Martyn Brown: There’s dumb, and there’s Alberta dumb—and Rachel Notley’s Bill 12 is both

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      Today Alberta premier Rachel Notley introduced her long-threatened legislation to turn off the tap on oil and gas exports to British Columbia.

      Bill 12, the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act, aims to achieve that through the miracle power of “export licensing”. Whereby, the government can decide what and how much of its dirty tarsands oil Alberta’s private oil companies are allowed to ship—to whom, where, and by whatever means the province’s NDP government authorizes by way of an export license.

      All to be enforced by self-appointed Czar Notley, armed with colossal financial penalties and other sanctions for anyone daring to ignore or resist her government’s edicts.

      All dictated by the state in a way that would make Russia’s Putin proud, as Alberta’s ludicrous “free enterprise” oil producers eagerly await to learn what their individual allotted export shares might be.

      And irony of ironies, it is being done by a government that asserts B.C. should have zero legal ability to regulate what comes out the same filthy pipeline, rail cars, and oil trucks that Alberta now hopes to effectively control in deciding what goes in them.

      It is a blatant attempt to effectively neuter the federal government’s regulatory capacity over the interprovincial transport of oil and gas, while purporting to do the opposite.

      Even a cursory read of Bill 12 suggests that Notley did not have her A-team of legislative drafters on that job. An intellectually rigorous stab at B.C.’s heart, it is anything but.

      Sometimes you just have to feel sorry for Alberta’s constitutionally illiterate politicians.

      Not because they were so foolish as to believe that their cherished Trans Mountain pipeline project would ever be built as they are used to doing things—without any regard for the environment, for Aboriginal rights and title, for their closest neighbours, or frankly, for anyone or anything besides its corporate paymasters from Big Oil.

      But rather, because apparently, they can’t read. Or if they can, in true Trumpian style, they only choose to read the fake news they write and that their ideological soulmates in the mainstream media choose to report as “truth” untethered from reality.

      That damn Canadian constitution.

      It is a dry and difficult document to wade through. Especially when you’re insane with rage and foaming at the mouth because it keeps saying things you wish weren’t so.

      Those tarsands fumes will do that to you, if you come to regard them as a breath of fresh air and if you view their sludgy source as a clean and healthy prescription for what ails you.

      I am referring specifically to the constitution’s sec. 92(a)—a clause that only came to be in 1982 because of Alberta’s first assault on the fabric of Confederation, in retaliation for the 1980 National Energy Program.

      For those too young to remember, it was the program that Justin Trudeau’s much smarter father stupidly put in place, before he was obliged to capitulate to then premier Peter Lougheed.

      Bill 12 is NDP Leader Notley’s clumsy attempt to rekindle that singular moment of Albertan Conservative glory, as if time stood still, as it has for so many of the dinosaurs in the oil industry.

      As if sec 92(a) didn’t exist—brought to life as it was to prevent precisely this type of geographically targeted form of oil embargo from ever occurring again in Canada. And yet, it does.

      Let me quote from that section of Canada’s constitution, with emphases added:

      “Export from provinces of resources:

      “(2) In each province, the legislature may make laws in relation to the export from the province to another part of Canada of the primary production from non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province and the production from facilities in the province for the generation of electrical energy, but such laws may not authorize or provide for discrimination in prices or in supplies exported to another part of Canada.

      “Authority of Parliament

      “(3) Nothing in subsection (2) derogates from the authority of Parliament to enact laws in relation to the matters referred to in that subsection and, where such a law of Parliament and a law of a province conflict, the law of Parliament prevails to the extent of the conflict.”

      True enough, Notley’s Bill 12 does not itself discriminate against British Columbia. But she has made it abundantly clear that it is entirely aimed at authorizing by regulation the discriminatory export of oil and gas to B.C.

      Something that is explicitly forbidden by Canada’s highest law.

      The one that she either hasn’t read, has misread, or simply hopes to wish away. Not unlike her misreading and wishful thinking on the Kinder Morgan project itself.

      It is the same Canadian constitution that the government of Canada has also discounted at every turn, in ignoring its fiduciary and legal obligations to Indigenous peoples and in assailing B.C.’s efforts to seek legal clarity about its constitutional jurisdiction.

      The one and same constitution that the Trudeau government would be so obviously obliged to uphold, in overriding Alberta’s sorry excuse for constitution-breaking, if Notley ever had the temerity to bring down her legislative “sword of Damocles” on B.C. as she envisions.

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau frequently expresses his concern for First Nations people, but he has no problem forcing a pipeline on Indigenous bands who have refused to provide consent.

      Not that I expect to hear a word to that effect from any of Trudeau’s sorry lot, any more than they were inclined to chastise Alberta for breaking trade laws with its first wine war. Trudeau’s principles are as malleable as his environmental “convictions”—and equally bent to the will of Big Oil, which in Canada, rules all.

      Never mind that if the imagined powers authorized by Bill 12 are ever invoked to penalize B.C., it will effectively start an international energy trade war with Washington state refineries and other customers.

      They are, of course, reliant on their contracted volumes flowing through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which would be severely impacted by any “licensed” export restrictions that Notley might hope to impose on volumes bound for or through B.C.

      Set aside the lawsuits that would trigger and the added delays that would surely entail for all of those frustrated tarsands producers that hope to see more of their filthy product somehow poured out in ever greater volumes to Pacific tidewater.

      I don’t believe for a second that if Notley ever tries to license, regulate, and restrict her own province’s oil producers as she is now threatening that there would not be a rapid revolt in Alberta by all those companies whose oxes would be so arbitrarily gored.

      No matter. Pretend, if you will, that Bill 12 could be wielded as threatened without instantly creating a full-blown constitutional crisis, backed by Quebec, that would rapidly convince Canada’s out-in-the-wilderness prime minister to fold his already shaky camp stool.

      Give him some credit. He might seem like a coward, but when push comes to shove, he knows damn well who has the most muscle, and it sure ain’t Alberta. It’s Quebec, Ontario, and First Nations.

      As an accomplished boxer, Trudeau knows full well that “rope-a-dope” only works so long before a knockout blow connects. The attack on Bill 12 will be fast and furious if that lame jab at B.C. is ever suffered upon our entire nation, if only for the precedent it would set. Which Quebec and Ontario could never abide without a serious fight.

      Forget all that. The point is, fortunately for British Columbians and for all Canadians, we have a constitution that is the highest law of the land.

      Just as it will be used by First Nations to legally assert and uphold their constitutionally enshrined rights and title—and as it will be used by B.C. to protect its constitutionally delineated jurisdiction—Canada’s ultimate law will surely sink Bill 12. If only after that bill does a lot of damage, including to Alberta’s global reputation.

      Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan will be literally laughing all the way to the bank in Texas.

      Stupid, stupid Canadians, it must be thinking. They are such pushovers. Once an American colony, always an American colony. A branch-plant economy that will perhaps never find its nerve or will to stand up to the biggest bully on whom it depends for its lunch money.

      Where would Big Oil be without Canada’s easily browbeaten prime minister? The one who recklessly declared its latest sinking pet project to be a vital enterprise in the national interest, which is simply too big to fail.

      Talk about an easy mark. He has basically put Kinder Morgan in the envious position of dictating how large it wants Ottawa’s cheque to be, to cover its margins and keep its dog-of-a-project “on track”.

      Trudeau brought a nail file to a knife fight that is in serious danger of literally morphing into a potential gun fight. That is, if the worst and most dire threats of some First Nations leaders are to be taken at face value.

      He has backed himself to the edge of the cliff that he now seems determined to pitch himself and Canadians off, offsetting Kinder Morgan’s risk at all costs with billions of taxpayer dollars that his government would effectively have to steal from other crucial public services.

      Canada’s first Emperor Trudeau said “just watch me,” in acting to save Canada from the terrorist FLQ that was murdering people and was vowing to rip our country apart.

      His child emperor has pretty much embraced that phrase as his governing credo.

      Because watching him is what’s it’s all about for Justin Trudeau: staying busy at looking busy, and doing nothing but breaking hearts wherever he does do anything substantive.

      Bailing out Big Oil to the tune of billions of dollars, which Kinder Morgan’s shareholders now bear the sole risk of losing?

      Sounds like a plan.

      Thumbing your nose at Canada’s First Peoples and vowing to run pipelines across their unceded territory, in wanton violation of their wishes and of their internationally acknowledged human rights?

      That’s leadership, all right.

      Jumping as high as commanded by Kinder Morgan, to meet its arbitrary May 31 deadline? I stress: dead. Line.

      No bar too high, Trudeau happily says, however hard the fall for future generations that will have to pay for that error of judgement and hubris.

      By May 31, you say, Houston? We have a problem. But nothing that Trudeau can’t solve with taxpayers’ money and his “sunny ways” at the bargaining table.

      All to kickstart Kinder Morgan’s uneconomic, massively disruptive, environmentally destructive, socially irresponsible, and anti-climatic tarsands pipeline.

      Hey, it’s only money.

      Albeit taxpayers’ money. But who's to know better when money has never been any object?

      What’s a few billion more of debt for future taxpayers when you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth? When the closest you ever got to really going over an edge from which there is no recovery was on a snowboard at Whistler?

      Sadly, all the world can now see what is really going on. It is the failure of leadership from Trudeau and Notley that threatens to make fools of us all, as it confirms Canada as a climate-action fraud.

      The emperor has no clothes, I suggest. Be it the one occupying the prime minister’s office in Ottawa, or the tiny Tories of all political stripes in Edmonton.

      All of them are laughably compromised by Notley’s latest pathetic attempt to bully British Columbians and First Nations, on a pipeline for no one that is going nowhere fast.

      If anything is really out of gas, it is the Kinder Morgan project, which Bill 12 makes its own argument for stopping. Now. In the national interest.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at