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B.C.’s Clark threatens to bow out of national energy strategy

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark fields questions about a national energy strategy at the annual Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax on Friday, July 27, 2012.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark will not sign on to a national energy strategy if her conditions are not met for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The premier walked out of the Friday morning meeting after a discussion about the strategy at the summer summit of her fellow premiers.

The energy strategy discussion is being led by Alberta Premier Alison Redford, with whom Ms. Clark is publicly feuding.

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"If we can't be successful on this I don't know if we can be successful on the larger issues we need to talk about with respect to energy," Ms. Clark told reporters in a hastily called press conference.

The premier has listed five conditions that must be met in order for British Columbia to allow the pipeline to go through its province to the port of Kitimat.

The most contentious is that British Columbia receive its "fair share" of fiscal and economic benefits flowing from the multi-billion dollar project.

Ms. Clark has argued that British Columbia is taking on most of the environmental risk of carrying the heavy oil through her province but reaping little economic benefit.

She is also demanding that Alberta and the Harper government sit down to discuss the issue – and if they don't then her province will not be at the table to help frame a national energy strategy that the other premiers are keen for.

She said the energy strategy would be meaningless without her province's involvement.

"I certainly see the value in having a national energy strategy," she told reporters. "At the moment it's not a national energy strategy if British Columbia hasn't signed on. It's not a national energy strategy if the west coast gateway to Asia is not part of the discussions or represented at the table."

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In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Redford said when it comes to the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline proposal she has nothing to talk about with Ms. Clark.

"I am not at all questioning whether or not Premier Clark thinks British Columbia should get a greater economic benefit," Ms. Redford said. "My view is that if British Columbia thinks it should get a greater economic benefit then it has fiscal levers to allow it to get those benefits."

Ms. Redford noted that the pipeline, proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge, is a commercial venture. It is not Alberta's pipeline.

She said that British Columbia could increase its port tax or "it could go to the same companies that pay us a royalty and say, 'you've extracted a resource, you want to export it to Asia, you are therefore making a profit as a result of that and we are going to tax your profits'."

"I don't know what decisions the government of British Columbia might want to make but they are not decisions that involve Alberta in any way," said Ms. Redford. "It's not a case where this is somehow subject to inter-provincial discussions or negotiations. These are fundamentally different things."

She repeated that these are decisions for the British Columbia government that do not involve Alberta.

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"The idea that we've ever said that we would not talk and this somehow would foist this on us is simply not the case. We just don't believe that there is anything to talk about," said the Premier.

The Alberta premier has support from two senior Harper cabinet ministers, who argued this week that British Columbia's demand for a share of the pie would create a "toll gate" across the country.

In fact, Ms. Redford repeated, too, her view that Ms. Clark's demands for a share of the pie would "fundamentally change the nature of Confederation."

"It's not a case where this somehow be subject to inter-provincial discussions or negotiations," she said. "It's a commercial venture ... as soon as the proposition is put forward that somehow revenue sharing or royalties are on the table with a commercial venture that means that every other commercial venture would be subject to the same principle."

Ms. Redford noted that British Columbia oil and gas flows through pipeline from Alberta to the U.S.

"We have never said we should get a share of those royalties, again a commercial venture. And as soon as you start changing that principle, well now every single commercial venture is subject to balance sheet negotiations," she said.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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