Earlier posts on this blog referred to the TransMountain pipeline conflict as Stampede Wrestling. The politicians in the ring used a few rassling moves on each other that got cheers and jeers from their fans and bystanders.
But Kinder Morgan changed the game to Texas Hold’em.
Announcing a suspension of work and a deadline for Canada to get its act together is the equivalent of going “all in” and pushing the chips to the middle of the poker table. The trouble is Canada might not be able to get its act together.
Previously, the Prime Minister saw himself wearing a striped shirt to make sure the combatants didn’t really do too much damage to each other or his Liberal MPs.
Nobody was supposed to get hurt. Left wing politicians and Indigenous leaders had photo opportunities of being dragged off to court.
The script was supposed to end with the Federal Court on Appeal ruling that the Feds had jurisdiction, and Kinder Morgan would suffer through the diminishing group of protesters as they completed the pipeline.
Texas Hold Em
In Texas Hold’em you are dealt three cards face up. That leads to a first round of bets or perhaps the player folds with a weak hand. After Kinder Morgan’s announcement, we are about to enter the next round. In this round, a single card is dealt face down to each player still in the game. Another round of betting occurs and then a second card is dealt face down leading to a final round of betting and determining who has the best poker hand.
Kinder Morgan having looked at its first three cards probably saw a pair of 8s and a face card. Kinder Morgan has already bet the $1.5 billion spent to date. But it isn’t planning to bet a further $6.0 billion without some certainty.
The environmental and indigenous lobby considers the level of BC public unhappiness with the pipeline to be in their favour. They probably have “three tens” – enough to win if they can just keep demonstrations at the worksite going.
The BC Horgan government is looking at a hand that might win. Perhaps two pair and a chance at a full house if it can win a court challenge.- But “winning the pot” could result in considerable long-term pain and reputation loss for the province.
The Alberta Notley government sees its three cards could become a straight thus beating the three tens. Notley is gambling that the feds will resolve the issue and she raises the stakes at every turn.
The new player forced to sit at the table is the Federal government. They very much don’t want to play. The federal government committed itself to the pipeline, but wished it didn’t have to bet political capital to make it happen. Their authority of the pipeline is clear, their authority over environmental regulations held jointly with the provinces and the court ruling on the extent of indigenous rights over land in BC’s interior, is to be determined by the courts (hopefully very soon).
Critics believe this is a crisis of the federal government’s own making
The Liberals campaigned on the idea of something called ‘social license’, in addition to permits needed for energy projects. They were also hugely critical of regulatory agencies like the National Energy Board (NEB) and pipeline approval processes. Now the well-funded environmental lobby with the support of some Indigenous leaders and the BC government have decided they have the ‘social license’ to dump existing regulatory approvals and kill the project.
Meanwhile, the court of public opinion is divided.
According to an Angus Reid Institute poll 49% of Canadians support the TransMountain pipeline. 33% oppose it and 18% are unsure. The table below lists responses from Canadians to the question “is Alberta or BC right in their arguments and position?”
In Alberta and BC, where you live matters. The chart below displays the polarized positions.
All fanciful analogies aside, this has become a very dangerous situation for Canada. The situation has become win or lose for many people and hard feeling will last for a very long time regardless of the outcome. The damage done to Canada’s reputation as a a place for investment will not be easily repaired.