British Columbia Premier John Horgan, left, shakes hands with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister looks on after the meeting of the premiers from the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the three territories concluded on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
Larry Wong / Postmedia
At one of the first events of this week’s Western Premiers’ Conference, the three conservative leaders of Canada’s Prairie provinces — along with the three northern territorial premiers — went to Fort Edmonton Park on Wednesday, where they got to handle some old-fashioned muskets.B.C.’s NDP Premier John Horgan was the only leader not to attend, perhaps reckoning he would see enough flak when formal talks took place the next day.Horgan, of course, is something of an outlaw among this group when it comes to energy and the environment, and someone whose obstructionist actions have made him one of the top public enemies in Alberta. If old west “wanted” posters were still a thing, you can imagine his mug would be adorning one demanding his arrest for Trans Mountain meddlesomeness and constitutional chicanery.Yet you wouldn’t have guessed it from the event’s news conference on Thursday, when Horgan and his more conservative counterparts, particularly conference host Jason Kenney, took pains to emphasize their mutual respect and points of agreement.The tone was almost jovial. There was enough smiling, laughing and handshaking on display to make you forget Kenney had just spent much of the recent provincial election slamming the B.C. boss.“I wore a blue suit so I could blend in,” Horgan joked at one point.A few minutes later, when Horgan had to leave early to catch a plane, it was Kenney who joked to the media not to write the story that the B.C. premier stormed out of the conference.“I’ll walk slowly if that helps,” Horgan quipped.Still, while the meeting may have been useful at establishing some personal rapport, there was no indication the leaders found any policy rapport on the most important issues to Albertans.After two years of fighting the Trans Mountain expansion with “every tool in the toolbox,” it wasn’t as if the B.C. premier was suddenly going to put away his wrench and hammer. Nor was Kenney about to shelve his threat of turning off the taps.Despite the public good will, after the conference both premiers traveled back to their respective legislatures, where they will undoubtedly resume firing at each other from a distance, using legislation and court challenges as their ammunition.And in Horgan’s case, polls in B.C. indicate he is on course to be re-elected, which means he is likely to be an Alberta adversary for awhile yet, despite an increasingly futile and ridiculous position on TMX.Notwithstanding his personal popularity, polls suggest most British Columbians disagree with Horgan on TMX.Yet the B.C. government insists on going to the Supreme Court with its argument that the province should have jurisdiction on restricting pipeline flow. That case was laughed out of B.C.’s top court in a 5-0 decision, and Horgan’s hope that he might find more sympathetic ears in Ottawa seems like an appeal to fantasy.The B.C. premier also got eyes rolling Thursday when he suggested the pipeline fight was between Ottawa and B.C. only, and that his arguments about inadequate marine protection was “not an issue for the people of Alberta.”While he might be right in a technical legal sense, it’s hard to imagine Albertans are going to buy the idea that they have no stake in the dispute.Moreover, Horgan’s comments obscure the fact his government has launched a related court case to neutralize Alberta’s antagonistic Bill 12, which would allow the province to turn off oil taps to B.C.That challenge, which got underway Friday, has a better justification and is likely to give Horgan a better result, though any ruling can be expected to escalate tensions.As well, Alberta shouldn’t count on any B.C. support in its opposition to two federal bills that have raised hackles west of the Rockies: Bill C-48, the so-called tanker ban, and Bill C-69, which seeks to overhaul how major projects are approved.Then there’s the issue of climate change.While the conference’s official communiqué suggested the premiers were jointly committed to action on climate change, all this really amounted to was an agreement to develop an inventory of all the actions the provinces are already doing, and to ask for more international credit for the things they’re already doing.The truth is Horgan has a significant difference of opinion with the rest of premiers on climate strategy, particularly on carbon taxes, and isn’t willing to join their fight against the Trudeau Liberals.In short, there remains considerable policy gaps among the group, and little hope of movement in the short term.Australian comedian Jim Jeffries has a joke that the advantage of muskets is they give the user a lot of time to calm down — a reference to the lengthy process involved in loading them compared with modern firearms.Perhaps Kenney and Horgan can use that as a metaphorical lesson, to build on the rapport they built this week, back off the brinkmanship and come to some compromises that can lead to better outcomes for both the economy and the firstname.lastname@example.org/keithgerein