Not since Glen Clark tried to take on the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet has B.C. seen such a flamboyantly hopeless effort as Premier John Horgan’s anti-pipeline theatre.
Inserting himself into a fisheries dispute between Canada and the U.S. in 1999, then-premier Clark tried to ban U.S. subs from using the provincially owned Nanoose Bay torpedo testing range off Vancouver Island. In response, then-prime minister Jean Chretien expropriated the area, returning it a couple of years later after the B.C. NDP was reduced to two seats and the province came under adult supervision.
Horgan’s on a similar path.
“We’re in court, we’re going to stay in court,” Horgan said as he prepared to fly to Ottawa to meet Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday.
Yes, they’re in court, barely. Last summer, the newly minted NDP government sneaked in as an “intervener” in the latest challenge of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Horgan’s chosen lawyer, Tom Berger, got grudging approval from the Federal Court of Appeal.
The case is a combination of several brought by the usual environmental groups and dissident aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, unconcerned about the dozens of communities that want the project. As Notley likes to remind Horgan, it’s the 15th case against the federal approval of Trans Mountain, and the score is 0-14.
In granting intervener status last August, Justice David Stratas warned B.C. that it can’t bring new evidence, and if it plays politics it will be booted out. Stratas rebuked the province for taking five weeks to get its case together, and even then, it didn’t spell out what arguments it wants to make.
The province, meaning Horgan and Berger, “does not appear to understand the basic ground rules of the complex proceeding it is seeking to enter,” the judge wrote. Ouch.
Berger is best known for taking years to grind the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline to a halt back in the 1970s, and for a brief stint as B.C. NDP leader. Perhaps bringing him out of retirement at age 84 wasn’t the best idea.
Horgan’s team has also hired the NDP’s current go-to lawyer, Joe Arvay, to cook up a court reference question. So far he hasn’t even figured out which level of court to take it to. If and when he does, it could be a year or more before it’s heard.
The reference case was Horgan’s hasty fall-back position after Environment Minister George Heyman triggered a trade war with Alberta by announcing a plan to restrict diluted bitumen transport in B.C. Heyman still insists he can do this, including restrictions on oil by rail, another federal jurisdiction.
Washington state’s ecology department reports that rail shipments of Alberta heavy crude to its refineries have been rising since they started in 2012. As of 2017, a typical week would see 80 to 120 diluted bitumen rail cars rolling down the Fraser Canyon to Bellingham.
This is the practical effect of NDP and B.C. Green support for the U.S.-backed protest “hive” that targets pipeline projects across Canada. Oil is moving onto riskier trains, refining continues in the U.S. and increasingly expensive gasoline and diesel are sold back into B.C.
Opposition MLAs have been trying to pin Heyman down on how far he will go to stop the pipeline. He finally admitted that as soon as the NDP took office, lawyers told them they have no chance and should not even say publicly that they are trying.
All this sound and fury signifies nothing.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org