Vancouver Island Economic Summit audience members listen to a speech from B.C. Premier John Horgan on Oct. 23 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

B.C. Premier talks pipeline, Western separatism at economic summit

Horgan wonders why Albertans feel animosity toward federal government that bought a pipeline

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he can’t understand some of the reasoning behind separatist sentiment in Western Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

“I understand the prime minister has said he is proceeding with Trans Mountain today,” Horgan said. “I have to scratch my head and say why is there such enormous animosity toward the federal Liberal government that bought the pipeline for the express purpose of getting it built?”

Horgan joined the Vancouver Island Economic Summit at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo via video conference Oct. 23. The premier’s comments were in response to a series of questions about Western separatism, whether British Columbia can maintain good relations with its neighbours and how can he continue to justify “blocking the primary export product” of Alberta if he supports Canadian unity.

Horgan said he is keenly aware of the opinions of many Albertans, explaining that his relationship with Alberta’s former NDP premier deteriorated over the pipeline issue.

“I had one of my dear friends, Rachel Notley, become just an acquaintance over time over this issue,” he said. “So I know on a personal level how passionate the Albertans feel.”

The premier pointed out that B.C.’s electoral map following the federal election is a mixture of blue, orange, red and green and not a “sea” of blue and later said that it is important to move beyond a “partisanship” mentality and focus on issues that matter to people. He also said he’s satisfied with the results of the federal election.

“I’m encouraged that there is a new and diverse, dynamic House of Commons that will be working together, as we have been doing here in Victoria, trying to get past the partisanship, which is fundamental to our electoral process but is not always in the best interest of our governance,” Horgan said.

When it comes to Alberta, Horgan said he has a “working relationship” with Premier Jason Kenny.

“He has been focused federally and his sights have been set on Ottawa, but I’m sure the time will come when he will be looking back at British Columbia.”

Currently, the Horgan government is appealing a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision which ruled he cannot implement laws restricting the amount of bitumen flowing into the province, taking the argument to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Horgan explained to the audience that his position on Trans Mountain is well-known and the province is “legally obliged” to follow the directive from the National Energy Board.

“As the Trans Mountain pipeline proceeds, I will be issuing permits as instructed, I will not be obstructing for the sake of obstructing but I want to make sure I protect those things that are important to at least half the people in this room, if polls are correct,” Horgan said.

RELATED: Hundreds of Island leaders at economic summit in Nanaimo

During his speech via video conference, Horgan rapidly touched on a number of broad topics including healthcare. Horgan touted his government’s recent investments, citing the intensive care unit in Nanaimo and the recently opened PET/CT scanner in Victoria.

Horgan also discussed forestry on Vancouver Island and noted the ongoing labour dispute between Western Forest Products and its employees, which he said he wants to see resolved soon. He also told the crowd that Nanaimo-based Harmac, which is employee-owned, is about to sign an eight-year operating agreement with its workers.

“These are exciting opportunities for the forest sector,” Horgan said.

However, if Vancouver Island and British Columbia are to continue to benefit from forestry, efforts must be made to move from “high volume” to “high value,” said Horgan. He said the reduction in the amount of fibre taken from Vancouver Island will create different sorts of opportunities.

“The waste that we continue to see in some cutblocks across Island is valuable and we need to make sure that waste gets accessed, is monetized and commercialized and gets to market,” Horgan said.

The Vancouver Island Economic Summit continues tonight and tomorrow (Oct. 23-24).



nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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