If Notley wants to win on Trans Mountain, she should undermine the B.C. NDP's political interests
February 10, 2018, Calgary Herald, A14
To change an opponent’s mind, you can appeal to their sympathy for you or your cause, use reason, or if those two fail, threaten their interests.
This latter tack is the one now employed by Premier Rachel Notley regarding the British Columbia government, when she ordered the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to disallow further imports of B.C. wine into Alberta.
The AGLC must approve all alcohol imports into privately owned warehouses in the province; B.C.’s wine shipments to Alberta are worth $70 million annually. Notley’s top-down boycott came in response to the B.C. government’s continual opposition to twinning the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The Alberta premier could recite any number of facts to her NDP counterparts in British Columbia:
The Kinder Morgan pipeline has been around in some form since 1953; oil transportation by pipeline is safer than alternatives such as rail cars; shipping of tanker oil occurs daily worldwide; while a risk of an oil spill exists, it is nonetheless statistically remote.
But sweet reason matters little to the B.C. NDP government, catering as it is to a minority of British Columbians and also to the Green party, which props up the NDP in the legislature.
Which brings us to Notley’s wine boycott: To persuade the B.C. NDP government to change its collective mind on Trans Mountain, the Alberta premier must threaten the B.C. government’s political interests, i.e., its desire to stay in power and be re-elected.
Here’s the current legislative seat count in British Columbia: NDP (41), B.C. Liberals (41), Greens (3) with one independent and one vacant.
The B.C. Liberals are expected to regain that vacant seat in a Feb. 14 byelection in Kelowna West, smack dab in B.C. wine country, and formerly represented by Christy Clark, the ex- B.C. Liberal leader and former premier.
I was born and raised in Kelowna and know something of its politics. Since 1952, Kelowna has served up three premiers: W.A.C. Bennett, Bill Bennett and Christy Clark. They collectively served in office for 35 of those 66 years. All came from free enterprise coalition parties (Social Credit and then B.C. Liberal).
Most Kelowna voters routinely reject the NDP and the feeling is mutual. Such political realities mean there is zero chance, beyond public professions, that British Columbia’s current government will care about complaints from the wine industry, centred in the Okanagan.
If anything, the Notley boycott might drive some enterprise-friendly and pipeline-supporting British Columbians to oppose the Trans Mountain expansion and/or vote NDP on Valentine’s Day in Kelowna West, just to protest the Alberta government’s wine boycott.
If Notley really wants to hurt the B.C. NDP government, she must instead attack its soft underbelly, its weak position in the legislature. The Alberta premier could publicly appeal to resource-employed, blue-collar British Columbians to rip up their NDP membership cards, should they possess one.
Or, Notley could appear with a prominent B.C. Liberal, such as pro-pipeline Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. Ross is the opposition critic for natural gas and petroleum resources. He is a former chief councillor for the Haisla Nation. Imagine Notley beside Ellis, endorsing him as just the type of pro-enterprise MLA British Columbians should support.
Would this get the B.C. government’s attention? The B.C. NDP won two ridings in the last election by just 325 and 189 votes respectively. One was more blue-collar (Maple Ridge-Mission) and the other (Courtenay-Comox) full of retired folks who normally vote B.C. Liberal.
Another five ridings were won by less than 2,000 votes with similar demographics. In British Columbia, it doesn’t take much for the NDP to lose an election.
Would Notley engage in such high-profile vote gutting of her NDP brothers and sisters? It depends on what she values more: her party connections, or Albertans and pro-pipeline British Columbians.
Mark Milke is author of Barbarians in the Garden City: The BC NDP in Power.
Image credit: Peter Dargatz, Pixabay