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Horgan determined to avoid the politics of pipelines

By all accounts, B.C. premier-designate John Horgan's first phone conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went well. The P-word wasn't even raised.

The two talked about the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., housing, transit and the fentanyl crisis that has B.C. in its deadly grip. Mr. Horgan's opposition to the Trudeau-approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was apparently not even mentioned.

Why get things off on the wrong foot?

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Related: Trudeau, Notley welcome B.C.'s Horgan despite Trans Mountain pipeline rift

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Ever since B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon accepted Christy Clark's resignation as premier last week and gave Mr. Horgan's NDP (with the help of the three-seat Green party) the opportunity to govern, the future of the pipeline expansion has become a hot topic.

And nowhere more than in Alberta.

It's noteworthy that the pipeline was not among the matters Mr. Horgan offered up as early priorities for him, a list that mostly included the items he discussed with the Prime Minister. In fact, the pipeline is not something Mr. Horgan enjoys talking about. He barely mentioned it during this spring's provincial election campaign.

I'm sure if it were completely up to him, he'd launch a half-hearted effort to stop the project and then wave the white flag, saying it's too far along to do much about. That may ultimately be what happens anyway. But unfortunately, the terms of his employment as B.C.'s newest premier effectively includes a partnership clause with the Greens.

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is much more steadfast in his opposition to the project than Mr. Horgan. But, of course, the NDP government's longevity depends, in part, on the Green party's support. Consequently, Mr. Horgan is going to have to put up much more of a fight against the pipeline than he might have otherwise.

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A number of groups opposed to it will get their time in court this fall. If the judiciary sides with the project detractors, then Mr. Horgan is off the hook. If it doesn't, then he will have to see what tools he has available to somehow make it economically unviable for the project proponent.

At that point, however, we are likely talking a few years' away and who knows what the political situation in B.C. is going to be then.

Much has been made about the tension that is likely to exist between Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government and Mr. Horgan's. I doubt the predicted friction will be anything close to what is being forecast.

The two governments have far more to gain by working in each other's best interests than trying to undermine one another. There are tight connections between some of Ms. Notley's most senior staff and their counterparts in Mr. Horgan's office. There is far greater likelihood that the two governments will find areas in which to co-operate and leave the fate of the pipeline to play out in a courtroom.

That said, Mr. Horgan will have to remain cognizant of the feelings of his political partner, Mr. Weaver.

The NDP will face a fearsome enemy in the B.C. Liberals, a group that will boast one of the most experienced Opposition benches the B.C. legislature has ever seen. They know that when you have a government with a slim one-seat majority, all it takes is one person to upset the calculus and throw everything into chaos.

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The Liberals will be trying to sow division between the NDP and the Greens at every turn. They will taunt Mr. Weaver about allowing his party to be subsumed by the NDP and try to get him to begin questioning his commitment to Mr. Horgan's party.

This is a given.

Nonetheless, it sounds like Mr. Horgan has his early priorities right. The war on fentanyl hasn't been as effective as hoped. Even with the many measures that Ottawa, the province and B.C. cities have taken to quell the devastation the drug is taking on communities, hundreds continue to die. It is a scourge the likes of which the province has never known.

Meantime, the softwood lumber dispute is a far greater threat to B.C. at the moment than any pipeline. The countervailing duties the U.S. has imposed on Canadian lumber exports could jeopardize thousands of jobs in the province.

Expect to hear John Horgan talk much more about this in the coming weeks and months, than any pipeline.

Video: NDP set to form government in British Columbia (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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