardly have expected his fellow New Democrat and “old friend” to sit on her hands, when Rachel Notley is facing an uphill fight for re-election a year from now.

The neighbouring premier’s foray against B.C. wine posed an immediate threat to $70 million worth of wholesale purchases by the Alberta liquor distribution branch every year.


Horgan insisted Tuesday and again Wednesday that his NDP government “will stand with B.C. wine producers.” But one could search either day’s statements in vain for what that might entail in terms of either support or retaliation.

The NDP minister of agriculture, Lana Popham, briefly indicated a possible response Tuesday when reporters caught up with her during a previously scheduled tour of Okanagan wineries.

“We bring in a lot of Alberta beef into British Columbia, so I would rather not go down that route,” said Popham. “And I don’t know where we’re going to go, but one thing for sure, we’ll fight. We’ll fight as hard as we can for our wineries.”

Barely had she floated the threat to Alberta beef, when the B.C. Liberals fired back that Popham’s “shockingly bad idea” would end up hurting B.C. producers.

A sizable portion of B.C. beef production is sent to Alberta for finishing, which is the sort of thing that one might expect the province’s agriculture minister to know.

On Wednesday the premier rode to her rescue, as he did last fall during Popham’s botched handling of the fish farming file. A boycott of Alberta beef is not on, said Horgan.

He also ruled out any other form of retaliation. Horgan fears an escalating trade war could distract public and media attention from the rollout of his government’s agenda for the year, starting next week in the legislature.

The Alberta move against the B.C. wine industry also dovetails with another event unfolding next week, the byelection to fill the vacant legislature seat of Kelowna West.

Notley herself drew attention to the non-coincidence during her news conference: “There is, I believe, a byelection in Kelowna right now. I’m not sure who is expected to win what in that byelection, but I suspect it (the wine boycott) will be a matter of discussion.”

Right she was. Ben Stewart, the former B.C. Liberal MLA trying to win back the seat vacated by Christy Clark, was soon out with the appropriate news release.

“The premier has stumbled into this reckless trade war with Alberta, he’s the one who pushed the wine sector into the line of fire,” said Stewart. “Kelowna West residents can send a message that it’s time for the B.C. NDP to stop the wine war — and stand up for B.C. jobs by voting B.C. Liberal.”

The week’s exchanges on this issue also included a letter to Horgan from the pipeline operator, seeking a meeting and cautioning about the impact of the threatened regulations on the national economy.

“The implications of such a threat strike directly at the heart of our country’s oil and natural gas producers, and producing provinces, energy customers in the Lower Mainland, Canada, USA and overseas, and the men and women who earn a living supporting the energy industry in this country,” wrote Kinder Morgan Canada CEO Ian Anderson.

“I hope that you will consider the severity and consequence of the actions your minister has proposed and that you will accept my offer to meet with you to discuss these and any other matters relating to the operations of our company in B.C.”

Not a chance said Horgan. He won’t meet with the company so long as his government is in court, challenging the federal regulatory approval for the Trans Mountain expansion.

Meanwhile, senior federal and B.C. provincial officials were scheduled to meet in Vancouver on Thursday to discuss the issue.

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