The frosty deadlock between B.C. and Alberta's premiers over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline could be broken next week. In an exchange that was both tentative and awkward, B.C.'s Christy Clark has proposed a meeting with Alberta's Alison Redford in Calgary, and Ms. Redford is now prepared to sit down.
The two premiers have not discussed the pipeline since Ms. Clark's attention-grabbing announcement of B.C.'s demands concerning Northern Gateway. She walked out of a premiers meeting in Halifax in July to lay out the province's five conditions for supporting the project. Alberta has flatly rejected B.C.'s demands.
The quarrel kept the two leaders, who otherwise have much in common, from broaching the topic throughout an Asian trade mission where they travelled together earlier this month.
In a letter to Ms. Redford, released to the media Wednesday, Ms. Clark suggested it is time to talk.
"I look forward to continuing a dialogue with you about opportunities to address British Columbia's five conditions," she wrote. "I recognize that there are significant increased benefits available to Alberta from the export of heavy oil to Asia, and that this is something your government no doubt wishes to pursue."
She then informally suggested that they meet, noting that she will be in Calgary early next week "should you wish to discuss this further."
In the three-page letter released Wednesday, Ms. Clark repeated her five demands, including the requirement that British Columbia receive its "fair share" of fiscal and economic benefits flowing from the $6-billion project. However, she said she is open to discussing what that might look like.
"While others may have characterized this conversation as somehow sharing Alberta's royalty payments, we have been careful to avoid discussing the source of any benefit-sharing, or indeed the very nature of any increased benefits to British Columbia."
Ms. Clark said that is a matter best discussed between the two provinces, along with the federal government.
Ms. Redford's office initially balked – there was no formal meeting request to be found in the letter and there was confusion about Ms. Clark's terms. But by the end of Wednesday, officials representing both premiers were comparing schedules to see if a mutual meeting time could be arranged.
"We're open to a meeting if Premier Clark wants to," said Jay O'Neill, a spokesman for the Alberta Premier. But, he added: "Our position on this has not changed. The pipeline is a commercial venture led by Calgary-based Enbridge. It is not Alberta's pipeline. And any discussion around our resource revenues are not up for discussion."
The B.C. government has been under pressure at home over its handling of the file. The pipeline would see Alberta oil sent to Kitimat, B.C., and loaded onto tankers bound for Asia. It has garnered strong opposition in British Columbia and Ms. Clark is facing a tough election campaign next May.
For months, Ms. Clark maintained that she would not take a stand until after a federal environmental review was complete. Her government signed away control of the review to Ottawa and did not apply for intervenor status in the hearings.
Now, Ms. Clark says she is "deeply concerned" about the project's risks and is threatening to smother the pipeline with red tape if her concerns are not allayed. "As you may know, there are a significant number of permits required for any pipeline project to proceed in British Columbia," she reminded Ms. Redford on Wednesday.