Premier Rachel Notley’s annoyance with British Columbia’s stance regarding the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is understandable.
Completion of the project in order to get crude oil from the Alberta oilsands to the West Coast, and from there to markets, is important to this province. We are, after all, heavily dependent on the oil industry to help drive the economy.
However, the Alberta premier’s move to drag B.C.’s wine producers into the fray seems misguided.
By announcing that the Alberta government will ban imports of B.C. wine, Notley is retaliating for B.C.’s move last week to propose a ban on increased shipments of diluted bitumen to its coast until it can determine the system’s safety and its ability to deal with a potential oil spill.
“This is one step to waking B.C. up to the fact that they can’t attack our industry without a response from us,” Notley said last Tuesday. “The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Control Board will put an immediate halt to the import of B.C. wine into Alberta.”
While the measure might seem to make sense as a strike-back strategy in the ongoing pipeline dispute between the two provinces, the tactic comes across as rather petty when viewed with an objective eye. Alberta is essentially taking hostage independent wine producers in B.C. who are far from the political decision-making process.
As Miles Prodan, president of the B.C. Wine Institute, noted in a Canadian Press story last week, “They’re harming actual small farmers, which is ironic coming from a province like Alberta that understands agriculture and farming and all that goes into that. Why they’re picking on fellow farmers is hard to understand.”
Prodan said Alberta represents the B.C. wine industry’s second biggest market outside of B.C. itself, with an estimated $160 million in retail wine sales to Alberta each year, well beyond the $70 million estimate Notley put forward.
The CP story also quoted a B.C. wine producer, Jason Ocenas, who was dismayed by what he called “a minor spat” between the two provinces.
“Alberta doesn’t grow grapes, so they don’t do wine,” said Ocenas. “The same way we drink their rye and eat their beef, we celebrate what they do and they celebrate what we do. And it would be nice if we could continue that.”
Previously, Notley threatened that Alberta would halt talks with B.C. over the purchase of electricity from B.C. because of the pipeline dispute.
Notley is right to push for the completion of the Trans Mountain project, but Alberta should do so while keeping the focus on the issue. Use political processes to fight the battle rather than dragging unrelated industries – and people – into the crossfire of the dispute.