Alberta government plans to replace lapsed turn-off-the-taps law

·3 min read
The Alberta government introduced a turn-off-the-taps law in 2018 during a spat with neighbouring B.C. about the expansion of the TransMountain oil pipeline. Construction of the pipeline is now proceeding, but the B.C. government has challenged Alberta's law in court. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)
The Alberta government introduced a turn-off-the-taps law in 2018 during a spat with neighbouring B.C. about the expansion of the TransMountain oil pipeline. Construction of the pipeline is now proceeding, but the B.C. government has challenged Alberta's law in court. (Terry Reith/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government has allowed its contentious "turn-off-the-taps" law for oil and gas exports to expire, but similar legislation is coming down the pipe in the future.

Premier Jason Kenney proclaimed the law on his first day in office, April 30, 2019, while the two westernmost provinces were engaged in a disagreement over construction of the TransMountain pipeline extension (TMX) project.

The Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act would have allowed Alberta to restrict the flow of oil and gas into B.C. if the B.C. government continued to try to block the pipeline's progress.

The law has been at the centre of a constitutional battle between the two provinces since it was introduced by the former Alberta NDP government.

However, the law had a built-in sunset clause of two years, and as of last week, ceased to be in effect.

In a statement on Tuesday, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the government intentionally allowed the law to lapse due to the ongoing legal battles with B.C.

Last week, the Alberta government celebrated a Federal Court of Appeal decision to overturn a lower court injunction against Alberta's turn-off-the-taps law. The B.C. government says Alberta's law is unconstitutional and could cause that province irreparable harm.

At a news conference Wednesday, Kenney said Alberta wanted to see the court's ruling to decide whether the legislation needed changes. He said his government intends to reintroduce the legislation with "minor revisions."

Kenney characterized the court decision as a "win" for Alberta — even though the judges did not rule on the constitutionality of the law.

Although the B.C. government is now co-operating on construction of TMX, Kenney said Alberta still needs a similar law to defend the value of its natural resources.

"We don't know what other kind of circumstances we may be facing in the future, so I think it's useful to have a lot of different tools in our toolkit to defend our vital economic interests," he said.

Academics puzzled by law's lapse

Nigel Bankes, a professor of natural resource law at the University of Calgary, was one of a handful of academics who noticed the law had expired without a peep from the Alberta government.

He said despite the Alberta government's confident public face, they likely feared the law could be found unconstitutional.

"It does seem odd," Bankes said. "It's always been a centre point of Premier Kenney's policies that we want to do everything that we can to secure access to tidewater."

The former NDP government introduced the legislation in 2018, but did not proclaim it. Opposition energy critic and past NDP Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said it was a tool the former government wanted to have at their disposal while negotiating with the B.C. government.

Proclaiming the law with no strategic reason was a clumsy move by Kenney, she said.

"They didn't use it because they needed it," she said. "They used it because they wanted to seem like the biggest kid on the playground."

Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, is said it's peculiar the Alberta government would claim victory over last week's court ruling, then let the law lapse days later.

She questions whether it was the government's intention or an oversight.

The Alberta government could also be trying to change its approach without wanting to appear weak, she said.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they just let it die and hoped that it died quietly because they didn't have any intention of doing anything with it," she said.

Savage's office did not answer a question about when new legislation could be coming.

B.C.'s justice ministry did not respond to questions about the issue on Tuesday.

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