Kinder Morgan Canada halted most work on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion last Sunday, setting a May 31 deadline to resolve legal and jurisdictional challenges they have been facing in British Columbia (BC) or the entire project would be canceled. The ultimatum from the Texas-based company prompted swift responses from Alberta (AB) and Ottawa, with both provincial and federal governments indicating interest in spending public funds to ensure the project proceeds.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held an emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday to discuss how to save the pipeline, but did not come up with a plan. Or perhaps they did, but are choosing not to share it. On the other hand, AB Premier Rachel Notley already reaffirmed the province’s support of the project.
“We are considering a number of financial options to ensure that the Trans Mountain expansion is built, up to and including purchasing the pipeline outright if it was to come to that,” Notley said in a statement. The pipeline, which would transport oil sands bitumen through BC, is seen as necessary for the oil sands-rich province. After meeting with Notley on Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau has pledged that Ottawa will meet the tight deadline to provide a rescue plan for the project - including possible financial support - so the pipeline construction can proceed.
The government of BC, however, has indicated it’s ready to proceed with a challenge to the federal court to determine whether it can restrict the flow of oil sands through the province. Notley headed into the meeting on Wednesday urging the Trudeau government impose penalties on BC for its delay tactics, and the AB government plans to introduce legislation Monday designed to put pressure on BC. These include the right to cut shipments of oil and gasoline to drive up pump prices. Trudeau, understandably, has been reluctant to commit to anything similar at risk of alienating an entire province. But Trudeau needs to stop dancing along the fence if he wants something to happen. Even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has stepped into the ring, suggesting a joint reference case to the Supreme Court of Canada. This is more or less useless, of course, since he’s failed to contain the two warring NDP governments sparking this whole issue, but we can at least give him a B for effort. I find myself increasingly frustrated with Trudeau’s utter inability to take action.
Then there’s BC Premier John Horgan. There’s been a slew of coverage faulting his decisions, along with thousands of pipeline supporters gathering throughout the two provinces. But Horgan was elected by his NDP base with the promise of stopping the pipeline, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. He strongly believes he’s defending the BC Coast against increased tanker traffic and environmental disasters. Whether he has the right to hold up the project that Trudeau has declared to be in the “national interest,” Horgan is doing precisely what he promised to do if elected. I know, I’m just as shocked. But I’m even more surprised that Trudeau has been allowed to play his lip service game for this long.
Trudeau simply stood by and watched as Horgan and Notley publicly fought over the project. They even ratcheted up a trade war that only ended after the BC government hired a law firm that forced Notley to end bans. The fact that it was allowed to be escalated to such measures is unbelievable. It’s like Notley and Horgan are two squabbling siblings, and since party leader Jagmeet Singh has no real authority yet, it should have been Trudeau stepping in to end things. But he didn’t.
Instead, Trudeau continued to spout nonsense without any action. I assume it’s because pipelines like Trans Mountain go against what he really believes. But Trudeau desperately needed Notley and her environmental initiative to sell his national climate change plan, and Notley needed a pipeline as a lifeline for her reelection. So Trudeau popped out of the woodwork to champion Kinder Morgan and its project. It wasn’t that long ago that a campaigning Trudeau had a platform which read: “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” And here he is, in direct conflict with the ‘social license’ the Liberal platform touted. Of course, that portion was modified a year into office, but it’s something to keep in mind, considering the situation in BC.
As someone opposed to pipelines in general, this debacle in BC has been fascinating to follow. I believe it sacrifices long-term vision in the future of energy and resources in Canada in exchange for some quick jobs. But even I’m frustrated at this point. Trudeau’s government could have invoked declaratory powers under Section 92 (10)(c) of the Constitution ages ago, which would have allowed them to take over projects deemed to be in the public and national interests. But they didn’t. They could also withhold transfer payments to BC as many others have suggested. Although it may alienate some BC voters, Trudeau has already set that precedent when he committed to doing so with provinces that did not move to institute a carbon tax. If he’s so invested in this project, why is he twiddling his thumbs? It’s time for Trudeau to act like the leader of the country.