Drink, Toast, Spin: The Latest on the Wine and Pipelines Debacle

It all started with the Asti Trattoria Italiana restaurant in Fort McMurray, whose slogan is “Live, Love, Eat.”

But there was no love lost for restaurant owner Karen Collins two weeks ago when the B.C. government announced it will set up an independent scientific advisory panel to examine how diluted bitumen can be safely transported and cleaned up, if spilled.

Pending the review, B.C. said it would restrict increases in the transport of the substance — a mixture of thick unrefined oil from the oilsands and highly flammable gas condensate — through the province, a move widely seen as an attempt to stall the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Calling the review “just crazy,” Collins pulled eight B.C. wines off her menu, which includes coastal delicacies such as seafood strozzapreti and croccanti di salmone (pan seared salmon filet).

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley thought that was such a great idea that she announced a B.C. wine boycott.

This week the wine-pipeline fracas intensified, with new twists that included childcare, a natural gas pipeline from B.C. to Alberta and a “B.C. Wine Smuggling Escape for Albertans” arranged by a luxury tour company, complete with a private jet to fly people to the Okanagan and Cowichan valleys and home again with 50 hand-picked bottles of B.C.’s finest (#PinotNotPipelines).

The B.C. Liberals, with new leader Andrew Wilkinson at the helm, sallied forth with a news release and peppy speeches in the legislature, accusing the NDP of destroying thousands of jobs and demanding that Premier John Horgan “swallow his pride” and fly to Edmonton immediately to sort out the squabble.

In the midst of all the brouhaha, political spin took the front seat while some salient facts were left at the side of the inter-provincial road faster than you can say, “bring me the B.C. bubbly.”

Let’s take a look at some of the developments this week in the War of the Rosés. Spoiler: it’s not really about wine.

The wine and pipelines week in review

The week began with the NDP government taking out a full-page ad, featuring three giant corkscrews, in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

The ad, which also appeared in The Province, urged people to buy B.C. wine “and raise a glass to protecting B.C.’s coast” (#toastthecoast).

(Presumably, if things go sideways for the NDP, the hashtag could always be reordered to say #thecoastistoast.)

On Tuesday — the same day the B.C. government proclaimed April as B.C. Wine Month — it was revealed that the federal government had suddenly cancelled a joint announcement with B.C. about an early learning and childcare funding agreement.

Ottawa claimed a scheduling conflict, and there was much speculation that the move had far more to do with B.C.’s new tactics to stall a pipeline pushed by Ottawa than any calendar alignment.

“The media are reporting that the child care transfers from Ottawa to British Columbia are in danger of drying up,” Wilkinson told the legislature.

But the Trudeau government denied that the rescheduling had anything to do with B.C.’s plans to restrict the transport of diluted bitumen. Ottawa said a child care deal will be announced soon, adding that the amount of federal money won’t be affected by B.C.’s stand against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Then, on Wednesday, the B.C. Liberals issued a press release saying that “Horgan’s trade war” has “imperiled” a $2 billion private sector gas pipeline investment in British Columbia that would create 2,500 jobs.

“This trade war is about to escalate beyond a $70 million wine industry loss into a $2 billion loss, with thousands of jobs at stake,” Wilkinson told the legislature.

As proof, the Liberals circulated Alberta’s February 8 submission to the National Energy Board about the North Montney Mainline Extension, a $1.4 billion natural gas pipeline linking B.C. natural gas operations with eastern markets.

The Alberta government filed the NEB submission, in support of a tariff on the B.C. gas, after Alberta producers complained that TransCanada’s project would flood a glutted gas market and drive down prices for their own product.

“This is not a coincidence, the Alberta government has never expressed opposition to the proposed pipeline until last week,” Peace River South Liberal MLA Mike Bernier said in the news release. “The trade war is expanding and the job losses are mounting.”

Whoa Nellie.

Back in reality, the Alberta government immediately debunked the Liberals’ press release. Mike McKinnon, press secretary for Alberta energy minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, told DeSmog Canada that “our filing has nothing to do with the recent dispute with the government of B.C.”

“This is about standing up for Albertans and our energy industry,” McKinnon said in an emailed statement. “The filing is consistent with Alberta’s past positions relating to fair and just toll principles as well as consistent, well-established and accepted pipeline tolling principles.”

What about those “mounting” job losses?

We asked Unifor, the union that represents about 12,000 workers in Canada’s energy sector, about the Trans Mountain pipeline and jobs.

And whaddya know? Unifor told us that if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion goes ahead, up to 600 workers in Burnaby stand to lose their long-term jobs —- “good, family supporting jobs, the kind of jobs that help build our economy,” according to Joie Warnock, Unifor’s western regional director.

The jobs are at the Burnaby refinery on the Burrard Inlet, formerly owned by Chevron and purchased in April by Alberta’s Parkland Fuel Corp. The facility, which refines crude and synthetic oil into products such as jet fuel, gasoline, diesel and heating fuels, relies on the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline for its raw product.

But the pipeline expansion is targeted at the lucrative Asian export market, and Warnock said that likely means there will no longer be sufficient supply for the refinery — one of only two oil refineries left in B.C. — to bid on.

“That’s what makes us very concerned.”

Unifor is opposed to the export of raw bitumen, Warnock said, and wants to see raw bitumen exports prohibited because they are “not a good jobs strategy.”

“It doesn’t create jobs in Canada. We want to see more Canadian content, more Canadian value, added at every stage in the energy sector.”

The union also pointed to a piece published in The Province last August by B.C. economist Robyn Allan, titled “The search for Trans Mountain’s mythical 15,000 construction jobs.”

Allan took aim at statements by former B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who all asserted the pipeline expansion would create 15,000 new construction jobs.

Kinder Morgan itself told the National Energy Board that the project would employ about 2,500 construction workers, for two years, Allan pointed out.

“Trans Mountain’s 15,000 construction workforce jobs are a scam,” wrote Allan. “The more realistic figure is less than 20 per cent that size.”

So what’s really going on here?

Any delay in expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline “puts a lot on the line” for Notley, according to UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison, whose research focuses primarily on environmental policy.

Notley, who is facing a re-election campaign next year and formidable opposition from the new United Conservative Party, has tried to strike a careful balance between continued support of Alberta’s oil industry and taking action to reduce the province’s sizeable carbon footprint.

“She really needs to show Alberta voters that she is strongly committed to doing everything in her power to get pipelines through,” Harrison said in an interview. “At the same time she is making a commitment to address climate change through phasing out coal-fired power plants and introducing a carbon tax.”

“Those are two things that are very hard to reconcile,” Harrison said, especially given that the problematic growth in Canada’s carbon emissions comes from increased production in Alberta’s oilsands.

Trudeau, for his part, has been “much more candid” in pointing out that support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline is pretty much a quid pro quo for Alberta backing a national carbon pricing plan, said Harrison.

“It’s quite an extraordinary compromise to say we need to expand the production of fossil fuels and build national infrastructure [for their export] — and that is the condition of a national climate action plan.”

Time for a pairing?

Perhaps the calmest head in the wine-and-pipelines mêlée goes to the B.C. Wine Institute, which issued a press release last week saying “oil and wine don’t mix,” and expressing disappointment that Alberta is “aggressively boycotting B.C. wineries over a yet-to-be-determined British Columbia government policy in a different sector.”

The wine institute is now promoting a “grazing” event in Vancouver that will pair B.C. wine with Alberta beef.

The motto for the evening?

The Only Beef is on the Table.

Sarah Cox is an award-winning author and journalist based in Victoria, B.C. She got her start in journalism at UBC’s…

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