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New Kinder Morgan exit strategy hint emerges as tangled Trans Mountain tale twists national knickers

Alberta Opposition United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga)

Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta's Conservative Opposition party, must've struggled to keep a smirk off his face Wednesday as he bloviated piously about Kinder Morgan President Steven Kean's rumination the time may be nigh to pull the plug on the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project that has the national knickers in a twist.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, had just expressed her confidence everything was going swimmingly in the Alberta government's negotiations with the Texas-based energy company to "reduce or eliminate investor risks" and ensure the controversial pipeline expansion to the B.C. Coast moves ahead.

Premier Notley, Kenney declared smugly, "constantly had this tendency to declare victory when we're further and further away from the certainty we need for this project."

For his part, Kean mused that nothing has happened to change his mind about his company's decision 10 days ago to stop spending any money on the $7.4-billion megaproject. It may be, he added, "untenable for a private party to undertake." Ahem!

The timing of the remarks by the former executive of the bankrupt Enron Corp. was interesting, made almost simultaneously with the release of an online survey suggesting a majority of Canadians has now come around to the idea The Pipeline Must be Built, thanks presumably to days of continual encouragement by a variety of actors with access to the media pulpit.

It could have been coincidence, of course. After all, Kean was speaking on a media conference call to discuss the company's financial results. Still, the timing suggested a sense that now may be the moment for Kinder Morgan to apply a little more pressure on the federal and Alberta governments to come up with some cash, or even take the pipeline off his hands.

Perhaps Kean had been reading the New York Times, wherein economics columnist Paul Krugman makes a compelling case the end that is nigh is that of the Age of Almighty Oil.

"Believers in the primacy of fossil fuels … are now technological dead-enders," wrote Krugman, who once won a Nobel Prize in economics. "There is no longer any reason to believe that it would be hard to drastically 'decarbonize' the economy. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that doing so would impose any significant economic cost."

The lobbying goal of the fossil fuel industry, Krugman wrote, is no longer to stop the transition to renewable energy, merely "to slow things down, so they can extract as much profit as possible from their existing investments."

If Krugman is right, that does not bode well for a project like the Trans Mountain pipeline -- whoever owns it. That may explain why Kinder Morgan is starting to act as if it would be just as happy if Edmonton and Ottawa would take the pipeline off its hands for a tidy profit, even if a majority of people in B.C. now support the project, as Wednesday's online poll by the Angus Reid Institute also indicated.

Viva Hugo! Viva Cheson! Hasta la victoria siempre!

Meanwhile, here in Revolutionary Alberta the debate is growing more hysterical by the day, with Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel comparing the Alberta NDP's Bill 12, which would allow the province to turn off the gasoline tap to B.C. if it gets mad enough about that province's NDP government's lack of enthusiasm for the pipeline, to something the late lefty Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez would have gotten up to.

Judging from her tweet, Rempel didn't seem to be aware either that President Chavez has been dead since 2013 or that Kenney, now the captain of her team's local franchise, has been taking credit for Premier Notley's policy.

"We do not want a socialist having consolidated power to control Alberta's natural resources," Rempel fumed, never mind that it's the Constitution that gives the Notley government such power. Twitterists were soon asking Kenney if he's a socialist now.

I suspect Rempel merely got to Kenney's future strategy too soon.

All will be revealed in the fullness of time if she takes it easy. Kenney says right now he supports the idea of sinking federal and Alberta taxpayers' money into a pipeline project for which the business case is controversial. But it's easy to imagine him blaming a lousy investment on the NDP and the federal Liberals in a couple of years.

Indeed, this whole situation remains rife with potential for unintended consequences.

Committed environmentalists will certainly not be broken hearted if retail gasoline prices rise dramatically in B.C. That is as it should be, they will feel, if people are to be encouraged to drive with the environment in mind.

Thinking such thoughts may get you accused of being an "eco-terrorist" by Rick Orman, the oilpatch executive and former Tory cabinet minister who wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to send the army to B.C., but we know from the study of economics that it's likely to work as advertised -- at least if prices get high enough.

Meanwhile, implementation of the bill's provisions will also likely mightily displease fossil fuel shippers, which will win the Alberta NDP few friends in the business world -- something that apparently matters to the party nowadays.

What's more, if the pump price rises in B.C., it may well result in a tax windfall as B.C.'s NDP government -- those "shitheads" Alberta NDP ministers are so angry at -- take their percentage cut.

So another unintended consequence of Bill 12 could be a boost to the finances available to the B.C. NDP -- which would be able to use the extra revenues to please their voters while blaming Alberta for their pain at the pumps.

It's said here the NDP's much-reviled and now apparently abandoned "social licence" strategy was working, and was the only strategy that had the potential to work in the long term.

It was never going to persuade every single British Columbian, but if you look at Wednesday's survey, it had the potential to convince enough.

Not, though, on the timetable both the Notley NDP and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals now seem to be trying to meet, with federal and Alberta elections looming next year.

It is time, perhaps, for Notley to start spending more energy explaining how her government is different from Kenney's UCP, and less on how it's the same!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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