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Posted: April 14, 2018

What happens to politicians who make deals at any price?

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

So, when do the bullets start flying over the Rockies?

Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but if tensions over the Kinder Morgan pipeline dispute grow any higher between B.C. and Alberta, anything is possible.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is so concerned he cancelled part of his latest world tour – just as well maybe – and summoned Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan to meet with him in Ottawa Sunday to find a solution to the crisis. But if Trudeau’s attempts as peacemaker fail as disastrously as his India tour did we could see bullets flying over Mt. Assiniboine or at least metaphorical bullets being exchanged between Notley and Horgan.

And the results could be catastrophic! No more Albertans drinking B.C wine. Gas prices of three or four dollars-a-litre in Vancouver. No more free-spending Albertan tourists in the East Kootenay. Where’s Christy Clark when we need her? Someone should call Batman!

But seriously, things do seem to be getting out of hand and not just in Washington D.C. Alberta and B.C. are neighbours and likely to remain neighbours as long as the Rockies exist. Therefore, we need to cooperate for our mutual interest and clearly someone is going to have to blink in this backyard squabble or the so-called “pipeline war” is going to escalate. And I think I know who that “someone” is and I’m willing to name him. That’s right, it’s a “him” and that him is John Horgan.

At the risk of being called disloyal, I think Horgan should blink and change his approach to settle this unfortunate dispute. But I’m not holding my breath. This is all about politics and politicians don’t often change their stripes. So, what was Horgan’s fundamental mistake? That’s easy. He bet on the wrong horse when he chose to approve Site C and make war on Kinder Morgan or the Trans Mountain Pipeline as it’s otherwise known. Why, you ask? That’s simple. Site C is subject to provincial law and not federal as the Kinder Morgan line is. What this means is that Victoria can do almost anything it wants with Site C without worrying about Ottawa and its mercurial prime minister who has already approved the Edmonton to Burnaby line on the basis of the national interest. If Horgan seriously thinks he can go against the “national interest” he’s been smoking too much “B.C. Bud.” Does he not know that Canada has a Constitution and that Constitution is the pivotal document in determining what’s in the national interest and what isn’t?

Federal power trumps provincial power. It’s as simple as that. Yes, as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is saying, Horgan can take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada for a “reference” decision, but that decision is a forgone conclusion. The Supreme Court will back the greater federal power (Ottawa) over the lesser provincial power (Victoria) and the Trans Mountain Line will be built. The best Horgan can do is delay the controversial project, not stop it. So why is he carrying on this futile fight?

Once again, the answer is politics. Horgan made a strategic political decision in the 2017 election to concentrate on the Lower Mainland and in the short run it paid off as he won a majority of Lower Mainland seats. But in doing so, he lost the Interior and a good chunk of Vancouver Island and needed to form a shaky alliance with the Greens to come up with a slim majority of one seat. But what if Horgan did what many NDP supporters and environmentalists wanted him to do and cancelled Site C. He then could have won the support of almost all environmentalists in the province and dealt the Green Party a serious blow and let Trudeau take the heat for approving Kinder Morgan.

And when the next election comes, likely within a year, Horgan could say he was consistent and wasn’t playing one part of the province off against another. But now he looks like a typical politician, willing to sell his soul for votes at any price and making a Faustian deal with the devil to do it.

You know what happens to politicians who make deals at any price. They usually lose the next election.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a former politician that blinked occasionally.

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