July 28, 2012 - In his latest Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald column, MLI's Brian Lee Crowley writes about Premier Christy Clark's list of conditions for giving "permission" for Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to cross British Columbia. Crowley says, "Nation-building cannot be held hostage to every grasping local interest...Clark can bluster about Northern Gateway needing provincial permits too, but the fact is that Ottawa has the sole power to authorize this pipeline and the courts will take a dim view of a province trying to achieve indirectly what the  Constitution denies it the power to do directly."

On August 15, 2012, the Ottawa Citizen and The Province reprinted the column. The full column is copied below and the National Post's Chris Selley writes about it in his Full Pundit review.

 

The provinces shouldn't hold national projects hostage

By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, July 28, 2012

A good friend of mine grew up beside the St. Lawrence near Cornwall. The St.  Lawrence Seaway was being built, and the family's beloved summer place had been  expropriated to accommodate it. Upset, the boy wondered why his father accepted  the loss with such equanimity.

His answer, which so struck my friend and me, was essentially this: The  Seaway is a grand project that will benefit people in many parts of this great  country that has given us so much. Yes, we will lose something we care about and  that is reason to be sad. But when you set against that the progress for the  country and all those who will be made better off, it is something that we  should support. That's what being Canadian means.

What brought this story to mind was the news this week of Premier Christy  Clark's list of conditions for giving "permission" for Enbridge's Northern  Gateway pipeline to cross British Columbia to the coast. This pipeline will  allow Western Canada's oil to reach Asian markets, where it would fetch much  higher prices than in North America.

I won't bore you with the conditions, most of which aim at ensuring the  pipeline is subject to stringent rules about environmental protection and B.C.  pays no part of any bill to clean up any spills or other mishaps. The objective  is fair enough, although as we'll see, B.C. is not the government that can or  should be setting those standards.

Beyond that, B.C. wants a share of Alberta's tax revenues from its ownership  of the oil that comes out of the ground there. Clark's argument is that British  Columbians are shouldering most of the risk of spills and environmental damage,  while most of the economic benefits flow to Alberta. The premier, in a phrase  usually cloaking larcenous intent, wants her province's "fair share." No dough,  no go is her motto.

What's this got to do with the St. Lawrence Seaway? Everything.

Nation-building cannot be held hostage to every grasping local interest. The  Seaway benefits some communities hugely, others not at all and for yet others it  is a nuisance. Railways pass through hundreds of communities in Canada where  they never stop, and yet those communities run the risk of noise pollution,  collisions and catastrophic spills of chemicals and other toxic substances.

But we don't allow provinces to throw up customs booths at their borders and  collect taxes to allow them to get their "fair share" of other people's goods.  That's what countries too often do to each other and the result is the  collective impoverishment of the world.

This is exactly what Canada was supposed to prevent. In 1867, we created a  national government and Parliament to represent all Canadians and to take  decisions in the national interest, not the interests of individual provinces or  groups.

We empowered that government to create, for example, infrastructure of  national significance, in defiance of petty local interests trying to extort  booty from other regions. Manitoba, for instance, didn't have the power to stop  the CPR from crossing its territory until it got its "fair share" of the wealth  that would be created. Ottawa could do it without provincial consent and had  that power for a very good reason: the railway doesn't cross Manitoba or B.C. or  Quebec. It crosses Canada.

Premier Clark thinks the pipeline comes from Alberta and passes through B.C.  Legally, constitutionally and economically, however, as soon as it crosses a  provincial boundary, it ceases to be a provincial matter; it goes from one part  of Canada to another. Ottawa makes the rules, in this case mostly through the  National Energy Board, and generally very sound rules they are too. And by the  way, Canada gets the revenue to match this responsibility. Over a third of the  taxes generated by oil and gas development go to Ottawa, not Alberta, paying for  services in every part of the country, including B.C.

B.C. will benefit from this approach when the time comes to ship its Peace  River natural gas to Alberta to fuel the oilsands extraction process.  Occasionally we regrettably fail to uphold this standard, like when, in the  1960s, Ottawa allowed Quebec to rake off all the economic benefit of  Newfoundland and Labrador's Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. That was to  abet an injustice for which Newfoundland is still paying dearly. All because  Ottawa shamefully preferred politics to its nation-building  responsibilities.

Clark can bluster about Northern Gateway needing provincial permits too, but  the fact is that Ottawa has the sole power to authorize this pipeline and the  courts will take a dim view of a province trying to achieve indirectly what the  Constitution denies it the power to do directly.

This is both a cost and a benefit of being Canadian. Long may it be so.

A native British Columbian, Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley)  is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent  non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa:  www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.